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The healing power of the cuddle hormone

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

(I've just re-published this blog from my previous website - it is still relevant as my husband and I are still 6000 miles apart. Its now been 15 months and we're still waiting to be able to get together - however I have had a cuddle with the scrumptious face at the bottom of the page! )

Covid19 has brought us the term social distancing. For many who are living on their own during this time, it has also meant no touch at all from another human being.

My husband and I are 6000 miles apart and as yet we are unsure of when we will be in the same country, yet alone the same room. It's been 11 weeks. As a pilot, to abide by the quarantine rules for airline staff, and if he does fly into the UK on a work trip, we'll still be unable to meet up. But I am far from lonely. We have daily FaceTime video calls, sometimes 3 times a day. We do the cryptic crossword together. We exchange new recipes. We discuss politics - luckily we agree on most aspects! We chat about the books we're reading. I have endless questions on the garden, the car, the house - I can't get the lawnmower to work. Ugh. There is even the 'higher than usual pitch' conversation with the dogs. I came back to spend Christmas here with my daughters. Then in January China announced Covid19 and with Hong Kong bordering China, schools closed and many expats left. We'd also accepted an offer on our house in Somerset, so with quite a bit to sort out, we decided I'd stay in the UK a bit longer. Just before I was due to return in mid March I was dealt a bout of Covid19 of my own. I came out of quarantine the day the UK was taken into lock-down.

I have lots of other connections in my lock-down life. I have my 3 daughters and 2 step daughters who, between them, live in 4 different counties and we have regular catch-ups and phone-ins. As I do with my mother, my siblings, my parents-in-law and sister-in-law, my friends and neighbours. We laugh, we chat, we cry, we listen, we moan (but not for long), we share gratitude and love. We connect mainly through WhatsApp and FaceTime video.

So to be youngest daughter was with me for a few weeks. We did the Covid19 thing together - or at least she passed it on to me once she'd done with it! A few weeks into lock-down she returned to London for work. Life has certainly been different without her.

I have found another outlet to connect with people - by volunteering to help out at The North Curry village shop so it could remain open during lock-down. Twice a week I marshal at the door for one hour to ensure only 2 people are in the store at any one time. The great thing about this has been that it isn't even in my village! So I get to speak to people I've never met before. There is usually a couple of minutes chat and pleasantries with each person as they reach the front of the queue.

A question I often ask people is this ...

What have you missed most during lock-down? The list is endless from flour, family (obviously), the pub etc.

Well, there is one thing I've really missed. It Isn't eating out, or shopping, or holidaying, or the theatre or cinema. Its not a haircut or socialising. Although, all those are lovely, the thing I have missed most..... is touch. I asked my grandson for a hug on video FaceTime recently and now, every time I call, I get a virtual hug as he consumes the phone with his 2 yr-old almost edible, chubby arms and his cheeky smile delivering huge m'wah m'wah kisses on the screen. The warmth of it is infectious and enough to lift anyone from a low moment.

However, it's not the same as a real, in-the-moment hug. Where arms engulf you and hold you for longer than few seconds. Where you can smell skin and the familiar comforting smell left behind by washing powder on the clothes and the faint, yet distinct, smell of a favourite after shave. Where you feel the bristles of a day's growth against your cheek and the gentle bear hug squeeze around the shoulders. The torso to torso touch where you can feel each others breath move though the body. The sense of calm, security and love.

The impact of touch is laid out in this attached, well-researched science based article by Ashley Yeager in the Affectionate touch doesn't just imply nurture and love, it also triggers physical and chemical reactions on the brain and our immune system. It can reduce cortisol in women with breast cancer and men with HIV. Even the pressure that is used matters.

Apparently a little pressure is more beneficial than a light feather touch - So Bowen Therapy has it spot on, where touch is light enough to gently stretch the outer connections of skin and superficial fascia to the edge of it's limit and applying gentle pressure before rolling the tissues back over the underlying muscles. This provides just the right pressure to influence a parasympathetic reaction in the body - evident in the recipient falling into deep relaxation during the session.

For now I'll be content with rubbing coconut oil on my skin and and my daily exercise routine of the fascia stretching Soma Move™. According to the article, exercise and self touch both have an impact but not to the same levels as affectionate touch from someone else.

So when social distancing is over WATCH OUT! I am going to be doing more hugging. I'm definitely going to 'affectionately' shake more hands with those I don't know well enough to hug. I'm going to be naturally more tactile with friends. And I'm going to book myself in for a Bowen session.

A hug with my husband doesn't need emphasising. He is top of the list. Very closely followed with a real hug from those 2 yr-old, almost edible, chubby arms, and a couple of m'wah, m'wah kisses, all of which are going to release serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, commonly known as the cuddle hormone.



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Read more on the science in this excellent article by Ashley Yeager.

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