Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been tasked with making the best choices within their abilities to keep themselves and their communities safe by adjusting their social habits. Refraining from socializing with those outside of one’s household to prevent the spread of the virus has remained standard advice from public health officials. However, as the pandemic has elapsed over a year, feelings of loneliness, isolation and longing for connection are as real as the need to take precautions against contracting and spreading the virus. In a harm-reductive rather than abstinent approach to socialization, people have explored ways to connect more safely during the pandemic, including forming social bubbles, meeting outside with distance and socializing remotely. While finding safer ways to connect with others during this time is important, the power of self-connection can also be utilized to soothe feelings of loneliness and improve emotional and physical health. Here are just a few ways this can be accomplished.
Self-touch can be a healing way to connect with oneself and enjoy tactile experiences without another person. Somatic therapist Rachel Otis writes,
“The healing power of touch is one that has been discouraged in many cultures, both with others and with ourselves. During this period of self-isolation, I believe self-touch can be more important than ever. This mind-body disconnect has very painful, even long-term implications.”
You don’t have to go to a spa to get a massage and unwind. There are several techniques of self-massage. Some simple techniques are targeted to specific parts of the body, and, for example, can relieve neck and back pain. While many methods of self-massage do not require any tools aside from fingers, a tennis ball massage can relieve back pain by placing a tennis ball under the back while lying down. Some other massages include the use of oil. One example is Abhyanga. Abhyanga massage is a practice of Ayurveda, a traditional form of medicine from India. It has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It requires some warm oil, which is applied to the entire body.
Supportive touch is self-touch specially intended to be emotionally soothing and regulatory of emotions. Dr. Kristin Neff writes,
“Touch activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down and feel safe. It may feel awkward or embarrassing at first, but your body doesn’t know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being cuddled in its mother’s arms […] Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin, provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress.“
One can practice supportive touch by placing their hand over their heart, taking deep breaths and noticing the sensations and feelings that arise in that moment of consciousness. They can also cradle their face in their hands in a soothing way. But ultimately, supportive touch is about what makes an individual person feel loved and comforted and does not have to fit one mold. It can help one know their body better and feel grounded.
Though the pandemic emphasizes the challenges of relational disconnects, it is an opportunity to build a relationship with oneself. This endeavor is not only physical, but fighting touch-starvation can be a powerful act of self-care. The human body’s ability to self-soothe is vast, and redefining cultural norms about touch has the potential to be a partially positive outcome of the pandemic.