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Whether it’s a recent development due to the pandemic, or you’ve been dealing with physical isolation for some time, being touch starved can really take a toll on your mental health.
There are plenty of people around the world who don’t get enough physical affection from their friends, family, or partner(s).
I’m one of ’em!
It could be due to a lack of healthy relationships, or it could be because someone is touch averse, or because they’ve moved away and don’t know anyone well enough to get cuddly… the list goes on!
The pandemic, particularly during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, has left a lot of people starving for physical affection, too.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to be touch starved, and how it can affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing.
Then, we’ll look at some ways to cope with being touch starved.
Being Touch Starved: What Does It Mean?
Touch starvation is what a person experiences when they do not receive enough physical affection from other humans.
Physical affection isn’t the same thing as sensual or sexual touching, and isn’t limited to romantic partners.
Being touch starved can look like not getting enough hugs, for example. Or not enough casual touches throughout the day, like a pat on the back.
If someone is isolated–whether because they live or work alone, or they’ve been forced to isolate due to the pandemic, or perhaps they’re touch averse–they may suffer negative effects of being touch starved.
The Effects of Being Touch Starved
Being touch starved can worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and trouble sleeping.
It can also leave one feeling lonely, isolated, and can even negatively impact their ability to form healthy relationships.
Plenty of people experience touch starvation at some point throughout their lives.
If you don’t have relationships with family or friends that value physical touch, you may find yourself hugging your pillows extra tight at night, or squeezing your pet until they’re squirming to get away.
So, if you’ve recognized that you’re touch starved… how can you cope?
How to Cope With Being Touch Starved
Tip #1: Touch Yourself
…Not Like That!
There are ways to touch yourself beyond just masturbation.
Though it doesn’t have the same feeling as someone else touching you, you can still at least partially satisfy your need for physical touch by showing some love to your body.
Here are some ideas for ways you can touch yourself to soothe your own touch starvation:
- Hug yourself. Put your arms around yourself and squeeze real tight.
- Press kisses to every inch of your body you can reach. I like to end my baths this way, to really emphasize the self love.
- Hold your own face. It might look a little silly if there are any witnesses, but cupping your cheek and brushing over your skin with your thumb can be very soothing.
- Wash and style your hair. Really take time to massage your scalp while you’re at it.
- Massage your shoulders, legs, feet, hands… anywhere you can reach!
- Apply lotion, body oil, or moisturizer all over your body. Take the time to really rub it into your skin and appreciate the value of your own touch.
…But Also, Yes, Touch Yourself Like That!
Masturbation can be an excellent way to connect with your body, and give yourself some love!
Not only that, but orgasms can actually improve your mental health!
Obviously, that’s a huge benefit when you’re dealing with the effects of being touch starved.
If you’re comfortable with masturbation, it’s a great way to temporarily curb your touch starvation.
Tip! Toys can be fun, but to really focus on the element of touch, try going manual every now and then.
Tip #2: Cuddle With Pets
Many animals have long been valued as pets because they give us the opportunity to love, and to feel loved in return.
If you have a pet at home, snuggle up to them!
(If they’re the snuggly type, of course – never force an animal to cuddle against their will!)
You can even volunteer at an animal shelter, or get a gig as a dogwalker, to ensure you get enough fluffy cuddly times on the regular.
Don’t have a pet to cuddle with? Grab an old stuffed animal (or buy new ones!) and squeeze ’em tight. I’ve got a big puppy plush at the foot of my bed, in case of a cuddling emergency. (Yes, I’m in my late 20s. No, I am not accepting criticism of my stuffed animal collection.)
Tip #3: Cuddle Your Pillows
I’m a big advocate for the idea that you can never have too many pillows! (/hj /lh)
Grabbing a pillow that’s your preferred level of firmness and hugging the hell out of it can be so soothing.
Pregnancy pillows in particular are great for making you feel cocooned in comfort.
Or, you can get multiple body pillows, and build a little nest.
There’s even the infamous boyfriend pillow, to make you feel like you’re resting your head on someone’s chest with their arm around you!
Tip #4: Invest in Weighted Blankets
I’m touch starved, anxious, and neurodivergent. As such, my weighted blanket has been a life saver!
Weighted blankets–which can weigh anywhere from 3 to 45 pounds!–are praised for their ability to reduce anxiety, help with insomnia, and to help the body produce more serotonin.
The compression they provide can feel almost like a hug.
I might even get another one soon… I crave that compression!
Tip #5: Live Vicariously
Sometimes, just watching a movie or reading a book where people are cuddly can boost your brain into producing those happy chemicals.
And they don’t have to be romantic couples!
Find stories where characters comfort each other with hugs.
You can also look at gifs or videos of people hugging, like the one below.
One of my favorite ways to cope when I’m feeling touch starved is to read fanfiction.
I always feel better after reading about my favorite characters spending a day cuddling and watching TV, or having their first kiss, or washing each other’s hair. (I’m starting to think a lot of fanfiction might be written by people who are touch starved…)
Tip #6: Have a Spa Day
Massages, facials, manicures/pedicures, or hair cuts/styles will obviously involve physical touch.
If you can afford it, take yourself to a spa or salon, and relax while people take care of you.
This is also a great routine option for people who know they need physical touch, but don’t feel comfortable receiving it from the people in their daily life.
People at spas and salons are professionals, and if you don’t trust your friends or family, you can count on your local hair stylist or masseuse not to make things weird.
Note: It’s important, too, that you don’t make things weird! Just because these people have to touch you to get their job done doesn’t mean you should take advantage of them. You don’t want to go developing a parasocial relationship with your nail artist.
Tip #7: Find Cuddle Buddies
The above coping methods may work in the short term, but they’re not sustainable.
Human beings need human touch from people we love and trust!
If you’ve been dealing with being touch starved for a long time, you may need to seek out folks who will give you physical affection.
This might mean talking with some of your current friends or family, and asking them to hug you more.
Or, you could pursue friendships, or romantic or other relationships, that will meet that need.
Online dating sites like OkCupid make it easy to set up a profile where you can specify what you’re looking for.
Mention you’re looking for friends to cuddle with in these trying times – there are probably plenty of other folks who can relate!
Remember: Touch Always Requires Consent!
We all know that sexual activity requires the explicit consent of all parties involved.
But that kind of consent applies to all kinds of touch!
Being touch starved is not an excuse to force a hug or other forms of touch on others without their consent, even if the touch isn’t sexual.
Normalize Asking for Affection!
If you’re looking to add more physical affection to your life, ask first, and only do what has been explicitly agreed to.
It’s completely normal and okay to ask your friends, family, or partner(s):
- “Hey, can I give you a hug?”
- “Can I have a hug?”
- “Are you okay with me putting my head on your shoulder?”
- “Can I hold your hand?”
- “Will you kiss my forehead?”
- “Could you run your fingers through my hair for a bit?”
- “Is it okay if I kiss your cheek?”
- “Can I put my arm around you?”
You can even ask a friend or family member things like, “Can you do my hair?” or, “Will you help me tie my tie?” if you don’t want to ask for physical affection outright.
Note: There are definitely times when asking for physical affection would not be appropriate. For example, if you’re in a position of authority over someone, they might feel like they have to agree to your requests.
(Think of a manager at work asking their employee for a massage–that’s never appropriate.)
Use your discernment to determine whether it’s even appropriate for you to try to initiate physical touch with a particular person at all.
Being touch starved is rough.
Believe me, I know.
But there are ways to cope in the short term, and there are plenty of people out there to find physical affection with in the future!
I’m sending you a big hug, in spirit. (If you want it!)
Being touch starved can create a real need for proper self care and self love. Here are some tips for how to take care of yourself, and some affirmations for self love.
See also: A playlist full of self love songs!
Can you think of any more ways to cope with touch starvation? Please drop your ideas in the comments below! ⬇️⬇️⬇️