During this period of physical distancing, you might experience a lot of compounding emotions: Confusion, worry, loneliness, and fear, just to name a few. COVID-19 seems to affect a different part of our lives every day, but one area that will continue to be affected for the foreseeable future is our ability to be physically close to others.
Unless you’ve been on an unplugged meditation retreat for the past month or more, you know that the CDC recommends keeping at least six feet of distance between yourself and others to reduce the spread of coronavirus. That’s because COVID-19 primarily is transmitted through “droplets” like saliva and mucus that you sneeze or cough up. Even people without symptoms can be carriers of COVID-19, so maintaining a safe social distance helps ensure that you aren’t unknowingly spreading the virus.
Physical distancing is good for our physical health and for the health of the public, but in the long-term, it can impact our mental health.
Positive physical contact — even close proximity — boosts levels of oxytocin and reduces cortisol, which can, in turn, lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Basically, positive and healthy forms of touch are good for us. Being deprived of that positive contact can have the opposite effect, making us feel higher levels of stress and all of the physiological responses that come with stress. Positive touch also can serve as a grounding technique, reminding us that we are here and that we are safe.
Luckily, you can still experience the positive benefits of touch even when it’s self-touch — meaning you can still do your public service by keeping your distance from others. If you’re feeling deprived of touch right now, know that you’re not the only one.
Here are seven things that you can do to fulfill your need for touch, even during quarantine.
1. Brush your hair
Take a moment and pay attention to your face and head muscles right now. Where are you holding tension? Are you clenching your jaw, furrowing your eyebrows, squinting your eyes? Your face muscles work in overtime throughout the day, and doing things to relax them can have cascading effects through your whole body. Brushing your hair can help facilitate that relaxation. I don’t mean the rushed, run-the-brush-through type brushing you might do before you leave for work.
Set a timer for 10 minutes, get comfy on the couch, and mindfully brush through your hair. Start at your ends and work your way up, eventually letting the brush massage your scalp. Take your time and close your eyes so that you aren’t distracted by other things happening around you. The type of brush that you use is up to you and depending on your hair type, you may have to start out by dampening your hair and using a wide-toothed comb. Remember, the point of this exercise isn’t to hurt yourself, and you know best how to care for your hair — so follow your own judgment.
When you’re stuck inside for hours (or days) on end, your skin is bound to dry out, especially if you have the heat turned on. You may not be leaving your home right now, but you can still treat your skin well. Grab a bottle of your favorite moisturizer, hop onto your bed, and get to work. On a regular day, you might just moisturize your face, knees, ankles, and elbows — the places you know will show if you haven’t moisturized. But this isn’t a regular day, so go for the all-over treatment.
Start by moisturizing your face with your usual facial moisturizer — this is likely different and more lightweight than the moisturizer you use on your body. You aren’t just trying to get the moisturizer onto your skin as quickly as possible. Rather, spend extra time slowly massaging your lotion into your skin using firm, circular motions. If you reach a spot where you notice extra tension, feel free to hang out there for a little extra time. Don’t forget your ears and your neck before you move onto the rest of your body.
Moving from the shoulders down, use the same slow, firm circles to work the moisturizer into your skin. Don’t forget hard-to-reach spots like your lower back, if you can manage to reach them. Remember, during this exercise, you’re paying attention to your whole body, so try not to skip over your chest or your booty. (But don’t use lotion on your genitals, please).
Think about how thrilled your dentist will be that you’ve finally started flossing regularly! If flossing isn’t a part of your usual dental hygiene routine, now is a great time to face your fear and do the thing you resolve to do every New Years Day.
I’ll be honest: If you don’t floss regularly, the first few times you do it might be uncomfortable. But, the more you floss, the easier it gets because your gums get healthier! Flossing is also a great way to practice mindfulness that has a positive physical effect that you can see and feel almost immediately. This isn’t skin contact exactly, but it is a great way to feel close to your own body.
4. Do a Self-Exam
No matter your body, self-exams are important. Most of us don’t spend a lot of intentional time looking at our bodies and some of us actively avoid it as a result of dysphoria, trauma, or a history of eating disorders. Self-exams aren’t just so that you can check for lumps (though those are critical).
When you were a child, you may remember feeling curious about, and even fascinated by, your body. Bring some of that energy into how you view your body now. What parts do you almost never look at? Do you have an idea of what your genitals look like? Grab a mirror and get to know the body that helps you move through the world.
If you do want to do a self-exam to find lumps, here are two starter guides. Note that they’re both cis-centric and make assumptions about someone’s gender based upon their body parts.
- How to do a breast self-exam (note: article associates breasts with womanhood)
- How to do a testicular self-exam (note: article associates testicles with manhood)
5. Masturbate (Without Orgasming)
Many people masturbate not as an act of self-care, but as an act of maintenance — by trying to reach orgasm as quickly as possibly, potentially with as little touch as possible. Masturbation isn’t just about having an orgasm, though, and masturbation just for the sake of feeling good is highly underrated.
So, grab a bottle of lube and get comfortable spending some time with your hands on your body. Rather than going straight for the things that you know will get you off, spend some time languishing in sensual touch. What types of touch feel really good, and where? What doesn’t feel less good? What surprises you? What do you want more of?
Set a 20-minute timer for yourself and consider this a period of sensual self-exploration. At the end of your timer, if you want to cum, that’s okay – go ahead! The important part is that you enjoyed the journey that lead up to your orgasm, rather than just racing to get there.
6. Do Your Nails
You might have some extra time on your hands right now, so why not spend it practicing your manicuring skills? Rather than just going straight for the polish, create an elaborate routine. Start by scrubbing your nails, exfoliating your skin, and tidying your cuticles. Trim and file your nails. Moisturize and let the lotion set in (if you’re going to polish your nails, make sure to rid them of any oils leftover from the moisturizer first).
You can skip the polish if it’s not your thing, but if you do like nail polish, take your time doing your base coat, color layer, and top coat. As you wait for it to dry, practice some deep meditative breathing, listen to a podcast, or finally watch Love Is Blind (I’ve started it; please send help).
7. Wash Your Hands
I promise this isn’t a joke. Look, you’re probably washing your hands more than you ever have in your life. But now that the memes about songs you can sing while you wash your hands for 20 seconds have died down, you’ve probably also started to cut back the length of your hand-washing sessions a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to judge.
A good hand-washing routine is basic hygiene, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be something you just do to get it done. Rather than rushing through it, massage your hands while you wash them the same way that a manicurist does when they’re doing your nails. Pay attention to the area on your palm at the base of your thumb, massage your finger joints, and do what simply feels good to you.
Maintaining your baseline for positive touch is important, so during this period of solitude, don’t shy away from fulfilling your own needs.