Relationships are key to stress management. Sure, they can definitely cause you stress and in a previous article, I spoke about being a little more strategic about which ones you invest your time, emotion and energy in which may help with that. Once you have identified the right ones, bring on the touch!
I used to call myself tough and a non-hugger, I thought I wanted to be aloof and mysterious but secretly I longed for snuggles and hand-holding. (I also felt pretty awkward going in for the hug when the other person wasn’t up for it!) That was early-20-something me. Turns out, I’m not cool like that and it’s a biological thing.
Touch has the most amazing healing power when it comes to stress reduction. It releases oxytocin which reduces cortisol, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and it also increases pain thresholds. Pretty awesome. Apart from the body’s natural chemistry, it will increase the bond between you and the person (or animal) on the other end and if that bond is closer, you are more apt to share what is causing you stress and get it off your chest.
You would think that as a mum of two under the age of 5, I would get all the touch I want. And I do get ‘touched out’ sometimes. Just last night, Monty was koala-ing my leg, trying to get my attention and instead of making me feel good, it actually caused me stress. Time and a place kid! The problem is, as a society, we are becoming touch-phobic and touch deprivation is a thing. Don’t believe me, try keeping a touch diary and see how often you actually touch someone or are touched in a day. The touch, of course, has to be mutual! You don’t want to be running up to your work colleague on a Monday morning and wrapping them in a big bear hug when they are not comfortable with it. So how do you increase the amount of touch?
Start with your significant other. Try an actual face to face greeting when you see them next. Put down what you are doing, walk over to them, look them in the eyes, give them a kiss and stroke their arm. If it’s been a while since you greeted each other this way, it is probably going to feel weird but it works. Grab their hand when you’re out walking or snuggle with them on the couch instead of snuggling your phone. And yes, sex is an amazing stress reliever too, among all its other benefits! Don’t have a significant other? Try hugging a friend or other family member when you greet them next, you can always ask first or shake their hand. Try patting or (quickly) laying your hand on the upper shoulder of a work colleague, just be careful with this one, you don’t want any sexual harassment claims, that would definitely cause some stress. Fist bumps, high fives, they all break the touch barrier too. If you’re out of options with friends and family, go get a massage or better yet, find an animal to cuddle up with. Other ideas include getting your hair done (make sure it includes getting it washed, that is the best bit), go to a dance class or if you’re up for it, find a cuddle party (yep, they exist).
Building strong, trust-based relationships is a sure-fire way to combat stress. Touch will not only help build these relationships but it is amazing to me that the simple act itself is designed to release chemicals in our bodies that combat the cortisol and bring us back to a calm, thriving state. We should all be taking advantage of what nature has provided us.