By Clayton Heier LMT, Keystone Body Therapies
One of the most profound senses available to us is our sense of touch. In the same way our favorite song transforms from sound in the air meeting our ears into this warmth and energy that permeates our body, touch itself extends far beyond the physical. Touch sets itself apart from the rest of our senses as both a tangible and a spiritual connection with others.
Touch is the water that tends the garden of our soul. It can be the warmth that melts away the frost of isolation, the wind that carries away the clouds of stress and depression. It connects us, fostering a sense of belonging, and grounding us in the shared human experience. It is no surprise, then, that the lack of touch can rob us of something fundamental and meaningful to our health and wellbeing.
Touch Deprivation – Echoes of Longing
In my experience as a caregiver, before I became a massage therapist, it was abundantly clear that some populations experience touch deprivation more than others. This was something we explored in our continuing education. Psychologically, we as people take on some kind of avoidance with the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. Whether that’s because we’re avoiding signs of our own mortality or our fear of what we don’t understand, these people often lack something we take for granted. Touch becomes rare and their health becomes the poorer for it.
Scientific studies have shown that overall health outcomes improve when we experience positive, healthy touch. In adult care facilities, having family visit and being able to hug their children and grandchildren showed meaningful changes in mood and physical health. In the same way we’ve found that art and greenery in hospitals affects health, something as subtle as touch can have profound impacts on our wellbeing.
The same can be true for those suffering more silent diseases. Depression and anxiety have wreaked a terrible toll on people and families. We will often isolate ourselves, depriving ourselves of human interaction, leading to more isolation, and on and on, a self-eating serpent. Situations like this reinforce anxious and depressive behaviors and feelings. Touch can be a bridge to help us cross these dark, rushing rivers that threaten to drag us away.
Especially as we come out of the holiday season and into the New Year, some of us find ourselves still reeling from the holiday blues. Some are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, and others are feeling crushed under the weight of their New Year’s resolutions – whether anxious about them or feeling the depression of not meeting them.
Effects of Massage – Unravelling the Knots on the Mind
An avenue to really draw out this power of touch is through massage therapy. For whatever reason we may lack a reliable way to fulfill our need for healthy, therapeutic touch, and massage therapy can meet that need. Beyond the myriad of physical health benefits provided by massage, scientific literature resounds with evidence supporting the positive impact of massage on our mental health. The stimulation of endorphins, our body’s natural mood enhancers, foster feelings of relaxation and euphoria. Cortisol levels, one of our key stress hormones, drop during and after massage, contributing to stress alleviation.
These psychological benefits extend beyond the post-session euphoria. Long-term studies have shown that regular massage therapy can lead to sustained improvements in mood, reduced symptoms of anxiety, and enhanced overall mental resilience.
Likewise, our bodies store memory. Uncomfortable memories and experiences can be stored in our tissues, or, more acutely, our mental state can actively affect our physical being. These may present as tender areas, or places where touch causes discomfort. Massage therapy can help to unwind and work through these “knotted” tissues and address some psychosomatic conditions – at the client’s own pace.
More than these effects, however, is that massage therapy provides a reliable, safe place to fulfill our basic need for positive touch. For some, it can be an uncomfortable hurdle to overcome, for others, their previous experiences with touch may have been traumatic and require a more clinical environment to help work through. Working with a licensed massage therapist in a therapy room, the client is in control and can have the therapist adjust their pressure as necessary as well as create boundaries if they experience any discomfort.
A massage therapist may not be that kind of therapist, but as part of our training and our commitment to your health and wellbeing, we provide a place for you to feel safe and relaxed.
Simple touch can be profound, it can be a tether that brings us out of dark places. But, while a hug, a hand on the shoulder, or massage therapy can certainly help, I am not suggesting that touch alone can break the oppressive spells of isolation and depression. Addressing these requires a multifaceted approach and a comprehensive look at health as a whole, not just physical or mental, and should be worked through with other health care practitioners, such as your primary care or a psychologist. What touch can be, however, is a powerful first step to taking control over your health.
So, here’s to the journey ahead – let’s extend our hands out to others and walk out of the darkness together. We never know who may be missing touch in their lives, but we can be the catalyst for change, creating a ripple effect that transforms not only our lives, but the lives of others. Be present, be intentional, and let your touch be a gift – the gift of connection and understanding. It is a human need, one of our most profound senses, and it is vital that we do not neglect the power of touch.
If you are interested in taking your health into your own hands check out our Health & Wellness Programs to see what is right for you.