Less touch can mean more stress. But there are corona-compliant alternatives, says researcher Beate Ditzen.
When we touch someone, we release the hormone oxytocin. For almost a year now, however, we have been told to practice “social distancing” – that is, to keep physically at a distance from others – in order to contain the spread of the corona virus. Beate Ditzen, Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Heidelberg, is currently investigating what that does to our health.
She and her team asked people in Germany how they were doing in the first corona wave last spring. According to Ditzen, people for whom contact and social exchange play an important role in everyday life would have suffered particularly badly from the first lockdown. In addition to the surveys, Ditzen and Co. take the participants – couples and singles – using saliva samples to examine the oxytocin level in everyday life.
Less touch – more stress
However, the positive effect of touch also has an impact on other hormones: It shows up, for example, in reduced subjective and physical stress levels. “In the corona pandemic, however, one must assume that we are significantly more stressed. And not only because of the threat posed by the virus, but also because of the lack of stress buffer factors, what social integration and touch are, ”explains Ditzen.
A second measurement is to take place next spring. In her interim balance, the researcher assumes that we have constantly had slightly increased physical stress levels since the corona pandemic. “Subjectively, most people report that they are much more stressed, although they cannot link it to a specific stress or an acute danger.”
Ditzen believes that if we are chronically undermined, it also has an impact on society as a whole. “I think we will find divisive effects.” She assumes that people – for example in couple relationships – who continue to have contact are little restricted by the Corona measures. In the case of singles, on the other hand, who cultivated social exchange outside their own four walls, Ditzen suspects a negative effect, because contact is restricted by arrangement.
Alternatives to touch
The good news from Ditzen for singles who live alone: ”We can activate alternative behaviors and trigger the same effects as a touch, even if perhaps not quite as intensely and so directly.” So she advises, as strange as it may sound: hug yourself or think about what it would be like to touch another person.
Another possibility is to exchange ideas via video chat. “This indirect, interpersonal contact activates very similar patterns as physical contact,” says Ditzen. «We can think of touch, speak of touch. We can also hear and see someone else through texts and telephone calls. ” This triggers emotional mechanisms similar to physical contact.