The Importance of Human Touch: Cuddle Therapy and other Alternatives for Meeting This Unquestionably Normal Need

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My blood just boils when I think about all of the people in the world who live their daily lives without enough human physical contact  and when they try to take an alternative course of action to get that need met they are shamed for doing so.  Some examples that come to mind are paying for sex in various ways, using a casual dating website or cuddling with friends and even Cuddle Therapy. A Wall Street Journal article discusses the upsurge in the cuddle therapy business, which makes a lot of sense in the current social environment, which research shows is seeing an increase in disconnection through social media and other forces. That is, loneliness is on the rise.These examples are all situations that are shamed, or at the very least, frowned upon in our society and I find that very sad.

I once had a friend who worked at a hair dressing shop where a single man in his 60’s used to come in once a week to get his hair washed and once a month he would get it cut. She described him as this “kind of weird guy”. When I inquired about why he was weird she said because he just liked to have the girls wash his hair. I thought to myself, wow, that man might get 5 minutes of human touch a week and pays for it but that is seen as shameful. How sad that our society feels that way. If you don’t fall into a certain mainstream category you are not worthy of human touch.

Other experiences in my life have helped me realize that person’s with physical, emotional or psychological disabilities frequently do not have close human contact beyond personal care assistance and lack the natural human ability to forge the relationships necessary to facilitate naturally craved human touch. I think we need to have services that are readily available for anyone who’s physical touch gas tank is low. We need socially accepted shops for people to pop in and get those needs me. Like a Jiffy Lube but for a cuddle.

Now they do have these available but they are very frequently seen as questionable when seen as being used for this purpose but think about it…. Most of us love a good massage, haircut, pedicure, manicure, body mask etc…. I”m sure the list could go on. We don’t necessarily think about how this would naturally feel especially good to someone who has no other physical human contact. Healthy positive hormones that balance the body and feel great are released when human touch is occurring.

Unfortunately many people have a difficult time discerning between the generally lovely feeling of touch and that of sexual touch and with the limits that are placed on us through sociocultural forces I am not surprised. There is so much shame around the idea of touch, arousal, excitement and sexuality that we are not teaching our kids how to be comfortable as touchable and sexual human beings with appropriate boundaries and abilities to voice our boundaries comfortably.

Cuddle therapy, mentioned above, is meant to be personalized platonic touch that openly acknowledges that we all need some compassion and affection sometimes. These services strive to meet these needs for about the same price as a massage. Their codes of ethics at a professional services are clearly outlined and adhered to to protect the clients and practitioners from any uncomfortable or ineffective types of touch.

Human beings thrive from touch. Scientific research shows over and over again that babies thrive through touch, both because it is a form of communication that helps children form healthy attachment styles (attachment theory) and because touch produces hormones that balance the body and its functions. An often cited example in this research tells the story that 70 or 80 years ago babies in orphanages that were given all of the nutrition, cleaning and warmth they needed died at a rate of 70-80% until the caretakers were told to hold the babies.

Articles like “8 Reasons We need Human Touch More Than Ever” help us understand that touch is not a luxury, it is a basic human need that no one needs to be ashamed for wanting or pursuing avenues toward it in their life.

We know that cortizol in our system is stressful (it triggers that Autonomic nervous system to rise to meet perceived threat also called “nervous system arousal”), and loneliness increases cortizol levels (Vaughan Tremmel 2006). Why? Because human beings instinctively seek out companionship. There is safety in numbers and our limbic brain knows that. If we are feeling short on companionship or feeling dis-empowered around creating companionship because of low self-esteem, lack of motivation, a sense of unworthiness or shame then our brain will continue to send us messages motivating us to connect (I feel lonely) but our own beliefs about how we are perceived in the world (I’m not good enough and I will be rejected) can get in the way of us taking actions to get those needs met.  Its a circular event of anxiety. Not fun at all for those locked into it. And, of course, the lack of human touch negatively affects our physical, emotional and psychological health which can contribute further to not being able to get those needs met.

Loneliness is also becoming more pervasive in our society (Entis 2016) with a documented climb in the last 20 years. Our culural norms are feeding into a greater sense aloneness than ever before. People sitting behind cyber screens fostering relationships can seem like a step in the right direction for those that are shy but is it really. There is a big component missing in communication over the internet as well as the what is for so many humans the ultimate goal, to be in close physical connection with another human being.

We also know that hugs decrease cortisol levels. Why? Because we feel safe and in companionship. Now companionship doesn’t need to be physical. There are many ways that we can all think of that create a sense of connection, a knowing look from a friend, words that convey you are understood, receiving a message inquiring about how you are from a friend but physical touch beyond all of those others has been shown to almost immediately reduce the amount of cortisol in the bloodstream.

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How can we get more positive touching going on. One group has introduced CuddleParty.com which has become a worldwide phenomenon. Maybe this will become just like Tupperware parties one day. That would be fantastic.

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Lose Weight: Stop Worrying About Losing Weight With Intuitive Eating

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In a recent interview Melissa McCarthy was asked how she lost the weight and her answer was simply “I stopped worrying so much about it” and it just started to come off. This was such a pleasant surprise to hear. This is a message I am regularly sharing with my clients. Our bodies are meant to eat when we are hungry and want to stop eating when we are comfortably full, a process we call in the Cedric Method “natural eating”.

I have heard the phrase intuitive eating also bantered about lately and I am thrilled that this idea is catching on. The bottom line is that we live in a time where we can eat not just for survival but as much as we want and food can be very comforting. It isn’t unusual for human being to turn toward food for some soothing and relief because as a client once put it to me, “food is my friend, never talks back to me and is always there for me”.

When we eat to soothe we call that emotional eating.  In and of itself this  is not the worst thing but when you eat to soothe yourself and then feel bad/guilty for doing so and then reach for more food to soothe that guilt you can see how you may get stuck in a counterproductive cycle. Add purging to that cycle to try to relieve the guilt of eating and then you add the guilt of purging. Whew!  Exhausting!

We are told by media, friends and even family sometimes, what good and bad foods are and we take the message that if we eat bad foods we are bad. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are no good and bad foods. Eating what our body craves (like pregnant women do) is the way for most people to get the nutritional requirements they need. Practicing checking in about how hungry and full you are as well as what you feel like eating and how much will start to make you more aware and able to use these natural skills. Its a whole new language the body is speaking to us and its there if we are willing to listen.

Research on intuitive eating is on the rise and there is evidence based in at least one review of 26 peer-reviewed articles showed that lower BMI’s are associated with intuitive eating. This study also pointed to other positive health factors like improved psychological health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as improved dietary intake. They are all related to an intuitive eating lifestyle.

I frequently find my clients very reluctant to adopt this idea at first because it sounds too good to be true but once they do they start to find that if they follow their true urges then their over-all cravings for “crap” actually go down and they have a sense of true satisfaction in their lives. After all, they are eating what they want, when they want.

I believe that the cortisol and adrenaline in the system that naturally accompanies the worrying about food and tying our identity and worthiness to what we eat and/or our body shape also helps us hang on to the weight we are carrying as well so that will also contribute to weight loss and maintenance.

Thank you Melissa McCarthy for sharing that piece of your private life (vulnerability-love it!) with us and putting a famous face to the real happiness and health that comes with intuitive/natural eating.

 

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The Importance of Having Compassion for Self

There are Ted Talks that just sum things up in such a great way that I “prescribe” them to my clients to watch and consider between sessions to keep their process moving. This is one I have suggested several of my clients listen to because Guy Winch quite plainly suggests that contrary to modern cultural norms we really need to take care of our emotional selves the same way we take care of our physical selves. If you break your leg you get a cast and take some rest to let it hear. If your heart feels broken or your nervous system is overwrought you need to take care of them in the same way. Have a listen as see what you think.

How to Practice Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch

 

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The Tomato Cage: A Metaphor for Life

I came across this lovely little metaphor for life that I wanted to share in a brief story posted in a yoUnlimited newsletter.  The concept is quite simple, a tomato cage is a support that loosely props the growing tomato plant and allows it to thrive, growing beyond its potential without that support.

We all need that kind of personal support to grow and thrive. It helps stave off depression and anxiety by reducing isolation and helping us get our life needs met. The question is… how can we create that support for ourselves if it is not already there?  I have put together some links to ideas for doing just that. yoUnlimited is just such a group, generally intended to support women. Here are a few others with some great ideas for building your own “tomato cage”:

15 Tips for Building a Personal Support Network

Mayo Clinic

Community Roundtable

American Psychological Association

Depression Toolkit

 

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How to Stop Binging – Life on the Inside from a Recovering Food Addict

I am posting this excerpt from the blog of a local Victoria personal trainer named Tara Brunet from Training by Tara Brunet because it so beautifully describes very common struggles with anxiety and binge eating in a down to earth way and includes lots of ideas to move past and through those struggles.

Tara is a dynamic and inspirational business woman and human being. The transparency and vulnerability with which she writes really hits home with me because I think nothing feels better to be around than people who are real. Her writing inspires me to have compassion for myself because having a hard time is normal and you can see this in her experience. We all face difficulties at one time or another. Having the ability to be kind to ourselves in our darkest moments is the way to move through them quickly, learn the most from them and not repeat them as frequently in the future.

Have a look at this great blog that tackles several issues about very common human struggles that are particularly prevalent at this time in history.

Beat the BINGE

For more information on eating disorders or counselling for eating disorders using the Cedric system please email dawncox@shaw.ca

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Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion

Have a look at this great Ted Talk where Kristen Neff eloquently reminds us that being kind to ourselves is not the route to chaos and laziness but rather the route to higher self-confidence. As we move away from self-judgement we move toward a more realistic view of ourselves and that view is most often surprisingly positive.

Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion

 

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A great video about loneliness

Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid – Guy Winch

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When is Your Cupcake Good Enough? Self Esteem and Self-Talk

A common theme in my work is helping clients work through the anxiety that comes from setting standards for themselves that are impossible to reach and then feeling disappointed that they are never doing enough. As you can no doubt imagine, this is an uncomfortable feeling to live with on a daily basis. Repeat it over and over again, “I am not enough”. How does that feel in your body when you keep saying it?

Examples of this look like… decorating cupcakes for your kids bake sale and then berating yourself that you waited until the last minute so they don’t look nearly as good as if you had gotten started earlier, or, you are not slim enough, or your eyebrows are not shaped well enough, or you didn’t “put enough heart into blah blah blah…”. And, the list goes on.

I find that the problem, rather than being what people euphemistically call “high standards”, is, more specifically, that no qualifying standard is actually set. Rather, there is a limitless, perfectionistic, “I will know when I get there”, approach to most of life’s daily activities. I frequently ask clients, “how do you know when you have done a good enough job at X?”. The answers I hear invariably resemble, “I don’t know”. Then I ask them to set a limit, based on what they would find adequate in a given area, what they would consider sufficient. I ask them,”so, if someone else did this amount of X, you would find that quite satisfactory, correct?”. From this point, we can use this as a standard for “enough”. If we use cupcakes, for example, a person might say that what they would find “sufficient” to buy at a bake sale tends to be a standard quite a bit lower than the “never good enough” standard they use to measure their own cupcakes. Re-orienting yourself to contemplate what is enough and be clear about that is often a very effective tool for limiting the amount of wasted energy and negative self-talk that comes from “I’ll know when get there thinking”, because you never get there when you don’t know where “there” is,

It never ceases to amaze me how frequently regular folks live under these ongoing stories of “I am not enough” or “everyone else is doing a better job at such and such”. Its actually exhausting to think about, and I know, because I have spent plenty of time thinking this way in my life. Its a relief that I am now choosing to put far less of my precious energy into activities like that. Whew!

I have included a link to a relevant article by Elizabeth Gilbert about cutting ourselves some slack. I love the message, which I heard to be, have compassion for yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat others.

Can you imagine saying to another person, a friend or loved one, some of the things you say to yourself?, “Those cupcakes look like you didn’t start early enough”, “your eyebrows don’t have a nice enough shape”. Practicing compassion for ourselves is not being a wimp, its being smart. If you strive for realistic goals and give yourself full credit for achieving them before you move on to setting new goals then you will probably experience a little bit of time feeling proud of what you have accomplished. Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if you would let yourself be proud of your cupcakes.

I find a general theme in Western culture to be that if you let yourself feel proud of your accomplishments then you may be seen as full of yourself or conceited. I have touched on this in other articles (Changing Your Personal Stories Changes Your Life) (The Truth About Honest Liars) because it is so pervasive and truly discouraging. We watch people in the media achieving goals, winning races and being honored for them over and over and then when it comes to our own achievements so many of us have standards without limit and a sense of shame for admitting we have done a good job. I mean seriously, how can anyone win (a.k.a. feel good about oneself) with this going on inside our heads?

Maybe its time to set an example for others about what you really feel is “enough” and, how about, the fact that you “are” enough. You were born enough. We all are. We are born lovely, wonderful and sufficient. Unfortunately we are trained out of this way of thinking all too often. I suggest that media influence is the biggest factor in that training but that’s an upcoming article…

Cut yourself some slack and feel more peaceful everyday in all situations. Enjoy your cupcakes, its your choice.

For more information contact Dawn at:  dawncox@shaw.ca or 250-216-9422

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Changing Your Personal Stories Changes Your Life

I tell my clients all the time that the lives we experience are a result of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. For example, if I worry about my weight and beat myself up about not being slim enough then I will look in the mirror and see something I don’t like. The opposite is also true. Its all a mindset.power of pos thinking

People can be beautiful regardless of their size but if a person doesn’t believe that then they won’t be able to see that in the mirror or in others. All kinds of media hype helps us along with this idea because that is how advertisers sell things… they use our natural human fear of wanting to be accepted and belong to drive us to buy things. Its a simple truth and there is plenty of evidence to back that up, but that is a whole other article.

I’m sure we have all had a friend whom we may not have found extremely aesthetically appealing but  we observe that others treat that person as though they are. And, the friend in question seems to respond as though they believe this feedback is realistic. Hence the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Could it also be true that believing you are attractive to others in and of itself can be a draw? Confidence does seem to beget confidence.

Clients often come to me asking me to help them find that all-to-allusive “confidence”. The first thing I ask them is what are you currently telling yourself about your self-worth. What are your life stories around that? Low self-confidence is invariably linked to negative stories about self. That is, that many people, in an effort to not be overly self-confident (heaven forbid), err on the side of self deprecation. Our North American culture seems very geared to being overly humble to the point that many people are telling themselves that if they own almost anything awesome about themselves then they are arrogant, conceited or a diva.

As a result, there seems to be a very high level of self-doubt bread into our culture. I think this really is a painful side-effect of trying to make sure no one thinks we might be a braggart. Is it really so bad to just own what you do?

The beginning of raising your self-confidence starts by considering changing your personal stories to include what you know you are good at based on objective evidence and feedback from people who’s opinion you respect. For example, a good friend of mine observed that after I graduated from University with my Masters degree in Counselling Psychology I was quite shy to talk about that achievement. He said he saw me downplay that fact when asked about it and when he asked me why I didn’t give someone my business card for my private practice after such a conversation I said I didn’t want to be pushy. He boldly said to me, “Dawn, you went to school for 6 years to earn your credentials and worked for several more to be able to open your practice, this is no small thing and you don’t need to be shy to talk about it”. Ironically, it took him saying that for me to realize how I had been selling myself short in my enthusiasm to not brag. It felt a little uncomfortable in that moment but I realized that he was quite right and decided to practice owning my hard-earned achievement. I find this is a very common story.

I decided to change my story from “if I talk about my achievement I will be a braggart” to “Hi, I’m Dawn and I am a registered clinical counsellor”. I feel very differently when I say each of these statements and, by consiously choosing my stories, I change the way I feel and the direction of my life as well as how others relate to me. Try this yourself at home. See how you feel.

Here is a Canadian Living article that talks about some of the power of what we focus on and/or tell ourselves. And, here is another link to an article about a neurological study supporting the idea that thinking about ones self more positively before hearing a suggestion from your doctor for better health care (e.g., walk more) will increase the likelihood that you will do what your doctor suggests.

For more information contact Dawn at:

dawncox@shaw.ca or 250-216-9422

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Eating in Balance: Trusting yourself around food

If you eat when you are full, stop when you are comfortably full and have treats in moderation knowing you can always have more later then you are “naturally eating”. Your body will regulate your intake by telling you when you are hungry and how hungry you are. For a lot more info on this check out www.cedriccentre.com. I work with the Cedric Centre for counselling and their website has an abundance or information on the topic of food and body issues.

Many people don’t trust their body’s ability to tell them when they are hungry but if we really listen it will tell us. In contrast it is common for many of us to eat for emotional reasons rather than hunger and that’s when we are more likely to overeat. We aren’t listening to hunger in those moments, generally. Working through what the emotional piece is often alleviates the need to eat.

The same way that pregnant women are said to have strong cravings while in gestation, if any one of us start to listen to what we are craving we will learn a great deal about what our body wants, both in terms of the specific nutrients we crave and what our emotional needs might be. For example, I might crave a bag of chips after a particularly stressful day at work. This would likely be a sign of physical/emotional/cognitive fatigue more than my body’s need for salt, fat or simple carbs. The emotional “pay off” for having a treat may then bring with it more calories than my body could/would burn off in that day (eventually leading to weight gain if repeated over time) and may also leave less room for the more nutrient dense food that would supply my entire body system with what it needs to effectively carry out the physical and mental activities of the evening and next day, potentially leaving me more fatigued and less able to cope with work/relationships/daily life activities the next day and so on.

In my business I would call eating the whole bag of chips instead of (or as well as) dinner a negative coping strategy. It is a coping strategy because it helps me feel better in the moment but then there will likely be a physical and emotional fall-out from this activity if it becomes a regular coping strategy in my life, thus it brings problems with it and is not positive but negative.

Some examples of more positive coping strategies would include, rest, meditation, light exercise, talking to a friend, relaxation breathing, and having a really satisfying nutrient dense dinner. Implementing strategies like these in a way that is kind and compassionate to yourself is key to moving away from the all or nothing, typically restrictive thinking, that goes along with being on a “diet”.

Our media and societal learning includes the opposite of much of this “kindness to self” that I talk about and that is unfortunate. The harsh internal dialogue that goes on inside many people throughout their day is what leads to the fatigue and need to soothe with food at the end of the day (or in the middle,ha!). It takes so much energy and feels awful. ironically, this is often perceived as healthy thinking and its not.

“Natural eating” means being kind to yourself and learning to trust that you can make healthy, comfortable decisions around food in all situations.

For more info email:  dawncox@shaw.ca

or call:  1-250-216-9422

 

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