Why is lack of physical contact so difficult to bear?

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Touch is the language of connection, trust and collaboration. This is the reason why confined people alone feel a lack of proximity that is getting heavier and heavier.

As everyone practices social distancing, barrier gestures, and confinement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, some people begin to feel a real lack of human contact. Loneliness and social isolation are getting heavier. But why do we need it so much? What are the risks in case of excessive shortage? And above all, what can we do to support this weight?

"Physical and social contact is our matrix, it is essential," says Virginie Tschemodanov, a psychologist and psychotherapist. If children express the need for closeness more than adults, it changes over time, but it is still essential. "As soon as we start to verbalize, this contact turns into social support, which helps us feel safe."

Deprivation of touch can have psychological and even physical consequences. As Time recalls, hugging your partner or having contact with a loved one can calm the stress reaction. Positive touch activates certain neural connections that improve the immune system, regulate digestion and help us sleep well. The brain also produces oxytocin, the love and attachment hormone.

For Virginie Tschemodanov, an additional risk concerns loss of spontaneity in social relationships. "Barrier measures push us to change our habits, to censor ourselves, and to constantly be on the watch." We are ready to make this effort to preserve common health, knowing that these measures are temporary, "but it is very difficult, especially for children."

Although there is no real substitute for human contact, some solutions can overcome social isolation. The first was implemented in a very natural way: video calls. Different video conferencing applications allow family and friends to come together to share portions of daily life. "This situation stimulates creativity, everyone has their own idea of finding the warmth of social relationships," adds the psychologist.

Dancing, singing, or playing sports with others through an online platform can also provide beneficial visual proximity. These techniques are useful when you live away from your regular contacts. "The situation is more complicated for workers who continue to have social relationships, but who must be careful," said Virginie Tschemodanov.

"At home, we can have normal relationships with our children, but outside we have to think about our behavior." If a colleague is having difficulties, can we hug him or pat him on the shoulder to show our support? Even if the urge is present, we will probably hold back, causing tension and discomfort in our movements.

For the specialist, humor can help overcome many of the difficulties. "Speech, smiles and warm verbal relationships still allow us to communicate. If we really want to lend our support, our actions will be sincere, despite the limits imposed by the current situation."

Trust is slowly emerging, but "it will take a little time to regain lost spontaneity in our relationships," says Virginie Tschemodanov. Handshakes and braces can be replaced with a gesture or a greeting. "But I think human beings are full of resources," he says. Physical contact will eventually find a way to exist again, without compromising our mental and physical health.

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