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A Touchy Subject: Getting Comfortable with Physical Contact

When you see two people walking down the street hand-in-hand, it evokes feelings of love and devotion. When someone embraces you into a bear hug or places their hand on your shoulder during a difficult time, you feel their acceptance and support without them saying a word. The simple act of touch can convey so many emotions between people; however, all societies aren’t always comfortable with using this type of communication.

Throughout the world, the level of acceptable touch varies between cultures. If you travel to Europe, for example, people touch more often on a day-to-day basis by hugging and kissing each other on the cheek when simply greeting each other. On the other hand, residents of countries such as Japan typically welcome each other without touching one another, but by instead bowing.

“I think the U.S. is somewhere in the middle -– not as friendly and outgoing as Europeans, but not as distant as other cultures,” says Laurie Saham, studio owner at Elements Novi. “Either way, I think the level of touch you are comfortable with ultimately comes down to individual personalities.”

Reaching Out to Others

Physical contact with others is a natural need for human beings that often can get overlooked in today’s busy, always-on-the-go society where people can hide or get stuck behind screens and usernames. Unlike any other time in history, you can easily be connected via technology to anyone in the world. But, the simple act of communicating and staying in touch with the friends and family members in your neighborhood is becoming more difficult.

By simply reaching out for a hug, tapping someone on the back or introducing yourself with a handshake, you can quickly make a lasting impression and connection with people you come in contact with on a daily basis.

“I always stress with my kids that it impresses me when someone younger shakes my hand and looks me in the eye when I’m introduced to them,” Saham says. “Physical touch allows you to make a special connection.”

Whether you’re connecting with friends and family or running a business, it’s important to reach out to one another to not only make a personal connection, but to show gratitude and that you care. When clients walk into Saham’s studio, she makes it a point to get up and walk around the front desk to welcome everyone to the studio by shaking their hand. This seemingly simple act makes a big difference in creating a warm and inviting atmosphere at her business.

“The simple act of touch -- like patting someone on the back or shaking their hand -- sometimes gets lost in our society,” explains Saham. “But, it’s amazing when you do it. It always evokes a smile on someone’s face.”

Healing Through Touch

The power of touch can be one of the most effective tools for relieving muscular and emotional pains. Many of us use touch every day to help ourselves and others feel better, even if we don’t realize it. For example, it’s a natural instinct to rub your neck without thinking about it you’ve sat for too long or are feeling stressed. Or, if you are studying with a friend, you may ask them to rub a knot out of your neck to release tension.

When children have tummy aches, it’s a natural reaction for parents to rub their stomachs to comfort them. Rubbing your children’s back to help them relax and fall asleep is also a common bedtime routine for parents. And, the simple act of patting someone on the back when telling them they did a great job can make your praise more genuine and meaningful.

“The power of touch is such a wonderful thing,” shares Suzanne McCraw, massage therapist at Elements Chandler West. “As a massage therapist, it’s amazing to see the difference you can make and how you can help so many different people.”

Understanding Personal Space

Everyone needs a different level of personal space in their lives and is comfortable with different levels of touch and communication. The important thing is to realize what works for you and not feel bad if it’s not the same as others in your family or your community. When life gets hectic and you feel like you need some personal space, simply make an announcement to your friends or family that you need to take a few minutes for yourself and will rejoin them shortly.

“People need to be at peace within themselves and be OK with taking a few minutes for themselves,” Saham advises. “Being able to take a moment to re-balance yourself can help you better enjoy spending time with others.”

Depending on your level of comfort, make it a point today to connect with someone in your life through the simple act of holding their hand, patting them on their back or giving them a hug. Actions can speak much louder than words so embrace the powerful energy of touch to communicate with your friends, family and loved ones.

“In a million small ways, people are always looking for a touch,” Saham believes. “I don’t think we really ever outgrow a hug or a pat on the back. It really does work to make you feel good.”

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