When we’re sad, a hug helps. When we’re frightened, holding hands boosts our courage. When we want a quick celebration, we give a high five.
Humans live for touch and our skin is our first means of communication. Modern research has discovered what ancient healers have known forever: touch heals, supports, and strengthens us.
Touch is so powerful we need it to grow well, healthy, compassionate, and more
Let us count the ways:
When a baby is born, their first experience is through touch. Many birthing parents and their caregivers strive to make that first experience a loving, tender one that gives soothing and comfort. When a widow is grieving, our hand on her shoulder tells her we care. When a young adult is upset, a hug or pat on the back says I hear you. Touches communicate “You are safe” and “You are not alone.”
Babies learn first through touch. Studies from the 1800s demonstrated that babies who were not cuddled beyond their basic needs were more likely to die of fetal failure to thrive. They just didn’t grow. Touch affects the right side of our brains and stimulates the central switchboard of our emotions—it’s one reason why skin-to-skin contact for newborns and preemies produces such a long list of benefits. Chief among those benefits is that touch fosters bonding—the foundation on which relationships are built throughout the rest of life. Good touch promotes the development of attachment. Bad touch does the opposite.
- Physical Health
Touch offers no vitamins or calories, yet it’s essential to sustaining life. Sharing hugs provides a stress buffer that has a protective effect against respiratory infections. Touch lowers blood pressure, cortisol level, and heart rate. And it increases immune system function, wound healing, and positive outlook. No matter if we’re adults or babies, positive touch is good for our health.
- Pain Relief
Soothing aches and pains through touch is not only ancient healing, it’s modern science. Research shows that touch can diminish the experience of pain. Massage therapy—one of the most effective forms of touch—is well-known for increasing circulation, reducing swelling, stimulating attentiveness, decreasing depression, and strengthening our immune system. Massage therapy’s soothing effect has relieved prenatal depression in women and their partners. And many children with autism (who we believe don’t want touch) actually love being massaged by a parent or therapist.
- Mental Health
Over 7 million people in the US live with PTSD and the anxiety that goes with it. When anxiety levels are high, it’s harder for the body to heal. Pets—especially trained touch-therapy pets—offer a constant opportunity for soothing the mind through gentle touch and bonding. Touching patients with Alzheimer’s disease can greatly affect their ability to relax, make emotional connections with others, and reduce symptoms of depression.
6. Teaching / Learning
Touch communicates emotions and influences our social behavior. It teaches us how to be members of our group. Good touch stimulates the brain region associated with learning and decision-making, as well as emotional and social behaviors. Loving, positive touch teaches us that compassion is safe and we can approach life with curiosity, joy, and gentleness because our group supports us.
- Energetic Balance
"In a few decades scientists have gone from a conviction that there is no such thing as energy fields in and around the human body to an absolute certainty that they exist." Therapeutic Touch or Healing Touch are effective, non-invasive therapies that speed healing by supporting physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Energy medicine has reduced chemotherapy side effects and eased the dying process. Because energetic healing can help lessen the anxiety of people with PTSD, growing numbers of hospitals use these non-toxic, economical therapies. Energetic touch helps patients in ways high-tech medicine can’t. No wonder increasing numbers of nurses rely on it.
- Safe Boundaries
There is great precision in touch, and social rules for it are highly refined. We touch certain people in certain ways. The difference between good touch and bad touch is timing, place of touch, context, and purpose. When touch boundaries are well-defined, recognized, and upheld, we can relax as we exchange appropriate touch with others.
It’s harder to face a scary situation (like confronting adversary) or an intense situation (like childbirth) alone. Receiving supportive touch increases our sense of capability and can lower pain in the process. Research shows that holding a doula’s hand during labor and childbirth helps women feel stronger and more capable, lowers pain and pain medication needs, reduces Cesarean section rates, and results in positive birth experiences that can stave off postpartum depression. All of which adds up to the economics of touch: more touch is cheaper than more drugs.
- Family Strength
People feel better in families that are rich with positive touching. Promoting touch empowers family members to become more involved in their child’s or sibling’s care. Touching promotes empathy for struggles the others may be going through. And during the inevitable conflicts families have, positive touch can create a closeness that bridges the difficulties. Families that touch through romance, play, or snuggles also tend to talk to each other more, which helps each person feel included and informed, and increases their sense of well-being.
Touch is one of the most fundamental and effective ways to create a sense of connection and community with your fellow humans and create a better world.
Reach out and touch someone with love!
 James Oschman Ph.D. Energy Medicine, The Scientific Basis, 2000.