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Three relatives. They are the assistants to funerals that were allowed in the Spain of the covid-19 before phase 1. All properly distanced from each other. “It is one of the regrets that are coming the most: the pain for the lack of physical contact in the farewells of relatives,” says Isabel Aranda, a doctor in Psychology and member of the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid. Not a touch, not a hug, not a shy squeeze on the wrist: only a meter and a half vacuum.
According to the US Touch Institute, “When you touch someone’s skin, sensors underneath it are stimulated and send a message to the vagus nerve. As their activity increases, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and the brain gives signs of relaxation. ” Stress hormones like cortisol also decrease. “We are programmed to touch each other, from the first moments of life. Human beings could not be happy without physical contact. We need it, “says Pablo Eguía, neurologist and member of the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN). Hugs relax, calm, reassure … But they also shade ibuprofen or paracetamol:” Studies have been published that indicate that the Physical contact, as long as it is empathetic, activates certain brain mechanisms that help support pain better. “
To find the explanation for this perfect storm, one must go back to the moment of birth. This is how neuroscientist Pablo Barrecheguren, author of the Neurocosas outreach channel, explains it: “You see it in animals, when mothers groom their young in the first moments of life. To do so, they need to touch them, of course: one cat licks another, one monkey worms another … Physical contact becomes something halfway between biological need and care. In the case of humans, what happens is that the body has mechanisms, neurotransmitters, which make everything that is biologically important pleasant and pleasant. We have done it with food … and with the act of touching ourselves. “
The sensation is so powerful that it has given rise to a familiar expression for neurologists, ‘skin hunger’, which is “the need for affection in the form of physical contact that people have,” according to the SEN member. In the case of babies, it is especially important, hence the main medical societies recommend skin-to-skin contact between the newborn and the mother just after delivery. In fact, there are studies that suggest that babies who have been deprived of physical contact in the first months of life tend to suffer psychological disorders or psychiatric “, explains Pablo Eguía.” It is normal. They have no other tools to communicate with the world. And the human being needs communication. “
In the distance, the bad will be worse
From the new security protocols to stop the pandemic, it appears that for a season there will be a shortage of touching. What will be the consequences? Recurring sensations during this health crisis, such as pain, rage, anguish, helplessness or fear will hurt a little more. Or they will find less relief. “Of all the pillars that support mental health, one is being taken away from us. But there are others … It is like the self-employed person who loses a payer,” Barrecheguren consoles.
Psychologist Isabel Aranda points out that there are studies that predict that 30% of people will need psychological attention during the pandemic, because of, among other things, this closeness deficit. The World Health Organization has also warned of the risks. “Physical contact gives us confidence. A simple handshake is an ancient way of telling your enemy that you do not carry weapons. When they comment that in Japan they greet each other without touching each other and that we should learn these codes, I am surprised: ‘That is not something that can be acquired in a few months … “. Aranda, who runs group sessions at workplaces, says games involving physical contact always lead to a decrease in conflict in the office, “so it would not be surprising if anger episodes increased.”
In the most vulnerable group are people alone. The SEN member confirms that the absence of physical contact contributes to the devastating effect that loneliness has on them (it is known to increase mortality from any type of cause). “In fact, neurologists advise that, in order to have a healthy brain, social and emotional relationships are enhanced,” he says.
We can make up for it by being a little more social
According to Aranda, there are self-regulation techniques capable of arousing a physiological effect similar to that of a hug. “In stressful situations, conscious breathing, swallowing, or sitting can calm us down. strategies that we will have to learn en masse. There are others, cognitive-behavioral, to which many groups that work facing the public are already submitting. “In turn, all the experts assure that the technology is capable of supplying part of these absences: blessed video calls.” I have made studies with lovers in which, when seeing the photos of the people they loved, the same brain areas were activated as when they were in contact with them “, illustrates Barrecheguren.
The psychologist recommends practice verbal and non-verbal communication more than ever. “Be a little more social,” says the neuroscientist. A smile, a conversation with the neighbor a little longer than usual, a video or phone connection, a deliberate look … These are small gestures that will make our brains face the situation with a little more integrity. And the hugs will return. Although it will not be easy … “I am concerned about children under the age of 10. What will become of that generation that we are encouraging to not touch, touch, kiss or hug? It depends on how long this lasts. But, if it lengthens, I’m afraid we will have less empathetic, more obsessive children and with more problems to relate. The good part is that I know that we will be able to reverse it, to restore their confidence. We will see how … “, concludes the psychologist .
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