Virtual gatherings are flourishing, but quarantining has cut physically isolated individuals off from the comfort of tender touch we crave in uncertain times. These self-soothing practices can help overcome skin hunger and the crave for human touch.
“I can’t stop crying.”
“I didn’t get my stimulus check and I have no idea how I’m going to pay my rent this month.”
“My uncle died, and I can’t go to the funeral.”
Every day, my social media feed fills with messages like these. People are anxious, immunocompromised, depressed, broke, lonely, and afraid.
If ever there was a time for a hug, this is it.
No one knows how long we will be asked to physically distance, but each of us will confront real and existential fears, make agonizing choices, feel powerless or unseen, and suffer heartbreaking losses in the coming months. Many of us will go through this crisis without the comfort of physical contact from our fellow humans.
It could be a very long time before we touch or hug another person again. Learning to self-soothe our nervous system through comforting self-touch is a simple concept that may help us survive the uncertainty that will be ever-present in the coming months.
Some of these suggestions for self-soothing through touch can be applied on the fly with little to no preparation. Others allow you to slow down your mind and love your body. (But first, wash your hands.)
Here are six techniques for overcoming touch hunger amid coronavirus quarantine and isolation.
Right angle: Remove bracelets, rings, watches, etc. Put your right arm next to your body and turn your right palm up, fingers together. Bring your arm up until your forearm and upper arm are at a 45-degree angle. Take your left hand and touch the fingertips of your right hand. Slowly and gently run your fingertips down your left fingers, palm, wrist and inside of the forearm, stopping at the inner elbow. Repeat 10 times.
Blanket statement: Get out a blanket and put the long edge behind your neck. Drape the blanket over your shoulders. Gather a good handful of the blanket in each hand until you feel it tightening around your shoulders, and then cross your arms to pull it tighter around your upper arms and back. Hold for 30-60 seconds, and breathe.
Stroke of genius: Lie on your bed on your back naked, with a towel underneath you. Take a bit of lotion, cream, or oil in your left hand, and begin applying it in long, slow strokes to your right arm. Allow your hand to glide over the surface of your skin instead of focusing on absorption. Move on to your chest and torso, starting from your chin and your neck, using the same long strokes. Switch hands, and have the right hand do the left arm, and then do your legs and your feet. Start with five minutes and work your way up to 10 minutes.
Getting the brush-off: Take a long-handled, soft-bristle brush and firmly run it back and forth across your arms, legs, torso, back, sides and chest prior to going to bed. The stimulation to your skin can help you sleep better. You can also do something similar for your scalp by brushing your hair 100 times.
What happens in vagus: The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and is connected with the parasympathetic nervous system. It touches every major organ, and helps you rest and digest. You can stimulate the vagus nerve from the outside of the body by stroking the sides of your neck. Start behind your earlobe, and move your fingers down to your collarbone. Repeat until you feel your breath deepen, jaw relax and your mouth falls open a bit. You can also stimulate the vagus nerve by massaging or rubbing your feet.
Trip down memory lane: Close your eyes, and recall an amazing hug you received. It could be from a parent, relative, or child, a stranger, friend, or lover. Zero in on the details: what color was their shirt? Did they smell like onions because you just finished eating sub sandwiches? Where were you? Once you have the details, shift your attention to your body, and focus on what this hug felt like. Allow yourself to linger on the feeling of being safe, loved, cared for, and seen by another person.
Read more on self-isolation.