During the coronavirus pandemic, people have been asked to stay at home and to isolate themselves. Social and physical distancing requirements have been put in place because our affection could be dangerous.
The virus has limited how people can express emotions and love to family and friends, which can take a toll on a person’s mental health. There is a name for the desire for touch: skin hunger.
"Touch, in particular, is so important," said University of Arizona Professor Kory Floyd. "Not only to relationships and human connection, human attachment… but also to our health and well-being, both physically and mentally."
Affection looks different to everyone. It could be a handshake, a hug, or a kiss. They all provide a sense of comfort. However, the instinct to reach out is now limited by recommendations to stay 6-feet away to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"That's sort of the one thing that Zoom can't give us," Floyd said. "I can't reach through the screen and hug the person on the other end. So many people, I think, are feeling this experience that we sometimes call 'skin hunger.'"
Floyd is a communication and psychology professor at the University of Arizona. He is also an author writing "The Loneliness Cure: Six Strategies for Finding Real Connections in Your Life." He has a new study with the university that investigates levels of affection.
"Things like, how extroverted you are, for example, or how shy you are... even how intelligent you are and those things have some level of heritability to them; which means, to some extent, their effected by the genes we inherit from our parents," Floyd explained. "So, I wondered if the same thing was true with how affectionate we are."
They found that about half of women did have some genetic reasoning behind how affectionate they are. Men, however, had none. For them, it was all about environment.
Of course, now affection is limited, that is leading to that skin hunger.
"Which is that realization, that dis-ease that we have when we recognize that... we're just not getting enough touch," Floyd said.
On the University of Arizona's website, Floyd lists some ways to combat that feeling during a pandemic. While he knows this is not going to completely fulfill the need for human touch, it is a way to cope.
- Pet your dog or cat. Petting an animal can help relieve stress, which is why canine and equine therapies are so successful. If you don't have a pet, you might consider heading to the local Humane Society or shelter to interact with an animal there.
- Cuddle your pillow or blanket. Many of us grew up with a favorite stuffed toy or security blanket. According to Floyd, adults, too, can experience calm and comfort from snuggling up to a pillow, blanket or other soft object that feels good against the skin.
- Practice self-massage. Some people massage their own necks or shoulders to relieve stress and physical pain. Floyd recommends pressing your thumb into the palm of your opposite hand as one type of stress-relieving massage.