Scientific Evidence: Affective Touch Reduces Feelings of Loneliness
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, the chances are you may have experienced loneliness at some point in your life. For those who’ve felt lonely, the pain can be gut-wrenching, especially when you feel that you’re stuck in a rut, while it seems that those around you are leading happy and fulfilling lives.
The truth, however, may come as somewhat of a shock. It’s estimated that around 1.2 million people in the UK, suffer from chronic loneliness. A common belief is that it’s mainly the elderly who experience loneliness, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In 2014, a study showed that those aged 18-24 were found to be around four times more likely to feel lonely all the time, than people aged over 70.
In London, the situation is just as bad. Time Out magazine produced a City Index Survey in 2016, which showed that 55% of Londoners feel lonely some of the time (for those aged under 24, the figure was 66%). Out of the 18 global cities surveyed, London was ranked as the loneliest city.
The health conditions associated with loneliness include an increased risk of heart disease and strokes, while the effects of loneliness have been compared to living with a long-term illness like high blood pressure or diabetes. To put it more starkly, some experts believe that the health impact of being lonely is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Without touch, we are more susceptible to the stresses and strains of life.
A major problem is that not everyone feels comfortable admitting that they feel lonely to their friends, family or work colleagues. Loneliness can also force us to ask deep questions about our lives, but quite often it comes about through no fault of our own. Perhaps you’ve just moved to the city and haven’t been able to socialise widely, or maybe your friends have started settling down. Regardless of how loneliness occurs, you can take action to stop it having a negative impact on your life.
In a recent study by researchers at UCL, gentle touch was shown to mitigate the impacts of loneliness and social exclusion. This means that hugs and platonic affection can help someone suffering from loneliness.
The power of touch is amazing, and gives you that sense of social connection that you’ve been missing. Some of the positive health benefits include: lowered blood pressure and reduced stress levels, a decrease of inflammation, better sleep, a strengthened immune system and a general improvement in your sense of wellness.