Why touch does us good – most of the time

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Lonely people feel it especially, the distance rules because of Corona have also shown it to many others: without physical contact we are missing something. Because people need physical closeness and touch to be happy and healthy. Unless these are unwanted. Why is that?

You do it when you haven’t seen someone for a long time. When you want to comfort someone. Or when you just want to show you’re there at the bedside. Whether it’s a warm hug, a pat on the arm, or holding a hand, a touch is worth a thousand words. From the first moment of life to the last.

Even children in the womb are taught by nature: “Something that touches my body and is warm and soft at the same time is good for my body,” says Professor Martin Grunwald. The author (“Homo Hapticus”) and psychologist is the founder of the Haptics Laboratory at the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig and has been researching for years why we cannot live without the sense of touch.

The root lies in evolutionary biology: according to Grunwald, growth and maturation processes are virtually directly tied to contact with touch. Nature thus ensures that humans, as “nesting mammals,” can only thrive if they live in a social community. With corresponding consequences. “We need these touch stimuli throughout our lives, in earliest childhood it is really existential,” says the expert. He’s convinced, “Regardless of whether it’s an infant or an adult, the absence of human closeness leaves deep psychological furrows that can even lead to death in infancy.”

Can we break the habit of shaking hands
No other sensory cha because people convey positive emotional messages to each other quickly and unmistakably. The spectrum ranges from affection, forgiveness and joy to recognition, praise and appreciation. Even the smallest defoons and minimal changes in the warmth of tA touch is worth a thousand words, whether they impact our brain. “It’s not just minutes creativity, of,” says Grunwald. Even small touch stimuli that last only a few seconds have been shown to influence our mental processes.

It makes me feel good when someone takes me in their arms or cuddles me – and vice versa – it is not just a feeling but can be measured like oxytocin in blood and saliva. The so-called “bonding hormone” ensures less stress hormone cortisol is released in the adrenal cortex. The heartbeat slows down, blood pressure drops, and the muscles relax. In short, you feel good.

How many hugs do you need in a day?
“However, it’s not just about purely psychological effects,” says biopsychologist Sebastian Ocklenburg, who specializes in researching hugs. Studies have shown that such touches also positively affect health, he says. “People who hug more often also have a lower risk of getting colds.” This is because stress factors strongly influence the immune system, he said.

Nevertheless, not every touch is automatically perceived as something positive. Certainly not by people suffering from trauma. Ocklenburg has even noticed an inevitable “hug fatigue.” From a person for whom one does not feel great sympathy, this gesture is then rather unpleasant. The same applies if, for example, you hug the new boyfriend of an acquaintance you hardly know “out of social compulsion.

“It just always depends,” says the lecturer from the Medical School Hamburg. He says that saying that everyone has to hug each other more is too undifferentiated. “You have to make sure it’s the right people.” However, he said that if the need for hugs is not met, the feeling of loneliness is higher, and life satisfaction is lower.

Longer is better
By the way, hugs were not invented by humans. In socially living primates, they existed long before humans. “There is even a special form of facial hugging in monkeys hanging in the trees,” Ocklenburg said. For primates, he said, physical contact is a meaningful way to express their sense of social togetherness – and thus also to strengthen their social association and ensure their food supply.

How hormones influence the body
Of course, physical contact – as with penguins, for example – also serves to warm each other. But how much touch does a person need to feel warm inside? That depends very much on one’s personality, whether introverted or extroverted and the individual need. And also on the relationship. “The closer we are to a person, the stronger the biological reaction to touch stimuli,” says Martin Grunwald.

Hug researcher Sebastian Ocklenburg reports that slightly longer hugs led to more release of bonding hormones. Whereby an “average hug” lasts only three seconds, he says. “Ten seconds is already long!” Grunwald recommends that couples “to make their relationship last as long as possible” have five hugs daily.

Touching is something you don’t forget.
Those who live alone or don’t have close friends or family can seek out so-called cuddle parties (not to be confused with sex parties) or cuddle therapists. “The massage therapist may have to work a little longer before the same mechanisms kick in,” Grunwald says. Relaxation sets in regardless, he adds. “It’s this ancient and impressive biochemistry triggered by touch.”

By the way, soft cuddly blankets or stuffed animals can’t induce this effect. “It has to be something alive to make you feel alive yourself, and it helps substantially,” says the haptics expert. Petting a pet also works, he adds. “The same biochemical mechanisms run there,” Grunwald says. And there’s another advantage over a cuddly blanket: “When you pet your dog, two living beings get something out of it at once.”

Source: ntv.de, Katja Sponholz, dpa

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