Touch deprivation is real, but there are creative ways to cope.
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Ever since I published this guide about mental health during quarantine, countless readers have asked me what resources — if any — exist for people who are alone and craving touch right now.
As many of us continue to self-quarantine, it’s understandable that a lack of touch can quickly become a mental health issue.
Touch is a fundamental human need for many, if not most people. A lack of it can impact us in very deep ways.
So what can you do if you’re hunkered down in your apartment without another living being in sight?
I’m very lucky to be quarantined with loved ones right now, but I’m no stranger to skin hunger and isolation. As someone who has grappled with agoraphobia for most of my adult life, I’ve had to get very creative in how I get my needs met.
I created this gift guide to offer up some of my tried and true tips for self-comfort and care during a period of isolation.
Hey, before we dive in, there are a few things I want to name!
1. There’s no perfect substitute for human touch! The items I list here aren’t meant to be a replacement. Rather, these are merely suggestions to support you as you look for more effective ways to cope.
2. Money is complicated. Everyone has a different budget, and for many of us, finances are tight right now. I’ve tried to aim for variety here, as well as listing alternatives where I can.
3. You can safely send this list to your mom. None of the recommendations here are sex toys! There are plenty of guides you can reference if that’s what you’re looking for right now. I’ve chosen to focus specifically on items that are comforting rather than, uh, stimulating.
4. I’m not going to tell you to adopt a pet. Promise. This suggestion has been made a thousand times over, and while it’s a very good one, not everyone is in a position where they can care for a critter right now!
Let’s get started! Here are some of my favorite items for coping with a lack of touch.
Therapy balls are seriously a lifesaver, and frankly, you don’t need to be isolated to benefit from them.
In short, you place them underneath different parts of the body to activate pressure points through movement, which then releases tension and imitates the feel of a massage.
When there’s no one around to give you a massage, this is an awesome alternative. There are exercises you can even do at your desk if you’re working from home. Not only does it feel grounding after going without touch for a while, but it can be very soothing as well.
This set from Amazon includes a guide for different exercises you can try. As always, if you’re concerned about how this could impact your specific body, reach out to your doctor or physical therapist before giving it a try.
(If this kind of movement doesn’t feel accessible to you, you can always opt for a massage pillow that will do the work for you!)
Price: $$ – $$$
Weighted blankets are kind of amazing — and they may help us cope with touch deprivation, too. Of particular interest: weighted blankets mimic something called deep pressure touch (DPT), which is the firm, hands-on touch that’s shown to reduce anxiety and stress.
A blanket that imitates a soothing touch is exactly what the doctor ordered.
We’ve published a separate guide on how to choose the right weighted blanket for you, so I’d give it a read if you’re looking to invest in one for yourself.
Baths and showers can be a really great sensory experience for those of us who are touch deprived. Warm water especially can be a source of comfort.
Part of what makes touch so magical is the sensory experience of heat!
If you want to take your shower or bath to the next level, a bath or shower bomb might be just the thing. These fizzy delights will fill your bath or shower with a favorite scent, and some even change the color of your bathwater. They’re effectively the mascot for Team Treat Yourself.
My favorite place to get bath bombs is a place called Modern Skyn Alchemy. The founder is a breast cancer survivor who wanted safer, more natural beauty products — so she started creating them herself. The rose bath bomb is one of my favorite things on earth.
For shower bombs, LUSH is a good bet, but I always encourage people to check out local small businesses, too, to see if someone in their community is making them!
I realize that not everyone has a bath or a spacious shower. If that’s the case, a “foot spa” might do the trick! This foot bath from Urban Outfitters is a solid pick. It offers the delight of a warm bath with the soothing qualities of a foot massage.
You might even add some essential oils to the mix, put on a nice clay mask, or Facetime your bestie for a shared spa experience.
Price: $ – $$
Okay, I understand that you’re An Adult. But hear me out: the research, while limited, backs this recommendation up.
Touch with an inanimate object, like a teddy bear for instance, may actually soothe existential fears and anxiety. And since most of us are grappling with some kind of existential angst at the moment? It’s the perfect time to invest.
I am a big proponent of stuffed animals as a stand-in for comforting touch when it’s otherwise lacking. And in self-isolation? Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Stuffed animals have come a long way since the early days of Build-a-Bear, too.
Angry Shibas remain one of my favorite places to find cute plushies. There’s this terrifyingly realistic raccoon plush, which one reviewer noted looks so real that her cats literally hissed at it. Or maybe you’d prefer this giant, cheerful border collie or an adoptable barn owl for a good cause.
Bonus, your landlord can’t tell you they aren’t allowed in the building and you don’t need to take them for walks.
Price: Varies by product!
Yes, it might sound a little bit odd to tell you to moisturize when what you really want is a hug.
But self-touch, especially the kind that you’re fully present for, can be a soothing form of self-care when other forms of touch aren’t available.
Mindful skin care encourages us to slow down when we’re taking care of our skin — whether that’s moisturizing your face or scrubbing your feet, there’s always an opportunity to pay close attention to the sensations we feel, and breathe deeply into them.
If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve got an entire article detailing one writer’s experience with mindful moisturizing! For a more intense sensation, you could also try swapping the lotion out with an exfoliant.
You can get a sizable bottle of organic almond oil from Amazon here, while this vanilla butter sugar scrub is a personal favorite from ModernSkyn. For something reusable, these silicone massagers are great, too.
Are you noticing a theme yet? We’re looking for weight, heat, pressure, scent, softness — we want a soothing sensation!
These are all pretty fundamental to what we love about human touch. And if you have access to a microwave or dryer, this really expands your options.
Amazon sells something called a Huggaroo Neck Wrap, which is basically just a hug that you can microwave. It’s a weighted, plush neck wrap that you can heat up and wrap around you. It utilizes aromatherapy and deep pressure touch to soothe the heck out of you.
If you’re aching for companionship, this microwavable sloth plush is ideal for a comforting snuggle. It’s infused with lavender and easily the cutest plush out there.
For something with a little more utility, Target sells an affordable bathrobe that you can throw in the dryer.
Price: $$ – $$$
So I said I wasn’t going to recommend that you go out and get a pet. And I’m keeping that promise! That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the existence of cat robots.
Yes, cat robots.
These mechanical cat plushies have become increasingly popular, especially among older folks who aren’t able to take care of a pet, but they can be soothing for virtually anyone.
These critters are designed to heat up, imitate the rise and fall of a cat breathing, respond to touch, and more.
It may sound weird, but the reviews don’t lie: people love them.
As someone who has been soothed many times by a warm cat sleeping on my chest, I can absolutely see the benefit of having one of these when your apartment manager has a strict no pet policy (boo them!).
If you’re a dog person, some companies also make dog versions of these, too! And you never have to take them for a walk or drag them to the vet, which is awesome.
COST: Depends on the platform and plan. See this article for a cost breakdown.
So how, exactly, is therapy going to help you cope with a lack of human touch? That’s a valid question.
Have you heard of somatic therapy? This is a form of psychotherapy that involves getting in tune with the body and utilizes touch, including self-directed touch, to explore emotional issues that you might be grappling with.
Now is a pretty excellent time to consider therapy if you haven’t in the past.
In general, a strong connection with a therapist can offer invaluable support during a period of isolation. And somatic therapists in particular can help you get back in touch with your body, particularly where touch is scarce or fraught.
Remember: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking out support if you’re struggling with touch deprivation.
Touch is a fundamental human need for many people, and if you’re someone that thrives with a sense of connection, it makes perfect sense that this period of isolation would be especially challenging.
Whether it’s a massage pillow or a warm bath, don’t hesitate to experiment and see what works best for you.
And by the way? Thank you.
You’re doing the right thing — and at a time when doing the right thing also means doing the most difficult thing, it takes serious courage to hang in there. Self-quarantine is so tough, but it’s the surest way to protect our communities and ourselves during this pandemic.
Stay safe! And if you get one of those robot cats, please tweet me and let me know how it goes. You know… for science.
Sam Dylan Finch is an editor, writer, and media strategist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the lead editor of mental health and chronic conditions at Healthline. You can say hello on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or learn more at SamDylanFinch.com.