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Importance of caresses for mental health

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Girl with cactus

Curious fact: All senses decrease over time including touch: every 10 years we lose 5% of our tactile fibers, but physical affection is more valued over time.

Have you noticed the first thing you do when you get hurt? When you hurt yourself unintentionally, burn yourself, or when you are under too much stress? The first thing many people do, if not all of us, is to caress ourselves. I’m sure you’ve wondered why we do this, and the reason behind the importance of caresses.

Affection in infants

Our first approach to physical affection and caresses occurs at the earliest stage of our development. When a baby is born, the first contact helps the newborn to stabilize his or her breathing; from this moment on, the importance of caresses begins to increase.

Similarly, when babies begin to grow, they are still too young to understand words, so any verbal comfort is completely useless. This is where caresses replace words, which help babies calm down. As we can see, from a very young age we begin to experience tranquility thanks to caresses, so it is not surprising that, throughout our lives, physical affection plays such an important role, but what exactly happens in the brain to generate this reaction from us?

Family and baby

What happens to the brain when we receive physical demonstrations of affection?

Our bodies have millions of receptors on the skin, which are touch sensitive. When our receptors are activated, they send signals to the brain, which sends a message to the thalamus or spinal cord, with the intention of slowing down brain waves and reduce neuronal activity. In a way, the brain sends a message that says, “Everything’s fine, we’re being caressed.”

This contact results in a “hormone cocktail”, producing mainly endorphins, known as the happiness hormone, which allos us to experience euphoria; and oxytocin, which modulates our social behaviors, closeness and ties with those around us, and provides us with a sense of belonging.

8 benefits of physical caresses

Caresses and physical contact have endless benefits for human beings. Here are some of their positive impacts:

  • They reduce stress
  • They calm us and produce a state of relaxation like the one we experience when we sleep
  • Stabilize our breathing, blood pressure and heart rate
  • They release the tension in our muscles
  • They comfort more than words because of the hormones we release when we have physical contact with other people.
  • They help us cope with physical and emotional pain in a better way.
  • Generate more confidence when interacting with other people
  • They allow us to live longer, since oxytocin helps us to have better physical health, and good physical health results in better mental health as well.
  • And more…
Videocall

What role does the internet play in displays of affection?

One of the most dangerous threats to physical contact is the internet. The internet and social media are trying to replace physical contact between people, as people no longer consider it necessary to go for coffee with friends, they can simply have a phone call. Despite this, it is a fact that the internet and social media are never going to compare with physical contact, let alone outweigh the benefits that affection has; however, it will outweigh the negative effects, which became very evident after the confinement by the Covid-19 pandemic.

How does the lack of  caresses affect us?

We often think that, if a person stops receiving affection, they will miss it and want to receive it, but this is false: in fact, what will happen is that the person will start thinking that caresses are not important, which will have a negative impact on the overall health of a human being. This shows us that it is extremely important to receive and give physical affection, especially from a young age.

Among the consequences of depriving ourselves of physical displays of affection are the following:

  • Negative feelings such as anxiety and depression
  • By not relaxing, we could reach a state of permanent stress
  • High levels of cortisol (also known as stress hormone)
  • Increased risk of heart attacks and/or cardiovascular accidents
  • Increased risk of alcohol or drug addiction
  • Among others

Curiously, according to Francis McGlone, a neuroscientist at John Moores University in Liverpool, the probability of having a premature death from smoking, diabetes or air pollution is around 35-40%, while a premature death from loneliness has a 45% probability of occurring.

Experiments with apes

During the 1950s it was thought that physical contact with infants was unnecessary and had no meaning for their mental and physical development. In the 1960s, however, research proved that this was false.

Many experiments were carried out, the most famous by Harry Harlow, and they all concluded the same: caresses are essential, especially in the early stages of life. Monkeys that did not receive caresses in the first years of life suffered irreparable physical and mental damage, developed their brains abnormally, had problems coexisting with others when they grew up, and many others even died, as they could not develop without this basic need.

We invite you to consult the following link to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMdmJJG1Bmo&ab_channel=DWDocumental

Monkey

Negative caresses

According to some experts, including Eric Berne, a well-known Canadian psychiatrist, there are also negative caresses, which are “units of recognition that provide negative stimulation to an individual”, which evoke unpleasant feelings and sensations in the person receiving them.

We can find the following categories:

  • Insults
  • Physical assault
  • Gestures of disapproval
  • Comparisons
  • False compliments, e.g. “You’re too smart to be a woman.”
  • Insincere comments

Needless to say, negative caresses have a harmful impact on people’s self-esteem, while they cause us emotional and moral damage, especially if they are present in the developmental stages.

Health insurance

It is well known that taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of the body. Therefore, in BYBS we want to help you have a healthy mind and live your life to the fullest. Take care of your mind and body while we look after your integrity, finding and building coverages that best suit you.

For more information visit our website, where you will find the different coverages we offer. We have guaranteed approval coverage, which allows you to enroll regardless of your health status, or for those who do not qualify for public health insurance. (healthcare.gov) #CallBlanca (202) 316-4503

Mom and girl

 

Conclusion

We cannot this enough: caresses and physical affection play a very important role in people’s physical and mental development because we expose ourselves to them from the earliest stages of our lives, and they help us to feel close to the people we love most, something that we cannot replace with the internet or social media. Likewise, they have numerous benefits for our mental health, and our physical health. On the other hand, not receiving them also poses a threat to our integrity, so do your health and well-being a favor and embrace the people you love most.

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