The power of touch – Covid-19 reflections in lockdown

·      There has never been a more important time to look after our own and others wellbeing


·      Human touch plays an important role 

·      What can we do while we are social distancing?

This may sound familiar to workshop facilitators.  I often enter the room in which I am facilitating, depending on how well I know my co-facilitator, I will give them a hug and I often approach delegates, shake their hand to welcome them.  At the beginning of March this year, this all changed due to Covid-19.  At the time, we were not in lockdown however there was talk of social distancing, now referred to as physical distancing.  I noticed myself still wanting to connect with people I work with and so, engaged in toe or elbow tapping.  Two weeks later, non key workers we were asked by the government to work virtually from home (if possible).  This also meant not seeing family members, whom I always hug on seeing them.  Five weeks on, my colleagues and I were talking about the power of human touch, so we decided to review why we need it and how it benefits us.    

Authors such as Brené Brown[1] write about our fundamental need for belonging: “As members of a social species, we derive strength not from our rugged individualism, but from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.” Whole academic journals have also been written on the importance of close relationships for living a longer life[2]. One important component of close social relationships is interpersonal touch.

Interpersonal touch behaviours such as hugging are used to communicate affection or indicate affection from others[3]. Converging evidence indicates that individuals who engage more frequently in interpersonal touch enjoy better physical, psychological, and relational health[4]. Back in 2006, a lab study examining activation of brain regions associated with threat, reported that individuals assigned to a ‘touch condition’ with a stranger showed less threat-related neural activation during exposure to a laboratory stressor. More recently, studies have showed that touch can be used as a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in a painkilling effect[5] and receiving a hug is associated with the reduction of negative mood on days when one has experienced interpersonal conflict[6].  Touch builds connectedness. And this is true whether it’s handshakes to build camaraderie in a workshop or hugs for our family, loved ones and friends.

How can we look after our wellbeing in a world where isolation and physical distancing has become the new temporary “norm”?

The sorts of things that we are practicing and HWBInspiration are:

  • Regular video calls – with work colleagues to check in personally as well as on work topics – always good to ‘eyeball’ family, friends and work colleagues.  You communicate so much more.
  • Setting up ‘What’s App’ groups – to remain connected to different groups for different purposes.
  • Sharing stories
  • Sharing images/photo’s
  • Keeping connected, Tik Tok has become a source of humour that we enjoy sharing when a little low on inspiration
  • Daily exercise routine with partner – our normal walk/run/ route’s have become busy, and we’re delighted to find new routes from our front door that we’ve not discovered.  Why not prepare for ‘On your Feet Britain’ 24/9/20?  For some more tips
  • Keeping in contact with clients – especially those who are in key worker roles to offer a space to ‘decompress’.
  • Keeping a gratitude diary to improve mental health and wellbeing – three things every day.  Today:
  • Blogging – We’ve co-created a blog, which is often a source or procrastination.  It was inspired by a coaching client who is currently in the ‘shielded group’, a loss of physical touch for them, when they describe themselves as a ‘huggy person’ has been profound
  • Being able to work – Working with a well-established collaboration of small businesses we’ve been able to submit a proposal for some innovative leadership development work
  • Sunshine – being able to look out into the garden (we are so very lucky) and noticing the differences every day.
  • Connecting with family – daily check in to see how everyone is doing and how they are coping.  Sharing ideas and keeping each other’s spirits up when it gets difficult.
  • Sleep – paying attention to our sleep patterns, routines and minimising unhelpful impact of ‘gadgets’ before going to bed.  Some more useful tips from World Sleep Day website
  • Nutrition – a well balanced diet is key, and we acknowledge that our usual patterns have been disrupted.  Some more useful tips from the National Nutrition and Hydration Week website
  • Practicing mindfulness – well here is the one thing that we both struggle with.  So, Su is using Headspace App to help, or alternatively she may default to knitting.
  • Give our loved ones a hug – for those of us lucky enough to live with our loved ones / families, give them a hug (unless of course, they have symptoms in which case they should self-isolate in a separate room)
  • Pet your pets
  • Take notice – notice what you feel when you touch different textures, this will keep your sensory and kinaesthetic muscles alive


  1. Brown, B. (2017). Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House.
  2. Dunkel, S et al (2017). How to closer relationships lead to longer life. American Psychologist, 72(6), 511-516.
  3. Jakubiak BK, Feeney BC (2017). Affectionate touch to promote relational, psychological, and physical well-being in adulthood: A theoretical model and review of the research. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 21, 228–52
  4. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB, Doyle WJ. (2015). Does hugging provide a stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science, 26, 135–47
  5. Goldstein, P., Weissman-Fogel, I. & Shamay-Tsoory, S.G. (2017). The role of touch in regulating inter-partner physiological coupling during empathy for pain. Scientific Reports 73252
  6. Murphy MLM, Janicki-Deverts D, Cohen S. (2018). Receiving a hug is associated with the attenuation of negative mood that occurs on days with interpersonal conflict. PLoS ONE 13(10)