In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan dreams of meeting the man who will bring her a feeling of peace and security by the simple touch of his hand.
Each human seems to secretly aspire to such a feeling. Is it a Hollywood fantasy or is there some reality behind this idea that a simple hand contact is able to ‘talk’ to our inner being?
Over the past 20 years, sociological studies have shown that people who live – happily – in a couple are in better health. They have less colds, cardiac illnesses and even cancers (1). Some studies suggest that this is thanks to the effects of physical contact.
At the University in Zurich, Switzerland, researcher Beate Ditzen has asked women who are happy in their marriages to pass a test in public and in front of a jury. In 90% of the people this generated a high level of stress. Some of the women did not have any contact to their partners before the ‘test’. Their cardiac rythm and level of stress hormones (like cortisol for example, principal biological indicator of stress) increased brutally. Those who had received words of encouragement before the test did not escape from the effects of stress either.
However, those women who had received a little shoulder or neck rub (ten minutes with a little oil) from the partner they love, passed the test with much greater calm. Their cardiac rythm and cortisol level stayed normal as well (2).
In another study, the same team followed 50 couples very closely for a week. The more men and women touched each other or made love, the lower their cortisol level was. Here again, it was not the quality of spoken emotional exchanges that made the difference, but the time spent each day touching each other’s hand, embracing each other or rubbing the skin. The more stress they had at the office, the more noticeable these protective effects of touching were on cortisol increases (3).
Monkeys, dogs, cats and even children seem to know better than we how to take care of their physiology in this way. Animals are continuously seeking physical contact with those they trust. They feed from it like from other energies: air, water, food, a log fire, the sun…
For us adult humans, it seems to be an aspect we neglect often. How many men and women are in a couple with someone who, deep down, they can’t smell, let alone stand to touch? Other couples on the contrary, surprise us sometimes in that they seem completely odd and unmatched in their interests or origins, but one sees immediately that they are ‘settled’ when they are near or very close to each other.
Without a doubt they answered this ‘animal’ call from deep down that made them feel that something – their cortisol? – reacted to the physical presence of this partner.
And here we have another energy, an inexhaustible and free source from which we can all profit and give as a present before each exam, important meeting at work or simply like that, for no reason, like one breathes or bathes in the sun.
To feel, through the softness of the hand, the sweetness of life.
I wonder how this pandemic, where we have less touch with less people, will affect the studies of the future… I sure do miss hugs!