MENTOR MOMENT by Chris Dunn
I recently met a woman who is a new referral to Hand in Hand. She is a single mom who just moved to the area and doesn’t know a soul. I talked with her once on the phone, and texted with her as well. Ultimately, we set up an in-person meeting at her apartment. When she opened her apartment door, instinct took over and I threw my arms around her and welcomed her to the area! She was a little taken back at first, but then returned my hug warmly, and we proceeded to have a great conversation. I am not always so outgoing, and definitely not during these Covid times, but as I reflected on our visit later, I felt that our conversation was different because it had started with a hug.
I have a sign in my home that reads, “A hug is a perfect gift. One size fits all and nobody minds if you exchange it.”
There is science behind our need for the human touch, and it starts at the beginning of life. Several of our children were in the NICU as preemies, and we saw firsthand that certain things enhanced and accelerated our babies’ growth and well-being. One of those things was being held. We literally could watch their heart rates and oxygen saturation levels stabilize as we held them. Touch is the first sense we learn as a baby, and it is vital to early development as it is the beginning of social bonding.
Research has shown that physical contact with other people can reduce the effect of stress on our bodies. Humans have a specialized set of cells in the skin which, when touched, send signals to the brain. This is called the C-Tactile System. Hugging and touching “has been shown to increase human levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and decrease the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” says Lina Velikova, MD, an immunologist, researcher, and professor at Sofia University in Bulgaria. Those same hormones can affect your cardiovascular system, your sleep, and even your mental health. Physical touch can bring feelings of calm and ease while settling feelings of anxiety and sadness. Studies have shown that human touch can even act as a painkiller and a source of relief. Without enough human touch, our feelings of empathy, connection, and trust don’t develop, or will slowly degrade.
According to the Touch Test study, of almost 40,000 people in more than 110 countries, more than half of us say we are not getting enough human touch in our lives. And those numbers have risen sharply since the pandemic has enforced even greater boundaries between us in an attempt to keep us physically healthy.
But actually, human touch and connection can keep us healthy. According to research published in Psychological Science, people who got regular hugs were less likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus than people who didn’t get physical affection.
For people who aren’t fully comfortable with physical touch, it’s important to start slowly to ascertain appropriate boundaries. But kindness and affection can be expressed in eye contact, a hug, a touch on the arm, a squeeze of the hand, or a pat on the back. And for people who live alone, the next best thing to human touch are pets! There is a reason why therapy animals exist. Petting and loving animals can help us feel better! So use good judgment as you work with your mentees and others you meet, but remember that you can never underestimate the power of the human touch!
Check out St Vincent de Paul Services Helpline Boise: (208) 331-2208
This is a message line. Please leave your callback number and they will return your call, usually within 24 hours.
Through this number, you can get assistance with:
-One week rental assistance
-30 day Bus pass
Assessment for many other needs based on your circumstances
For more information visit or call:
St Vincent de Paul Re-Entry Services
3217 W Overland