The Importance of Physical Touch and Compassionate Care
Though we are all different and complex in our own ways, we human beings have a few simple needs in common: the need for community, the need for safety, and the need for personal interaction. Those in more vulnerable groups like the elderly, disabled, or medically compromised often feel these needs more strongly than other people do. Because they are dependent on caregivers to obtain them on their behalf. I want to talk about the need for personal interaction because I feel this is the highest of all needs.
Physical interaction, expressed as physical touch or eye gaze, is important for several reasons. From a biological standpoint, every time two people look directly at each other or physically touch (could be as simple as holding hands), oxytocin is released. What is oxytocin and what does it do in the body?
What is Oxytocin and what does it do?
Oxytocin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland. When it releases into the body, it does a number of amazing things! Oxytocin is shown in many situations to have many positive effects. When mothers and newborn babies gaze directly at each other oxytocin is released. A bond begins to form between them. Studies show that when people with PTSD, experience the introduction of oxytocin has been reported to lower their cortisol levels. The “fight or flight” hormone responsible for the feeling of needing to escape a harmful situation. Which gives patients a sense of calm and decreased insecurity. In elderly patients, compassionate care from their doctors in the form of a warm handshake and direct eye contact, has been shown to immediately reduce blood pressure and heart rate. And in therapeutic settings, holding someone’s hand has been reported to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
The effects of giving a small amount of physical contact to someone can make a big difference in those being cared for! Doctors and nurses are steadily increasing their practice of compassionate care, and caregivers can take a page from their book.
How to connect with others
Many of the ways you can connect with those you care for are very simple! When you are speaking to someone, look directly at them, on their level. If the person is in a wheelchair, immobile, or a small child, move to their eye level. If it is appropriate, hold the person’s hand or put a hand on their shoulder. And if you know the person very well, there is no better immediate help than a hug. In other settings, playing music and dancing with a person casually while holding onto their hands can be an amazing therapy.
When you show care to someone by looking at them, speaking in a gentle voice, and giving a small amount of physical contact, you are communicating clearly to the person that you are present and interested in them. There is no substitute for the connection that can be made, and the care conveyed through this simple practice.