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Be My Teddy Bear?

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

COVID-19 has a lot to answer for. Much has been said about the sad loss of life, especially those people in nursing homes, who have had to let go of this life without any family or friends by their side. It has been harrowing for those left behind, and I'm not sure knowing that people are praying for them, will make the bereaved feel any better. There are no reasons, no answers, and no solutions. There is however grief, anger, shame and guilt. As if they didn't have enough to deal with.

The nursing homes are often under-staffed, and (often) the staff on duty are apparently under-qualified to handle nursing work (let alone the highly specialised area of nursing people in the older ages). It seems to me, that this should be our new employment growth area, and we need to focus on training up as many elder-carers as possible, as soon as is practicable.

It reminds me of another issue: the lack of touch. I have been thinking lately, that people who are lacking touch during COVID will start to have symptoms like those seen in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

A person with SAD lacks sunlight, and this impacts how their brain manages a chemical called Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important in having normal mood. Basically, a person with SAD has depression for a period of months every year. Serotonin activity tends to drop off in Autumn as sunlight hours decrease, and the depression sets in over Winter. There are other contributors to SAD, but you get the picture.

So, what's the connection between SAD and COVID-Related Touch Deficiency?

There's a lovely, easy-to-read online article by Dacher Keltner from 2010, which describes the benefits of touch throughout the lifespan. There are so many benefits, which include improved development, stronger immune systems, resilience, compassion, trust, bonding, reciprocity and collaboration, reduced feelings of anxiety in stressful situations, better sporting outcomes, and reduced depression symptoms. Touch can make a person feel more confident and connected.

So, what happens, now that we're not allowed to touch others?

Sure, you people in conjugal relationships get away with it, and you people with kids too; but the rest of us are left dangling in the wind.

I was chatting with my sister the other day, who mentioned a psychologist's article in a magazine. The psychologist was single too, and said that she went out and bought herself a teddy bear. Now, hold off your scoffing (I did).

I had a bear, that I gave my Mum when she went to hospital during my teenage years. I told her, "Just in case you get lonely". A few years later, I moved to Sydney, and she gave me the bear back, saying, "Just in case you get lonely". Mum named that little bear Constance, and I've had her ever since.

Small pink teddy bear

You never know when you'll get a visit from someone with small kids. Constance, together with a few other stuffed toys, sat up on the windowsill during the first COVID outbreak, when parents would take their house-bound children for Teddy-spotting walks each day. Bears brought delight to children all over the world.

5 soft stuffed toys
Constance and friends

I brought Constance in for a cuddle after that chat with my sister, just to try it out. You know that it was no substitute for a real person giving a real hug. I took Constance to bed with me, and I snuggled her into my neck, my hand wrapping loosely around her little arm. I'll admit, there is something about the contact inside my palm. I'll admit too, that she's a sweet little bear. But no substitute.

There was a very sad psychological experiment in the 1950s, in which Harry Harlow showed that an infant wouldn't form an attachment to the provider of food; instead, they'd develop the attachment to the provider of tactile comfort. I say it was sad, because it involved separating poor little infant rhesus monkeys from their mothers. What was more sad, was that there have been other experiments involving lonely human infants too. Thankfully, we have ethics committees to keep scientists in check these days.

The upshot to all that attachment research, in the context of COVID, is that we could be seeing more anxiety and depression - long-term as well as the immediate effects we're seeing now.

So, what can we do?

Well, for starters, you people who have relationships in which you're allowed to touch your family members - you have the biggest responsibility. You need to remember everything possible about "safe touch". I'd love to know what you think about this resource from the Western Australia Department of Education. You need to counter all the frustration in your life with more affection and patience.

Those of us who have no-one to touch (or are trying really hard to steer clear of touching, just in case) - we need to find other ways of getting the Serotonin in our brains to be more active, because the Touch Deficiency that we will be feeling, will cause lower Serotonin activity, and also lower Dopamine levels (the reward hormone/neurotransmitter involved in motivation and desire).

How do the Singletons improve chances of getting through COVID?
  1. Sunshine

  2. Physical activity

  3. Communication (especially about feelings)

  4. Self-touch, including around-body hugs, as well as palm-to-cheek touches

  5. Using our brains!!!

#5 - using our brains - is an interesting concept.

You see, we have a brain region that works to help us learn how to do stuff. We watch someone else, and that fires up this part of the brain. What is really cool, is that we can watch a video (eg, Don't Give Up) and we get a feel for what we're watching. So, when Leo and Kate are at the bow of the Titanic, we feel the wind under our arms; when they're in the car, we know what they're getting up to!

So, we can use videos and films and TV, and all the social media stuff that has hugs, to get a little fix of affection.

We can also use our imaginations, through meditation, visualisation and intentional dreaming. That way, we get exactly what we're after. Best of luck!!!

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