The Need for Touch and Connection

touch and connectionHuman beings and other animals are hardwired to be watchful for threatening situations. A part of our subconscious brain is always asking and answering the question ‘Am I safe?’ This is healthy, as long as we are able to recover from stress as readily as we respond to it. Unfortunately, for many people this is not an easy task. It turns out that one of the most important variables in stress management and resilience is something over which we have no control—how much we were touched as infants and young children as well as the quality of the connection with our main caregiver.

Research conducted with various mammals reveals that key developmental processes are delayed or interrupted altogether when infant animals are deprived of maternal nurturing. Stress-related hormones are secreted in abundance, animals show poorer tolerance for challenging situations, immune systems are weaker, healing is slower, violent reactions are more frequent, and brain development, especially in the limbic system (the part of the brain that connects memory to emotion) is impaired.

The need for abundant, nurturing touch in early life is well-established. While it is impossible to conduct studies on human babies, the tragedy of neglected infants is not hard to document. The effects of touch deprivation in adults are not as well understood. However, one population reveals some important clues: elderly adults who live in isolation without a partner or a community get sicker, make more visits to the doctor, and die younger than their counterparts. The need for touch and connection doesn’t stop when we exit childhood, but the effects of touch deprivation and absence of caring relationships among adults can be passed over or categorized as other problems, including stress-related diseases.

In our culture, touch is often in short supply. Our only appropriate contexts for nonsexual touch (outside of parent-child relationships) are in sports, greetings, healthcare, and professional grooming. What do adults do, then, when we need physical connection? We often don’t even identify the need as such. We misinterpret it as sexual desire, hunger, restlessness, or frustration. We try to satisfy our need for touch in many ways, some are more successful than others. This is part of the reason that massage therapy — educated, safe, professional touch — has found such a successful niche in American culture!

Studies have shown that getting consistent massage and bodywork influences the overall health of the human body in many positive ways. At Massage Therapy Center Palo Alto our expert therapists know how to encourage all body systems to deeply relax promoting a sense of well-being, reducing tension and anxiety, improving blood circulation that delivers oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and relieving muscle cramps as well as spasms.