A person may become touch starved when they do not receive enough physical or emotional interaction from others. They may crave hugs, handshakes, or even a simple smile from a stranger. When there is a significant decrease in human interaction, someone might begin to feel isolated or experience symptoms of depression.
What Is Touch Starved?
A person may feel touch starved for a number of reasons. Perhaps, they have not spent enough time around loved ones. Or, maybe they need to self-isolate due to an illness or other ailment, such as during the height of COVD-19. Whatever the reason, a lack of emotional closeness and social support can leave someone feeling deeply saddened and alone.
Touch starvation does not always relate to physical or sensual interactions. It also encapsulates the absence of closeness one feels to other members of society, friends, and family. A lack of physical touch impacts a person psychologically, but emotional connections are just as important.1
Why Touch Is Important
Physical touch is an important aspect of human existence. Touch can help reduce a person’s anxiety as feel-good neurotransmitters are released in their body. Additionally, when the vagus nerve is stimulated through touch, this lowers heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in feelings of calm and ease. This is one reason a doctor may encourage skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her baby after birth.
Touch Starved in Relationships
It’s important to explore how touch starvation can occur in romantic relationships. While everyone has a different love language, receiving touch from one another is an essential part of partnership. When this is missing in a relationship, a partner can become emotionally withdrawn, depressed, and unhappy. Touch starvation could occur due to a lack of intimacy or something as small as not sleeping next to each other. Communicating one’s needs for physical contact with their partner is essential to fostering a healthy relationship.1
What Can Cause Someone to Become Touch Starved?
A person may encounter a decline in human interaction at any point in their life. For instance, they may have recently moved to a new town and have yet to make new friends. Touch starvation could also occur in children whose parents are emotionally unavailable and struggle to display affection.
Touch starvation may be caused by:
- Switching from an office setting to a work-from-home position
- Being isolated from loved ones while hospitalized
- Living alone with little to no community
- Isolation due to a depressive disorder
- Moving to a new town
- Self-isolation due to outbreaks of sickness or disease
- Lack of physical or emotional connection in a relationship
Signs You May Be Experiencing Touch Starvation
It can be difficult for a person to recognize if they have become touch starved. However, there are potential warning signs that may shine some light on why they are feeling depressed or sad. Of course, there are many reasons why someone may experience these emotions. But, if they notice that these symptoms began after a period of isolation or absence of human interaction, they may be touch starved.
Common signs of touch starvation include:
- Deep feelings of loneliness: A person may isolate themselves from others for a variety of reasons, such as not knowing how to make friends. Either way, if they notice increased loneliness after a lack of human interaction, they may be experiencing touch starvation.
- Difficulties sleeping: Someone who previously slept next to a partner or loved one may experience problems sleeping. They may feel deprived of the closeness they once had.
- Increased anxiety: As noted, physical touch helps reduce stress and anxiety. Therefore, a lack of it may increase a person’s sense of unease if they are accustomed to frequent touch.
- Low relationship satisfaction: A lack of physical and emotional connection can greatly affect a partnership. If a person does not feel satisfied in their relationship, it could be due to touch starvation.
- Seeking constant validation: Someone may go out of their way to seek the approval of others if they are not receiving adequate validation or support in their current relationships.
- Decline in self-care: Sometimes, being touch starved can increase a person’s symptoms of depression. This can result in a decline in physical self-care and personal hygiene as a person struggles to cope with their condition.
Popular Choices For Online Therapy
BetterHelp – Best For Those “On A Budget”
Online-Therapy.com – Best For Multiple Sessions Per Week
According to 14 Best Therapy Services (updated on 1/16/2023), Choosing Therapy partners with leading mental health companies and is compensated for marketing by BetterHelp and Online-Therapy.
Effects of Touch Starvation
The effects of touch starvation can be widespread and may include increased symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, and even physical health conditions. For example, heightened stress levels result in the release of cortisol in the body which can raise heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term, this can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and further ailments.2
How to Cope With Being Touch Starved
Addressing touch starvation is important for your overall well-being, including your physical and mental health. There are several ways you can do this and taking small steps is helpful! Finding ways to incorporate touch back into your life, even from yourself, will help you regain a sense of calm and balance.3
Below are tips for coping with touch starvation:
- Give yourself a massage: Giving yourself a massage can stimulate the vagus nerve and help you feel more relaxed.
- Take time to reminisce: Thinking about happy past-times or memories with loved ones can remind you of what it feels like to be physically and emotionally close to others. This can encourage you in the moment.
- Try a weighted blanket or body pillows: These can be helpful as they provide a stand-in for the physical warmth or weight of another person.
- Get moving: There are many mental health benefits of exercise, including the release of endorphins.
- Spend time with your pet: Taking time to cuddle, pet, or hold an animal offers the closeness and connection you are craving.
- Call a friend: Even if you can’t see them face-to-face, talking to a friend on the phone can help you feel less isolated.
- Be close to others when you can: This may look like sitting at a table next to someone else in a cafe or walking through a busy park. Simply feeling the energy and presence of others can help you feel better.
- Volunteer: Try volunteering at a local organization, such as a hospital, religious community, tutoring, or a soup kitchen. Helping others can make you feel connected, even if you don’t have a relationship with friends or family.
- Shower loved ones with positive touch: Whether this be holding hands or giving them a hug, make an effort to share positive physical touch with loved ones when possible. However, make sure you don’t push unwanted touch on anyone.
- Allow them to be close to you: Being near your loved ones, even if you are not talking to or touching each other, can help you feel connected with them.
- Keep in contact: Make the effort to stay in touch with loved ones. Video chats can help you feel close to them, despite any distance between you.
- Offer words of encouragement: If you notice a loved one is showing signs of touch starvation themselves, interact and engage with them and provide support.
- Set a time to look forward to: If you cannot see your loved one at the moment, make a point to set a date when you can. When you’re feeling lonely, you will have something to look forward to!
When to Seek Professional Help
Touch starvation may worsen the symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. If you notice an increase in sadness or overwhelm, even after reaching out to loved ones, you may benefit from therapy. While having the support of friends and family is essential, a therapist can help determine the underlying cause of your emotions and teach you healthy coping skills.4 If you are unable to physically attend a session, there are also many online therapy options available. You and your therapist can work together to develop a treatment plan that best suits you.
It is important to catch the early signs of touch starvation before it becomes a major stressor in your life. Addressing this can be as simple as calling up a friend when you’re feeling sad or saying hi to your neighbor next door. However, if you continue to experience symptoms of depression or loneliness, consider reaching out for support–a therapist can help.