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Social Distancing - A Touchy Subject

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Carol Ebert has 53 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Wellness and Coaching for Women in their Third Act.

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Will Social Distancing Today Affect How We Socialize in the Future?

I’m the type of person who likes to engage people, look at them directly in the eyes, say hi and touch them on their arm as I connect.  But lately when I have been grocery shopping during the pandemic I have noticed that I am doing my best to steer clear of other shoppers to abide by the 6 foot rule, but have also noticed that I have been avoiding eye contact and even turning my face away as I pass them by.  It seems like it is becoming an automatic response and almost like I’m afraid to engage them at all on a personal level. I wonder if this is going to have negative consequences in the future?

Social Distancing - A Touchy Subject
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It occurs to me if we all get in the habit of avoiding and not touching each other - which is appropriate at this time - this might become a habit we will have a hard time to break. Studies show it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. That could mean that once that habit is set we might be reluctant to engage and touch each other personally in the future.

The Importance of Touch

Here’s what we know about the importance of touch.

We are hard-wired to be touched

Psychologists call our yearning for touch “Skin Hunger”. It's a deep longing and aching desire for physical contact with another person. Touch is considered the first sense we acquire and our skin is our largest sensory organ.

Humans are wired to be touched. From birth until the day we die, our need for physical contact remains. Being touch-starved — also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation — occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things.

Another term for skin hunger is “Affection Deprivation” which shows positive associations with loneliness, depression, stress, alexithymia (inability to recognize or describe one's own emotions), preoccupied and fearful avoidant attachment styles, and numbers of personality disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and secondary immune disorders.

A hug can calm us when we are stressed

Researchers have found that an embrace functions as a protective layer against stress. Huggers had smaller increases in their blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic.

A hug can boost your immune system

A 2015 study from Carnegie Mellon University examined effects of perceived social support and receipt of hugs on participants' susceptibility to developing the common cold after being exposed to the virus. People who perceived greater social support were less likely to come down with a cold, and the stress-buffering effects of hugging explained 32 percent of that beneficial effect. Even among those who got a cold, those who felt greater social support and received more frequent hugs had less severe symptoms.

Another study examined how stress and social support impacts immunity and susceptibility to infectious disease. Participants were exposed to a common cold virus and were then monitored in quarantine to assess signs of illness. The study found that those who felt socially supported and were hugged more often also experienced less-severe signs of illness.

So what does all this touchy stuff mean for us in these social distancing days? Get back to basics and focus on it even more!

1. We need to know and appreciate this scientific information on the power of touch as a tool to keep us well

2. We need to take steps to engage positively with the people we live with who we can touch. Offer warmth, caring, listening, patience and frequent hugs to improve health and boost our immunity

3. We need to take daily steps to manage our stress more than ever using whatever methods work for you. When your stress goes down, your immunity goes up. I use a CHI machine daily to balance my energy and relax, Tapping (EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique, deep breathing, walking

4. We need to exercise every day using whatever home-based methods you can find. I’m doing online NIA classes 2x/wk, walking outside daily with my spouse, my usual Jazzercise class is now going live on facebook once/wk, check out other creative exercise methods people are posting online for ideas or make up your own

5. We need to not get caught up in eating junk food and lots of snacks and stay on track with our usual healthy eating strategies

6. We need to get a good 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night

A New Reality

Yes it is a new reality, but we know what to do to stay healthy. This is just a wake-up call about how important it is to continue doing those basic practices that we know can work and then WORK IT even more!

“To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo

Here’s a poetic mantra you can post and share:

Hug your family

Hug your pup

Stress goes down

Immunity goes up!

This topic was inspired by: Op-Art: What Do We Lose When We Stop Touching Each Other?

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llg has 43 years experience as a PhD, RN and specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

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I was never a "touchy" type of person and have always preferred to have a lot of personal space. So the physical aspect is not bothering me. However, I do miss face-to-face interactions. I like discussing things with people -- and doing so much of my communicating online and/or over the phone is a problem for me. I miss the direct interaction.

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MsJenn_The_RN has 2 years experience and specializes in Critical Care (MICU).

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14 hours ago, llg said:

I was never a "touchy" type of person and have always preferred to have a lot of personal space. So the physical aspect is not bothering me. However, I do miss face-to-face interactions. I like discussing things with people -- and doing so much of my communicating online and/or over the phone is a problem for me. I miss the direct interaction.

I feel the same way. I became more of a hugger after I had my son, but aside from him, I do fine without it. I’ve been responsible and staying home unless it’s a necessity anyway. Now I’m in quarantine though, And I’m so desperate for some actual face to face interaction. What I wouldn’t do to drink a cup of coffee with one of my friends and talk about ANYTHING. Seriously. Anything at all, just in person. The only face to face interaction I was getting was at work, and now I don’t even get to go to work this weekend 😭😭

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Carol Ebert has 53 years experience as a MSN, RN and specializes in Wellness and Coaching for Women in their Third Act.

6 Followers; 69 Articles; 164 Posts; 24,444 Profile Views

5 hours ago, Tiff.jenn.the.RN said:

I feel the same way. I became more of a hugger after I had my son, but aside from him, I do fine without it. I’ve been responsible and staying home unless it’s a necessity anyway. Now I’m in quarantine though, And I’m so desperate for some actual face to face interaction. What I wouldn’t do to drink a cup of coffee with one of my friends and talk about ANYTHING. Seriously. Anything at all, just in person. The only face to face interaction I was getting was at work, and now I don’t even get to go to work this weekend 😭😭

I have been using Zoom video conferencing (free) to set up meetings and family get togethers and coffee with friends. You get to see each other and it is relaxed and fun. Once you have an account all you have to do is click on scheduling a meeting and send the invitation via email. Maybe this will be a solution for you right now. Carol

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mehjaf has 29 years experience and specializes in Cardiac.

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I didn't realize how important touch was until now. I miss hugging friends and family. I never realized how often I came up behind a co-worker friend to ask a question or something and touched their back or shoulder. I did not realize how much my husband and I touch each other as one walks by or whatever. Coming home from work where I don't even get to wear an N95 mask in Covid-19 rooms, unless there will be something high risk like intubation or some aerosol going on makes me feel like a walking petri dish. I do remove my shoes outside and strip off my uniform, go directly to the shower, wipe off door knobs with bleach spray, wash, wash, wash my hands, but I am still afraid I may inadvertently expose my husband to Covid-19. He is 60 years old, diabetic, has hypertension. He is at higher risk. After seeing folks on the ventilator that have not survived, I am scared. I am sleeping in a separate room and have a separate bathroom. Keeping my distance from him in the house. I don't even want to love on the dog too much. Maybe I need a stuffed animal? Or hug my Corona laden coworkers?

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Mywords1 specializes in nursing ethics.

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I agree with the gist of this, though I wonder about the Carnegie-Mellon survey. Some of this is common sense. And how people ought to act, ideally. Touching is important, and especially in your work as nurses and other medical staff. As mentioned in the posts here, it depends who is touching whom, the situation and purpose, including gender and ages. Touching for sake of touching is altogether different (depending on culture) and is often discouraged in polite company. Man to man is often perceived as odd or questionable. Man to a woman may get him in trouble, and woman to man is too suggestive, flirty. And not all family members want hugging from each other. Teens and adults.This social distancing will probably not change married and dating couples.

Many of us who are alone miss touching with the right person. And now the massage businesses are closed.

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