Many people have written about the feelings of loneliness that can creep up on us when we social beings are not able to connect to friends, family and co-workers during our work from home/ social distancing experiment. Besides the feelings of loss in not inhabiting the same space with others on a regular basis, many of us are missing the benefits of physical touch. None so much as single people who live alone.
Touch is primal. Studies have demonstrated that touch provides our earliest experiences of bonding and security without which we cannot survive or form pair bonds. Numerous studies have detailed the physical and emotional benefits of touch: lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system, reducing pain, providing some protection against depression and anxiety. Touch also stimulates the pleasure center of the brain releasing neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin that boost feelings of happiness, joy, relaxation, love and contentment.
Single people use a variety of strategies to ensure they get their “touch quota” such as receiving regular hugs from friends and family, owning a pet, receiving high touch services such as massage, hair and nail care, and even booking the service of allied health professionals from podiatrists to physical therapists and chiropractic practitioners. Currently and for some time to come, many of these avenues to well being through touch are limited. So what can a single person do now to supplement the need for touch?
Most of us use self-touch to sooth ourselves without being fully aware of it. Think about running your fingers through your own hair when slightly fraught with frustration, or stroking your hair or beard when anxious, or rubbing your neck when tense. These are all helpful interventions to reduce negative physical or emotional states. But what I am suggesting here goes beyond these automatic reactions to a more focused, intentional type of self-touch called Sensate Focus Touch.
Masters and Johnson, the people who invented modern sex therapy theorized that many sexual difficulties are caused by or maintained by anxiety. They used a touch therapy they called “Sensate Focus” in which couples touch each other in turn focusing on their own bodily experience of temperature (warm or cool), texture (smooth or rough), and pressure (firm or soft). The focus on these non-evaluative physical sensations helps people get out of their worried thoughts and enter a state of mindfulness which results in a calm, relaxed and centered state of being. In Masters and Johnson’s couples, Sensate Focus mindful touch also led to feeling more connected, cared for and as the suggestions progressed, to turn on sexually.
The use of this strategy, Sensate Focus, can also work for single people! Used for relaxation and self connection, self Sensate Focus can help you turn off your mind, re-inhabit your body, and make time stand still. All those feel good chemicals can get released in your brain and nervous system by taking 15 minutes a day to do some self-touching! Even without an orgasm, feelings of relaxation and well-being can evolve, though obviously, an orgasm can generate a more intense feeling of relaxation and pleasure.
So schedule half an hour to take a warm bath or shower, turn on some instrumental music, and, using your hands and fingers, explore your body, including your breast and genitals, if you like. This does not have to be “sexy time” when something is expected to happen, like arousal or orgasm. The experience of turning your thoughts inward and re-focusing as needed on the sensations of temperature, texture and pressure without evaluation is the point of the experience. Massage your scalp, trace your face with your fingertips, run your hands down your arms and be prepared to re-enter, however momentarily, a place of peace.