If I asked people what they’d missed most during this period of lockdown, I know the majority of people would say being able to hug people. To hold someone’s hand, to have proper human contact. Because it’s an innate need in all of us and having that stripped away can give us a strange feeling of disconnection. Touch gives us a connection that words simply cannot; it attunes us to each other.
Why Do We Need Positive Touch?
Humans need physical contact. It’s a fact. Studies have shown that a large percentage of people have felt deprived of that touch. And that deprivation can lead to other issues such as anxiety and depression.
Just think how much better we feel after a hug or a hands-on therapy session. It’s not just the fact that the physical discomfort and the stresses that you may have arrived with are feeling so much better (which they usually are!). It’s also to do with the way that our bodies and minds react to that positive touch.
Dr Tiffany Field at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami has undertaken studies into human touch. And what she’s found is this:
- Touch deprivation can lead to issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep disturbance and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
- Stimulation of the skin through touch is essential to wellbeing and health (well, we knew this one already!!)
When you move the skin, you’re stimulating pressure receptors in your skin and that helps to calm and slow your nervous system. This includes slowing the heart rate, blood pressure and brainwaves and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
The reduction of stress hormones can save immune cells, giving our immune systems a massive boost – which is SO needed! Complementary therapies weren’t really around during the last pandemic in 1915 so thank goodness they are now!
But It’s More Than Just Positive Touch, Right?
Absolutely it is! It’s long been known that more than 70% of illnesses are stress-related. Chronic long-term stress can have a hugely detrimental effect on health and well-being. We’ve only got to look at this last year to see how stress has impacted our lives in so many ways.
Which is just one reason why complementary therapies are more important now than ever.
The Advertising Standards Agency is very strict about what we are allowed to say about the efficacy of complementary therapies and limit us to stating that they:
- Relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Promote better sleep.
- Increase a general sense of well-being.
- Relieve tension in the body.
However, I would also say this:
- They are holistic in the truest sense in that they treat you as an individual rather than focusing on any singular health complaint. There is never a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health and wellbeing.
- You feel listened to without judgement. Complementary therapies can give you a consistency of care from someone who knows you and works to understand how you are. This isn’t just a quick prescription that you leave with after a ten minute chat. This is about YOU, your physical and emotional health, your lifestyle, diet, sleep patterns, stress levels. Never alternative to medicine, but complementary to it.
From much anecdotal evidence and my own experience over the last 17 years, the reasons people seek to use these therapies include:
- hormonal imbalances
- muscular and skeletal issues
- headaches and migraines
- stress, anxiety and depression
- low immunity
- recovery from illness
- support during cancer treatment
- digestive issues
- post-surgery recovery
- support for fertility issues
- pregnancy-related issues
- birth preparation
What Evidence Is There?
Thankfully there are also research studies coming out all the time proving the efficacy of reflexology and complementary therapies for a range of issues. From producing a significant reduction in low back pain, to research indicating that reflexology can provide an additional intervention for depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance. From a study of post-caesarean women which determined that, when compared to no intervention, reflexology enabled higher breast-feeding scores in women, to research into reducing symptoms of PMT. I could go on but I won’t as you’d be reading this all day!
And at the most simple level? The regular positive touch that these complementary therapies bring are becoming part of our normal everyday lives again and they are even more precious and vital to our health and wellbeing than ever before. This year more than any other has taught us that self-care isn’t selfish, that our health is the most precious commodity we have and that it deserves to be nurtured.