Of course in most cases, there is no place to run (or hide), and the stressful situation is not one that can easily be fought off. And with chronic high stress, the body stays in high gear, with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body. This creates wear and tear on the body and mind, and over time can create health problems.
One stress relief method that is often overlooked is the power of human touch. A hug or cuddling with someone can feel good. And we are learning more about what happens in the body when there is safe human touch.
Neurologically, the vagus nerve system acts as the opposite of the fight or flight system. The vagus nerve cluster creates a relaxation response in the body. A simple touch can end the release of stress hormones through the body. It can also begin the release of oxytocin, sometimes called the “Love Hormone,” allowing the body to relax. The science of touch is teaching us too that the vagus nerve cluster responds to warm touch by helping calm stress in the body, especially stress in the heart and entire cardiovascular system.
While the stress response, or fight or flight, has been studied for decades, we are just beginning to learn more about the relaxation response. And we are beginning to identify the “compassion system” in the body’s neurology – those responses that get activated in the brain and throughout the body that increase compassion, warmth toward others, and increased relaxation in the body.
Warm, safe touch is looking like one of the easiest, best catalysts for shifting the body and mind out of stress and into greater relaxation. When is the last time you had a warm hug? Or a massage? A simple, warm touch on the arm is enough to activate the vagus nerve cluster and invite not only stress relief, but compassion and connection. Stress relief, relaxation and greater connection, all through a simple touch.