Stories from Mental Challenges

5 therapist-backed tips for what to do when you crave human touch but are social distancing alone

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceApril 1, 2020

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While people who are in a relationship or live with others have their own set of obstacles when it comes to being stuck at home, others who are social distancing alone face other hurdles. Even if you’re someone who likes an abundance of solo time, not having any human contact at all for weeks on end can be…a lot. Especially since no one is quite sure how long this whole situation will last.

Sure, there’s FaceTime and virtual happy hours. Yet while technology is key for staying connected while social distancing, it still doesn’t completely take the place of human touch. A hug from a friend, holding your niece in your arms, a high five from someone in your running group…none of it can happen right now. If you’re craving human touch while social distancing alone, psychologist and Ross University School of Medicine behavioral sciences associate professor Laurie Helgoe, PhD, has several tips that can help meet that need. Here she shares five steps to take.

5 tips for when you crave human touch but are social distancing alone:

1. give in to your inner child

While most people have boxed up their childhood stuffed animals long ago, this is a time with Dr. Helgoe says having one could be a source of comfort. “The best plush toys are very soft and can flex in response to your body. They also need to be durable,” Dr. Helgoe says, adding that she herself cuddles a stuffed animal when her husband is out of town.

2. try a body pillow

If a stuffed animal isn’t your thing, Dr. Helgoe suggests curling up in bed with a body pillow, a long narrow pillow that spans the length of the body. “It can act as a cuddle companion while helping to align the spine,” she says, adding that cradling the pillow between the legs helps side sleepers maintain proper alignment. Not only will it help you relax, it can help undo some of the damage of sitting all day hunched over your computer working from home—a win, win.

3. get cozy under the covers

While you’re upgrading your sleeping situation, Dr. Helgoe suggests getting a heated or weighted blanket. “A heated blanket can simulate the warmth of sharing a bed,” she says. And weighted blankets have been linked to lowering anxiety. “[It can work similar] to swaddling clothes wrapped around a baby, hugging and calming an anxious body,” Dr. Helgoe says.

4. pamper yourself

“There are many ways to use the sensation of touch, other than the obvious, to provide soothing and comfort. A warm bath embraces the body and relaxes tired muscles,” Dr. Helgoe says. She adds that the ritual of applying a lotion you love to your body or massaging your feet and doing an at-home pedicure, can also work in this way.

5. touch through words

“Physical touch is an essential human need, but it’s only part of what helps us feel embraced,” Dr. Helgoe says. “If we have contact without attunement, it can leave us cold.” While you may not be able to find comfort through a hug from a friend, she says you can still be comforted by their voice and words. “Watch the tendency to protect others from the ‘burden’ of your need,” Dr. Helgoe says. “Being human with another frees them to be more human, and that’s the kind of comfort we can all use right now.”

It’s also worth remembering that this time we’re taking to stay inside, for the well-being of ourselves and others, won’t last forever. And once it’s over, the simplicity of human touch will be celebrated even more than it was before.

Here’s how to maintain a daily routine while social distancing. And here’s a list of free workout services to take advantage of right now.

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