- In this period of deconfinement, there is a glaring lack: to touch those close to you, to greet your colleagues without embarrassment or fear.
- Although the epidemic peak seems to be behind us, social distancing risks prolonging this lack of touch, especially for the elderly, fragile and isolated.
- Neuroscience has revealed the fundamental contribution of this long underestimated sense, and this frustration may have long-term health consequences.
Do a foot check (a little ridiculous), stay two meters from his sick grandmother, not being able to hug a crying friend or kiss his grandson… In this period of deconfinement where many have found parks with pleasure, beaches, terraces, we miss a landmark of life before: touching it. This often depreciated meaning has never seemed to us as essential as since March 17, 2020. After two months of
confinement that some have spent in complete solitude, social distancing still requires us to limit physical contact.
An underestimated and yet omnipresent meaning
The coronavirus crisis has revolutionized our relationship with others. For the first time, protecting your loved ones meant keeping them at bay. Families weren’t able to hug each other for weeks. « The health crisis has restored its touch to nobility, a poor relative of the senses, » says Céline Rivière, neuropsychologist. and author of Cuddling*.
« Today, we are hungry to touch, especially in our Latin culture, adds Jacques Fischer-Lokou, professor-researcher at the University of South Brittany and the IUT of Vannes in social psychology. This meaning has long been underestimated because it is spontaneous, harmless. It’s like a language whose grammar you don’t know. « Indeed, we sometimes look for it even without realizing it. We take each other in the arms to say hello, to celebrate an event, we get a massage to relax, we brush against each other or we dance in concerts, bars… « A lot of elderly people have pets », underlines Céline Rivière.
Better known positive effects
« Scientific thinking has allowed us to step back from this familiarity, » continues the teacher-researcher. To be able to analyze, to specify all the effects of touch. For several decades, the neurosciences have listed the impressive benefits of caresses, hugs, hugs … Especially on newborns and children, for whom skin-to-skin and tender gestures are essential to develop well. But for adults too, touch plays an essential role in social life and well-being.
« To the point that touch is now a luxury product! quips Jacques Fisher-Lokou. It decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, so it soothes, besides the flight attendants touch passengers who are anxious, the nurses learned the effects of touch to treat their patients, who will be more cooperative. If we are touched, we accept the toucher’s request more. It also increases confidence in others. And self-esteem. Studies by the University of Vannes have shown that teachers who touched students’ forearms very discreetly while looking at their work gave them more confidence. «
Another impact: a caress releases oxytocin, the link hormone. « Touch awakens positive memories, » continues the researcher. As a child, you are touched by the people who are most important to you. « The arms, this is the first cradle, it feels like finding a cocoon, » summarizes Céline Rivière.
More or less suffering
The neuropsychologist recognizes that « this crisis has put everyone in withdrawal. » A deprivation more or less well lived, because some are more tactile than others and each one lived this exceptional parenthesis and this deconfinement in a different context. A grandmother in an Ehpad is likely to experience a space vacuum if she can no longer touch her relatives and caregivers while a quadra with children will miss fewer hugs. But those who lacked the most, especially the elderly, are those who risk their lives if they do not respect social distancing today. « Everyone throws themselves on a baby, nobody on a person of 80 years », recalls Jacques Fischer-Lokou. “When you isolate an elderly person, you increase their feeling of helplessness, regrets Céline Rivière. Especially since his other senses are often no longer effective. The older we get, the less we see, the less we hear, touch is the meaning we keep until the end. «
What consequences will this frustration have on mental health? « There have been deaths and people couldn’t hug! » laments the clinical psychologist. How do we do ? What traces does it leave? The most serious risk is depression. Another concern, for Céline Rivière, « this anxiety-provoking period could have created in some people a phobia of the other, considered as dangerous. Since touch is not there to calm anxiety, we can get into a vicious circle. «
Three important elements then come into play in the variable response that will be given to this lack. « First, relational capital, » explains Jacques Fisher-Lokou. If you have the chance to share your daily life with other people, that you have a lot of friends with whom you interact even by interposed screens, this physical distance will not change your daily life enormously. Certainly there will be less than hug, less kisses… ”
The other important element is the perception of this lack. « If an elderly person attributes the fact that he is no longer affected by a health problem, it is not very serious, he always feels integrated. If, on the other hand, she thinks she is repulsive, it risks increasing loneliness and the feeling of rejection. «
Finally, the third ingredient of the equation: the journey of each being … and their psychic « backpack ». « When we turn away from someone, it refers to the fact that he is not frequentable, it can bring back childhood traumas, warns the psychologist. I have seen patients with mental illness regress during this period of confinement. «
Live without touching?
We feel an appetite of certain companies for teleworking, an unprecedented development of teleconsultations, an ever increasing boom in home deliveries … But not clear to know if the health crisis will finally highlight our need for physical reports or if the hygienism and digital technology will make our society fall into the “100% distance”.
For Jacques Fischer-Lokou, this situation will especially have an impact on our meetings with strangers or with the second circle (acquaintances, colleagues …), but not with our relatives. « I do not believe that we will live in a society where touch will disappear. The emotional, emotional, intimate touch between people who share a place or a common project will always exist. «
On the other hand, some have seen in this imposition of distance an opportunity to sort out a fundamental touch to express their empathy, their joy, their attachment. And other more imposed contacts. « Maybe we ritualized the meetings with kisses, » he continues. Some women felt forced to kiss the workplace, for example. «
* Cuddling, A prescription for happiness, May 2015, Editions Michalon, 17 euros.