The importance of touch for mental & physical health

Tango Shoes

At the moment, as some of you will know I am doing a research project for my Level Four Counselling course. Being that I love to dance tango (in close embrace) and am passionate about massage for fixing muscular pain, I have choosen to write about “The importance of touch for mental and physical health”. Which for me feels even more relevant and important having just been through two years of effective isolation and very little contact with other people for months on end due to the pandemic. For me I wasn’t allowed to work (massage been classed as close contact) and my social life disapeared over night (I danced a lot of tango!). So contact with other people and the abillity to physically touch another disapeared. When I think about it now, it’s a really strange situation and the closest I have ever been to solitary confinement.

I’m just beginging to start reading and researching for my project so plan to occasionally post interesting snippets or did you knows. I might even be brave enough to post some tango photos but we’ll have to see about that. 🙂

My first snippet or did you know to share with you based on some recent reading is:

Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and often the last sense to leave us in old age when our sight and hearing fades.

Touch is an important part of communication and can convey general feelings and emotions without the need for visual clues or words. In a series of experiments in Depaw Universtity on the role of social touch in communication, people sat at a table seperated by a curtain, where they were not allowed to see each other or talk. They were given a list of words and asked to convey randomly the emotion of a word by touching the bare forearm of the other person for just five seconds. After this, the reciever was asked to score the emotion on a sheet listing the emotions. The inwardly focused emotions such as embarrassment, envy and pride were not communicated, but emotions focused towards another such as love, gratitude and sympathy were recognised at levels well above chance.

I rember a similar experiment 12 or 13 years ago when I was first learning tango. We were each given a peice of paper with an emotion on and asked to dance in that manner and see if the person we were dancing with understood which emotion we were conveying without telling them. When I danced the emotion love, my partner understood it, when another person I practiced with danced anger, I didn’t get it, at all it was quite funny.

Do you rember any instances in your own life where the emotion communicated by touch has been important to you?

If you are interested in the science behind the mechanics of touch I can recommend: “Touch: The Science of Hand, heart and Mind” by David J. Liden

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