The Magic of Touch
For some reason, many articles about the importance of touch and hugs have crossed my path recently. After a little contemplation, it occurred to me it would be good information to share.
One of my wild dreams once all my children left the house was to be a baby rocker at the hospital. Nurses are overloaded with skilled tasks and charting and documenting responsibility and don’t have time for the desire of their hearts, to comfort babies by holding and rocking them. Apparently, volunteers can fill this vital role. Perhaps you have seen on your facebook feed, the man who holds babies.
A newer philosophy post-birth is for parents to have skin to skin contact with newborns. This has many physical and psychological benefits to the baby. One is the temperature control for the newborn. One 2014 study indicated cognitive control and psysiological organization benefits from skin to skin contact extending for a decade. The research studied the way this skin to skin contact assists in brain development.
Concluding comments in the research went so far as to say hugging our children makes them smarter. Yet babies who are denied physical touch have brain shrinkage. Additionally, hugs increase oxytocin which improves the child’s immune response. And, emotional health and stability are increased with sufficient physical touch.
It gave me pause, as I know teachers in elementary school and our churches must guard the physical touch they offer students. Inappropriate touch has moved our society to a guarded position in this issue. I’ve seen teachers who offer a hug or a special hand shake or a high five to students. It’s an effort to afford physical touch in an acceptable and appropriate manner. There must be balance in all things, surely. It saddens me that we must avoid what is an important element to growth and development because some have misused it.
An article from THE ATLANTIC found that physical touch also assists children in overcoming trauma. Specifically, children were studied who had survived a hurricane. Those who received back rub massages responded in a more positive way in reducing their PTSD.
This quote from the same article shares the positives of touch in the physiological results in one’s body:
‘According to Field, any activity that moves the skin stimulates the pressure receptors underneath it—which in turn increases the activity of the largest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve has pathways to all major organs, Field says. “It slows down the heart. It goes to the GI tract and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system,” she says. “So that’s why hugging is good. That’s why massage is good.”
Plus, Field says, skin stimulation and the resulting vagal activity lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol are linked to a variety of health problems, such as anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, headaches, and sleep problems; additionally, elevated cortisol is known to harm the “natural killer cells” that help eliminate viral, bacterial, and cancer cells. In TRI studies, 10-week-old babies whose mothers massaged them regularly were found to get fewer colds and fewer bouts of diarrhea as they grew.
Elevated cortisol is also known to hamper the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that facilitates memory and learning; as a 2005 reportfrom the National Association for the Education of Young Children notes, “children who sustain chronically high cortisol levels demonstrate cognitive, social, and motor delays in greater numbers than children with more normal levels of cortisol.” As a 2015 New Yorker story noted, when the researcher Mary Carlson conducted studies in the 1990s of children raised in Romania’s state-sponsored leagăne—institutional homes for small children that were erected to facilitate Nicolae Ceaușescu’s mandated baby boom—she found they reminded her of the socially deprived monkeys and chimpanzees she had studied in the past. The children, who were severely neglected and deprived of sensory and tactile stimulation, were characterized by “muteness, blank facial expressions, social withdrawal, and bizarre stereotypic movements.” They also had markedly elevated cortisol levels in their saliva.’
When physical touch is not available, exercise can provide similar benefits. All in all, our need for one another touches our emotional, mental, physical bodies. It’s good for all of us to have appropriate physical touch and/or movement.
II Corinthians suggests we ‘greet one another with a holy kiss.’ Let’s just substitute a holy hug for that kissing business…