The Physiology of Touch.

Most people are aware of how touch brings comfort and relieves stress and many understand that the body releases oxytocin when we touch or receive a hug but there’s a great deal more to that touch. So let’s dig a little deeper into how compassionate touch impacts our physiology.

First off human touch is a basic need to thrive and survive. Our skin is covered in touch receptors that stimulate the release of neurochemicals which set off a chain reaction within out body and brain. In one fingertip alone their are more than 3000 touch receptors!

Oxytocin. We’ll start with oxytocin as that’s what most people associate with hugs. Oxytocin is often referred to as the love or bonding hormone and it functions as a neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter reduces feelings of loneliness, supports us in feeling more connected and boosts feelings of wellbeing. It has a role in regulating the social behaviours in humans including social memory – people and faces. Oxytocin can also function as an anxiolytic agent (a compound reducing stress and anxiety) as it decreases stress hormone release (cortisol) and evokes feelings of contentment, safety and calmness. It is no secret that stress is bad for us.

Here are some other amazing things Oxytocin does: Reduces blood pressure. Lowers our heart rate and slows brain activity. Relaxes our muscles relieving tension in the body and soothing aches.

Other than oxytocin what else happens to our body chemistry and physiology when we give and receive compassionate touch?

Dopamine. It activates the release of dopamine, another neurotransmitter, which is associated with concentration, motivation, and feelings of bliss and euphoria. It calms the parasympathetic nervous system. When someone touches us, they activate pressure receptors within our skin known as Pacinian corpuscles. Here’s where I get a little technical haha. These receptors fire signals to our vagus nerve which is a key element in our parasympathetic nervous system. Our parasympathetic system acts as a safety valve when our brain or body is overwhelmed with stress or is overexcited. It can put us into fight, flight or freeze mode.

The Vagus Nerve. The vagus nerve originates in the brain stem and extends down our neck and into our abdomen. It is linked to our lungs, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach and intestines. What impacts the vagus nerve impacts all of these organs. You know when you’re under stress and you suddenly need to empty your bowels or you feel your heart racing?

The vagus nerve is an area within our brain that plays a vital role in regulating many of our body’s key functions including blood pressure. When we are hugged our blood pressure drops as a result of this vagus nerve stimulation and this helps us feel calmer and more secure. It also boosts our immune system.

Endorphins. Gently stroking the body also triggers a massive endorphin response in the human brain. Endorphins are used by neurons in the brain to signal to each other. They are part of our pain control system, and produce an opiate-like analgesic effect. Though chemically related to drugs like morphine there are 2 main differences – on a weight for weight basis endorphins are 30 times more effective as painkillers than morphine plus we don’t get so destructively addicted to them. Physical pain and psychological pain are processed in the same region of our brain so not only do endorphins provide relief from physical pain but they also help relieve psychological pain too. That is why a hug feels so comforting.

And this is why the world needs more huggers – more people unafraid to comfort or simply communicate using compassionate touch.

The way we compassionately touch another transcends any words.

I know we currently need to exercise caution regarding touching or hugging another due to covid-19 but, we also need to start thinking about regaining our trust in touch before it becomes psychologically embedded in our brain to be fearful or complacent about it.

Our wellbeing depends on it.

Reclaiming Connection

As well as getting your needs for touch and cuddles met these sessions offer an opportunity for richer connection.
A connection of souls and hearts.
A connection to your deepest emotions.
It is a space to feel seen and heard.
A space to be totally present.
A space of acceptance and compassion.
This is so much more than just a physical experience.
Humanity has suffered so much over the past few months.
Many have felt disconnected, isolated, alone.
We have much work to do to rebuild trust in touch and connection.
It starts here.

Are more men or women seeking out Cuddle Therapy?

A question that often pops up when I’m chatting to people about cuddle therapy is “Are there more male or female clients?”

This is purely my experience and may be different for other professional cuddlers around the world.
On average I find 9 out of 10 of the people contacting me about cuddle therapy are men (although I have seen an increase of women getting in touch since lock down).
Out of these men
1 out of 10 are members of the emergency services.
1 out of 10 are health professionals.
2 out of 10 are in the teaching profession
(the above 3 are all highly stressful working environments).
50% are married.
So, let”s look at some statistics for men.
Just over 3 out of 4 suicides in the UK (78%) are men.
12.5% of men in the UK are experiencing one of the common mental health conditions.
191 000 men a year report work related stress, depression or anxiety as opposed to women at 261 000 who are more likely to acknowledge and report these.
73% of adults who go missing in the UK are men.
87% of rough sleepers in the UK are men.
Men are statistically more likely to become alcohol dependent and use illegal drugs.
Men have measurably lower access to the social support of friends, relatives and community than women.
Men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women or admit to having mental health difficulties so this directly affects figures on men accessing professional support.

Right from childhood the male of our species are sent messages both verbal
“Boys/real men don’t cry.”
“Man up.”
“Don’t be a wuss/sissy/nancy boy/snowflake.”
“Toughen up.”

and non-verbal –
hugged far less
the touch they receive is often far more boisterous and less tender than females and this directly impacts them for the rest of their lives.

We are all designed for connection – both men and women.
Of course, people seek out my touch and cuddle therapy for many reasons including consoling through grief, support through mental health challenges including PTSD, teaching about boundaries and consent or allowing them to experience the warmth of a hug or touch that they have been deprived of for so long.
Many men who seek out my services are simply looking for connection. A deeper connection than what they are afforded in their current relationships with family and friends. They are searching for that intimacy – not of the sexual kind but of being seen and heard. They are looking for a way to be held in all that they are. They are wanting to be held whilst being authentic to their own emotions without fear of judgement or criticism or unwanted advice, a way to get in touch with their own emotions.
To appease their feelings of disconnection.
It is not always an easy job to do although you may think that sharing a hug or holding a hand for an hour or two is a breeze…but it is a beautiful job. The trust it takes between both participants. The vulnerability that can be felt.
For all you parents out there – it is time to assign those above phrases so often said to children (and even adult men) to history.
For all of you men out there I want to tell you that you are worthy.
Worthy of accessing professional mental health support, of crying, of wanting to experience more tenderness and intimacy and to want to be held in a warm, maternal embrace (which, by the way, you can also get from a man).
Worthy of contentment, peace and joy.
Worthy of life.
You are worthy.
You are worthy.
You are worthy.

More Than One Way To Hold Someone

When trying to get to grips with the practical issues of offering my services as a touch and cuddle therapist online what is evident is that, during an in-person session, I’m not just embracing clients in the physical sense but also emotionally, socially, psychologically and spiritually too.
This work requires me to “turn towards” suffering and to be absolutely present in body and mind.
This enables clients to feel safe, to be authentic with their own emotions, to prioritise their emotions and that need for connection and presence that isn’t being met.
And to feel accepted just as they are.
It’s an opportunity for them to slow down and experience a deeper moment – a moment where no-one is trying to heal them, fix them, change them.
It seems that as I bear witness to what is there for them in that moment it allows them to bear witness to themselves.

I can still do this for you from a distance. It is not the same as the closeness experienced in-person. But nothing right now is quite the same as it was. 

There is more than one way to hold someone…….

Virtual Cuddles

As you are aware providing in-person cuddle sessions is currently not an option due to covid 19. It is all of our responsibility to protect each other especially those most vulnerable during this event. We are not putting our lives on hold but holding the lives of others in our hands.

I am already seeing the fallout from this event as an increasing number of people get in touch with me due loneliness from social isolation to trauma experiences of front line workers. This is looking at being a serious mental health crisis.

But do not despair!

This is my new way of working and supporting my clients until we are able to meet in person.

I am offering virtual cuddle sessions via video link (the camera can be switched off during the main part of the session so you don’t feel self conscious).

“How is that possible?!” I hear you ask. Well, as a trained meditation teacher the session will run as a visualisation. Of course, nothing will beat that physical experience but I can hold you in other ways.

These sessions will run for 20 minutes up to an hour depending on your needs.

The fee for this new way of working is simple – pay from your heart. I will give a link to you on booking for paypal or bank transfer.

It’s that simple. You can pay before or after the session.

As it’s via video link there will be no need to go through the ID checks. ID checks will resume when in-person sessions resume.

This is a wonderful way to feel nourished and supported.

And if a cuddle visualisation doesn’t appeal to you then having a simple online one to one meditation may just hit the spot. We can discuss what your meditation needs are and work from there.

There’s no need to suffer in silence.