“Skin Hunger” Is the Gross Name for Why You’re Craving Human Touch While Social Distancing

We have a biological need for physical touch

skin hunger
No touching.
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
By Carl Caminetti / April 29, 2020 10:43 am

If you’re feeling a little touch-starved after weeks of social distancing and isolation, you’re not alone. Humans have a biological need for physical touch, and there’s a name for what happens when that need goes unfulfilled. Unfortunately, that name is “skin hunger.”

But while it may sound like the title of a low-budget slasher, skin hunger is actually a very real biological effect of going long periods of time without physical interaction, and unsurprisingly, it’s one a lot of people are grappling with right now.

“When you touch the skin, it stimulates pressure sensors under the skin that send messages to the vagus [a nerve in the brain.] As vagal activity increases, the nervous system slows down, heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and your brain waves show relaxation,” Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami told Wired. “Levels of stress hormones such as cortisol are also decreased.”

Deprived of touch for too long, humans suffer both physical and emotional consequences, some of which, in an ironic twist, are particularly dangerous in times of stress and illness. As Field explained, without human touch, cortisol levels can go unchecked, weakening the immune system and potentially putting people at greater risk of contracting coronavirus. “I’m very concerned,” said Field, “because this is actually the time we need human touch the most.”

Unfortunately, in another of life’s fun little ironies, the thing we need most is also the thing destroying us and life as we know it. What a time to barely be alive!

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