Rachel Fieldhouse


Feeling lonelier during Covid? A lack of physical touch could be to blame

Feeling lonelier during Covid? A lack of physical touch could be to blame

With COVID-19 restrictions making us stay 1.5 metres away from others or relying on technology to see friends and loved ones, it’s unsurprising that we are feeling lonelier than before.

But new international research has found that a lack of physical touch can have negative impacts on mental health and feelings of loneliness.

The team conducted an online study of 1746 people during the first wave of lockdowns in early 2020.

The survey included questions asking participants about their intimate, friendly, and professional touch experiences before and during COVID-19 restrictions, as well as self-reported measures about their wellbeing.

They found that those who experienced more intimate touch in the week before the study reported lower levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

For those who reported a lack of intimate touch, they also reported increased levels of anxiety and greater feelings of loneliness.

They also found that intimate touch was the type of touch most craved by participants.

Since physical touch is an important aspect of intimate and romantic relationships, with previous work suggesting that touch can buffer feelings of social isolation, the researchers argue that it is especially important during times of distress, such as during the pandemic.

The team also suggested that physical and intimate touch may work as a “protective factor” against common reactions to the pandemic, such as anxiety, stress, and depression.

What we can do about it

Though we still can’t touch or hug others, staying connected can still protect us from feeling lonely.

Video conferencing technology has boomed as a result of the pandemic, but switching to alternative methods of keeping in contact can help you stay in touch without encountering as much ‘Zoom fatigue’.

This could look like switching to phone calls and texts, sending voice notes, or penning letters to your loved ones.

In times of distress, it is important to fend off social isolation, even if it can’t be done through physical touch.

The study was published in Royal Society Open Science.

Image: Getty Images

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