The power of touch

Why do we say that somebody or something “rubs me up the wrong way”? How is that statement so evocative, so easy to understand?

We all know touch is important, but NPR did a fascinating interview with a neuroscientist about why touch is vital for our survival – and why some touch can irritate you, while others can soothe. (apparently, there is an ideal speed, people).

A few things I found very interesting: “Touch is so central to our humanity that it’s hard to even imagine [life without] it. For example, if a child is born blind, they can grow up and have a completely full and normal life. They will be cognitively normal, psychiatrically normal and not have profound problems — the same if a child is born deaf. However, if a child is born into a situation, like a Kurd in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and ’90s, where social touch is deprived because there are not enough caregivers around, then that child will develop terrible psychiatric problems, attachment disorders, mood disorders, and also physical problems — problems with the digestive system and immune system, higher incidences of diabetes. And, amazingly, these problems are not just problems of childhood, but persist throughout life.”

And on the link between depression and pain: “…emotional pain centers are richly interconnected with regions of our brain having to do with cognition and anxiety and anticipation. So this is why many people who suffer from chronic pain can get partial relief from anti-anxiety medication. It’s not that the anti-anxiety medication directly affects pain-perception — what it does is it breaks this horrible positive feedback loop between anxiety and chronic pain. So if you have chronic pain, then you become anxious about, “When is it going to stop? When is it going to recur?” And that anxiety seems to trigger more chronic pain. If you can interrupt that … then often times that can bring at least partial pain relief.”

As Diana Ross sang, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand….”

 

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