The Morning Call (Sunday)
Learning to live without a hug.
pre-pandemic are other determining factors.
“Some people may feel it within a week, others may never feel it at all,” Dr. Burton said. “No doubt the thought that you cannot hypothetically access touch — for example, by seeing a friend, or booking a massage — makes the craving worse.”
A 2013 study found that when treating older patients, touch was the most important nonverbal behavior in the nursing profession: “In old age, the tactile hunger is more powerful than ever, for it is the only sensuous experience that remains.”
Trevor Roberts, a psychotherapist in Bournemouth, England, is worried about people getting used to being alone, isolated and untouched. “Not to touch will become normal, not to visit family, or just talk to them on Skype,” he said. “There is no substitution for human touch.”
Dr. Field, of the Touch Research Institute, described one treatment as “moving the skin.” The action is not just stroking, according to Dr. Field, but moving your skin forcefully enough to cause indentations and hit the pressure receptors.
Some other ways to move your skin? Scalp massages, abdominal crunches, brushing your entire body in the bath, wearing compression clothing or even just rolling around the floor can fire up the pressure receptors. Similarly, putting a 10-pound bag of rice, flour or an equally soft, weighted material on your chest will have the same effect as a weighted blanket, according to Dr. Field. She also believes doing yoga is just as effective as a massage.
Mr. Roberts suggested seeking out different textures. Caressing and concentrating on the feeling of silkiness, furriness, smoothness and even the roughness of surfaces, he said, can awaken the kinesthetic part of our minds.
“Some isolated people were isolated even before all this kicked off,” Dr. Burton said. “I like the idea of a bubble, whereby a household could bring in an isolated person from another household.”
NAVIGATING TOUCH BOUNDARIES
Some months ago, Ms. Carter invited a single, and platonic, friend, who also lives alone, to be a part of her “Covid pod.”
“That first hug was both wonderful and odd, like it should be more momentous than it was,” she said. “I was so unused to being touched by that point that it felt like I wasn’t quite sure that this was OK, at a gut level.” Ms. Carter said her friend is “a good hugger and a good friend, so it was good, but it took a couple of repetitions to relax into it.”
While the friends live separately, they practice similar precautions and see each other multiple times a week. “We get to hang out together, unmasked, within six feet,” Ms. Carter said. “Essentially, we act as if we’re part of the same household.”
Getting comfortable with such an idea and bringing a friend on board took her months. A while back, though, they added two kittens — Merry and Pippin — to the pod.
“Both of those moves are with an eye toward the colder months, when I think I’ll be even more touch starved,” Ms. Carter said. She is hoping to expand her pod to 10 humans for the winter.
Ms. Cohan in Portland still finds herself more cautious than most people, not as nervous for herself when it comes to the virus, but wanting to do what she can to not spread it to others.
“I have hugged exactly one person,” she said, and that had been a friend who
‘Not to touch will become normal, not to visit family, or just talk to them on Skype. There is no substitution for human touch.’
was visiting from out of town. Both were masked. “I am not going into homes or inviting people into mine. I’ve seen my family once, outdoors.”
Dr. Bright, on the other hand, flew to see her parents and hugged them, but not without a great deal of anxiety about whether she might be infecting them. Ms. Hanley, too, opened up her household to include her sister. After being unable to see a dying aunt or visit a friend, who had suffered a stroke, in the hospital, she said the decision not to be alone anymore wasn’t difficult.
“The effects on my mental health after no contact for months was getting downright scary,” Ms. Hanley said. “The only real solution was to find ways to get some more human contact.”
Ms. Hanley joined a reduced-capacity gym where precautions such as temperature-taking and frequent sanitizing are in place; members tend to give each other socially distanced high-fives. She has also hosted five friends at different times in her home, but isn’t blind to the risk. Ms. Carter called it using her “risking touch” credits.
“I met a new executive, and he shook my hand,” Ms. Carter said. “What a lousy reason to spend ‘risking touch’ credits, you know? I’d much rather clasp the hand of a friend or someone who meant something to me.”