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3 min read

What is the most dangerous thing about staying connected in a digital world? (Here’s a hint: it’s not losing your phone.)

The most dangerous thing is letting cyber-connections displace physical ones.

Think this can’t happen, that on-line communication can’t completely replace physical connections? Google “sex on skype” and you’ll get advice like “pretend you’re in the same room and you’ll actually feel like you’re together.”

Pretending something is real, even feeling like it is real, does not make it real and our bodies were built for a real physical world. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. All the senses can trigger a reaction in our bodies (Smell food, get hungry.), but touch sets off a real avalanche in our hormone system.

Physical touch unleashes the hormone OXYTOCIN, a sort of internal super-food of goodness and wellbeing that brings a host of great benefits.

How We’re Connected

“Hormones” get a bad rap, but the fact is that they are part of what makes us tick.  Literally.  Hormones regulate the rate our hearts beat at, impact the number of red blood cells we produce, slow our breathing while making it more efficient, the list goes on and on.  Hormones also act like messengers in the brain and trigger certain parts to turn on and start working.

Oxytocin has been called the “love hormone”, and if that does not tell you all you need to know nothing else will.  Oxytocin increases feelings of connection and togetherness.  This was very handy when people spent most of their day together! It also reduces violence and increases trust.  It does this by influencing parts of the brain that think about these things.

Here’s the kicker: oxytocin does this without you knowing it.

There is a famous study that showed when a librarian patted the hand of a patron checking out a book, that patron had a better opinion of the library.  Another study showed that two-thirds of women who were touched on the arm when asked to dance accepted the invitation.

Why We Touch

Why do you think people falling in love hold hands so much?  It’s because they are getting an oxytocin fix without even knowing what they are doing!  They are reinforcing some initial spark of attraction and the next thing you know wedding bells are ringing.  Holding hands and light caresses are the stuff of romantic songs and stories because the act of physical touch actually causes us to feel close to the person we are touching.

This feeling of well being is so great that we look for other ways to get our bodies to release oxytocin.  Did you ever wonder what stress-eating was all about?  Eating releases oxytocin so eating reduces stress. Is sex addiction real? All that physical touch triggers a flood of oxytocin, and that feels great.

Oxytocin is so important to our well-being that researchers think we need it to survive.  It certainly has been linked to a reduction in violence and groups that are more productive.  Those are side effects of feeling more connected to others as a result of being physically touched by them.  And, of course, there is the personal bonding that leads to sex and survival through reproduction.

So, while keeping in touch through Twitter and other digital channels might keep us informed, only physical touch can make us feel connected.

Why not give it a try yourself and deliberately give more hugs?

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