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InfantArmI was never a touchy person. My husband loves the hugs and the snuggles, and it took a long time for me to get comfortable with this. There was an invisible line drawn down the middle of the bed, and I was perfectly happy to stick to my side. The only time I enjoyed touch was with my pets. For whatever reason, the snuggly dog didn’t bug me as much as the snuggly husband, who smelled piles better than the pooch. (My dog is snuggling with my feet as I type this.)

So this touch-phobia made becoming an esthetician a bit challenging.  I spend hours touching people. And I will be honest, it really took a while to get used to touching a stranger and being OK with it. And I will also admit that there are moments when it can still be difficult for me. If I don’t connect immediately with the person on the table, I am much more tentative and it can take a while for the touch to feel comfortable.

Touch is a very powerful thing. So is a lack of touch. According to the massage magazine Body Sense, “So serious are the effects of touch deprivation, it’s considered by researchers to be worse than physical abuse.” I am not sure that I am comfortable going that far, but clearly touch (and lack of it) are important to the overall well being of our bodies and minds.

Body Sense cites a University of North Carolina study that found hugging reduced the body’s level of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone associated with weakening the immune system, anxiety, anger, not to mention, of course, acne. This same team of research scientists also observed that hugs boosted the levels the hormone oxytocin, which improves heart function.

Here in the US, we aren’t comfortable being touchy. There are a thousand reasons why–we’re litigious and touch can be misinterpreted; we are technology driven and have minimal interaction with live human beings. In a city like NY, where people are packed in so tightly, touch avoidance is a herculean effort, and getting off a subway without the brush of a stranger’s skin is worthy of an Olympic medal. Personal space is sacred, and this may be to the detriment of our health.

I pushed through my comfort zone and learned to appreciate and value touch. Where I once favored extractions (estheticians all love the goop removal), massage is now my favorite part of the treatment. When I feel the tension release, I know that the person on my table is mentally and physically detoxing. And going through my rituals of massage, the focus I need to perform them, and the warmth that touch brings, allows my brain to drain and relaxes me as well.

So take a minute, right now, to hug your significant other, your kid, your dog, your cat, your Mom, whoever is closest (OK, maybe not your boss). And I don’t mean that hug that’s akin to an air kiss. Hug it like you mean it!