The Healing Touch: The Impact of Touch Deprivation on the Nervous System

In today’s fast-paced world, where community living, public displays of affection, family separation and the online reality, all gives rise to a world of physical solitude. Human beings are engineering a world where touch is experienced less and less, even from birth, and the impact this has on how we regulate, communicate and experience the world is profound.

The power of touch is often underestimated. As an experienced aromatherapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound effects touch deprivation can have on the nervous system. Many individuals suffer silently from touch ‘starvation’, which can take a toll on both their mental and physical well-being.

Touch deprivation, or touch starvation, refers to the chronic lack of physical touch, whether it’s hugs, handshakes, or even simple pats on the back. Our bodies are wired to crave touch from infancy, as it plays a crucial role in our emotional and physical development. When deprived of touch, the nervous system can become dysregulated, leading to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

One effective way to address touch starvation and its effects on the nervous system is through massage therapy. For centuries massage has been used as a form of healing touch, and its benefits extend far beyond mere relaxation. Through the manipulation of soft tissues and muscles, massage helps stimulate the nervous system, promoting the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin while reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

The nervous system needs to feel safe in order to heal, rest and repair. If it perceives an internal or external threat then it will drive an increased heart rate, breath rate, hyperactive muscle tone, poor sleep and even inappropriate digestion. Touch which matches our nervous system, either holding us and supporting us, or gentling moving areas of stillness, signals to our brain that we are safe, our body is healthy and our minds focus on the present- all activating the heal, rest and repair nervous system.

For individuals feeling touch starved, regular massage sessions can provide much-needed relief, helping to soothe frazzled nerves and restore a deep sense of calm and well-being. Aromatherapy, which involves the use of essential oils derived from plants, can further enhance the therapeutic effects of massage. Certain essential oils are known for their calming properties, making them ideal for relieving stress and promoting relaxation during a massage session. The scent of Essential Oils themselves can be used as an anchor, by experiencing as massage with your oil; you create memory of feeling safe and calm. 

In addition to its psychological benefits, massage therapy also has tangible effects on the body, such as improving circulation, relieving muscle tension, and boosting the immune system. By addressing both the physical and emotional aspects of touch deprivation, massage offers a holistic approach to healing that can have profound and long-lasting effects on the nervous system. By incorporating the healing power of touch into our lives, we can promote greater well-being and vitality, one massage at a time.

By Charlotte

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