The pandemic has brought to light many things – the joy and necessity of in-person connection for one, but for two, the importance of something you might not know there’s a label for: skin hunger.
Most People Have a Desire for Healthy Physical Touch
Skin hunger, or touch deprivation, is a longing to touch or be touched in a social way. It can be as casual as a pat on the back or as intimate as cuddling.
When I used to teach group yoga classes regularly, I heard some students say they enjoyed the class because there was an element of touch from me (always with consent) as I, or an assistant, adjusted them in certain poses, or as they engaged with other students in class exercises.
People often don’t notice their desire for physical touch unless there’s a chasm between the amount they receive and the amount they want to receive. When there’s not enough, you definitely notice.
A sensation may arise from within which is similar to food hunger. When the body wants food, your stomach may growl, you may feel dizzy, or experience other signals. There’s a physical reaction to not having enough food and the same is true with skin hunger.
When you don’t get enough touch, you can start to feel ill at ease, blue, lonely, stressed, and perhaps listless. Not receiving touch when you have a need for it is like a flower that’s drooping from lack of water – you’re surviving but not necessarily thriving.
The skin is the largest organ in your body and it makes sense that just like other organs, the skin sends signals to your brain.
When you are touched in a pleasant way, your brain releases the “love hormone” oxytocin. This neurotransmitter affects bonding behavior and social recognition.
Can You Crave Physical Touch?
The reaction to skin and need to touch it starts at birth, which is why skin-to-skin contact is recommended for new babies.
However, unlike food hunger, some people can live on virtually no touch. There are some folks who don’t want to be touched and they don’t need it. Then there are others who want to be touched a lot.
There’s a spectrum for skin hunger and many fall somewhere in the middle.
At the height of the pandemic, skin hunger came up a lot because people were hugging less, engaging with casual sex partners less, and visiting friends and family less. The pandemic may have turned up the intensity of skin hunger, but a person can experience skin hunger at any time for any reason.
For some, depending on how they grew up, they may not have the body memory of touch and there may be a lifelong yearning to be touched more.
Are You Feeling Touch Deprived?
If you’re feeling touch deprived, what can you do about it, especially if you don’t have a regular partner or live alone?
Touch the people in your life – with their permission
If there are friends in your life that are open to it, ask if you can hug them. Greet them with a hug hello or a hug goodbye. Make a conscious effort to touch your friends and ask them to do the same with you.
For some people, touch happens almost automatically without thinking, but due to the pandemic, some people are a little more cautious. If you’ve gotten out of the habit of touching others, bring it back into your life where you can.
I recommend bodywork for a variety of reasons and it could be a massage from a loved one or a professional. It could also be chiropractic care, acupuncture, acupressure, myofascial release, craniosacral, and more.
Being touched by someone else, whether that’s in a professional setting or not, can help with skin hunger. Giving yourself a hug or using acupressure and self-massage techniques can also support you in feeling nourished.
The bond between humans and pets is deep and petting an animal can provide many of the same effects as touch from a human. If you have a pet at home, spend time with them. If you don’t, going to animal shelters and cat cafés to experience physical touch is an option.
You can also receive lesser amounts of physical touch by going to a nail salon or getting your hair done. Both activities require touch from someone else and if you don’t want to get your hair cut, you can schedule a wash and blow-dry.
Go partner dancing.
Partner dances such as salsa, swing, and blues require, well, a partner, and that means physical touch, even if it’s only via the hands.
Depending on your comfort level, attending a cuddle party or paying for a cuddle therapist will provide skin-to-skin contact for an extended period of time and can help satisfy your need for touch. You can also cuddle with friends, but be sure to set boundaries ahead of time to make sure all parties are on the same page.
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From Dr. Denise Renye:
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