Touch Can Improve Your Mental Health

Results of a recent study may lead to new therapies for depression and anxiety as well as your over-all mental health.

Researchers conducted an experiment to determine if a light, open-handed touch on the shoulder could help calm the fear and anxiety experienced when people with low self-esteem talk about death.

“This is important because we all have to deal with existential concerns and we all have times at which we struggle to find the meaning of life,” lead researcher, Sander Koole of VU University Amsterdam, said in a statement. “Our findings show that people may still find existential security  through interpersonal touch, even in the absence of symbolic meaning derived from religious beliefs or life values.”

In the first part of the research, an experimenter approached college students and asked them to respond to a survey about self-esteem and death. Some of the participants received a light touch on the shoulder when they received the survey. After the results were tallied, researchers found that those with low self-esteem who also received the light touch answered the questions about death with less anxiety.

Taking the research one step further, participants were shown a teddy bear and asked to estimate its monetary value. Participants with low self-esteem that were reminded of death immediately beforehand estimated the bear at 23 euro ($31). Otherwise they estimated it at 13 euro.

“Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears,” Koole said. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”

Low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are all common co-occurring disorders with addiction. In some cases, mental illness or just poor mental health can worsen addiction or in other cases, addiction may be in part caused by mental illness. In either event, touch may play an important role in the future of the treatment of mental illness and addiction.



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