Touch-deprived? How to cope with social distancing

Like many others, I am living alone and in lockdown. I woke up from a dream where I was hugging my friends a few days ago, and realised it would be months until another human would touch me again (yes, I know how that sounds). Humans are not meant to be isolated for so long, and being physically alone can have serious consequences. However, there are things you can do!

Hugs, handholding and even handshakes release the love-hormone oxytocin and suppresses the stress hormone cortisol. This makes us feel appreciated, loved, but also boosts our immune system and calms our heart rate. While social distancing measures are in place, we can feel increased loneliness, mental health issues and have trouble falling asleep. Zoom calls with friends and social media are great to feel connected, but our body will still feel the effect of the pandemic.

Here’s a few things we can do to self-soothe our vagus nerve which connects the brain to our body:

  • Follow Peter Levine’s self-soothing exercise
    In 2 steps we can practise self-regulation and self-containment by feeling the flow of our breathing. Easy and straight-forward, the link explains how this exercise calms our nervous system. This is especially useful for people suffering with PTSD as it also enhances coming back into our body and getting a feel for our boundaries.
  • Get a weighted blanket
    Nothing calms me like my weighted blanket which simulates a body-sized hug. Commonly used for autism, insomnia and mental health issues such as ADHD and sensory processing disorders, it should ideally be 10% of your body weight. Your nerve endings will be stimulated via deep pressure stimulation, and your brain will think you’re being cuddled while asleep!
  • Practise self-massages
    While watching your favourite series, get your hands moving on your body to massage yourself! Strange at first, I now love massaging my neck, my feet and hamstrings. Yoga is beneficial to self-regulation as well, but taking the time to soothe your muscles that are stiff from sitting at home will do wonders for your mental health too.
  • Discover RAIN meditation
    Meditation encourages emotional sobriety and coming at terms with the complicated feelings we all might be facing in these times. Being grounded and feeling the contact of the floor or chair also self-regulates our nervous system. We are constantly being touched by everything around us, and becoming aware of it can soothe us.
  • Spend time with your animals (if you have any)
    Studies have shown that cuddling your animals can do the same as hugging your human friends. Touching their fur, feeling their heartbeat and watching them go about their day will calm your body and mind. I have a hedgehog who would rather not ever be touched at all, but also 3 lovely rat boys (you can see Brain below). If you don’t have any pets, watching pet videos can bring a smile to your face. Maybe now could be a good time to find a quarantine buddy as well if rescues are still open in your area!

Please keep safe and sane and remember that you are doing great nomatter what you’re up to. Sending hugs x

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