Truth! Professor, Researcher and 2016 Psychologist of the Year, Dr. Susan Johnson actually created a research study to determine the power of a simple touch. While in an MRI machine, participants were told that when an “X” flashed on the screen, they may or not receive a slight shock on their ankle. Participants were recorded alone, with a stranger holding their hand and with their spouse holding their hand. The results were the beginning of a whole new way at looking at love, attachment and emotional bonding. They discovered that the same location that signals physical pain to the brain registers emotional hurt and that in this experiment, when experiencing the shock, the participants would report the shock as “uncomfortable” when they were holding a loved one’s hand whereas alone or with a stranger the shock was registered as painful. Dr. Johnson determined that, “Love is a safety cue that literally calms and comforts the neurons in our brains.” The studies show that just holding your loved one’s hand can calm your brain and shut down fear.
In another recent study conducted by The Center for Humanizing Care of 14 hospitals with intensive care units(ICU), 90% of the 125 clinicians surveyed said that family presence during a procedure is a generally positive experience. They found that having someone there to hold the hand of a patient during a procedure can also be beneficial to the doctors as the patients require less restraints and/or calming medications due to the comfort provided by their loved one. Instead of restricting visiting hours at these ICUs, now family members do not necessarily have to leave when doctors are performing invasive or potentially traumatic procedures like an intubation, placing a central intravenous line, inserting a chest tube or even resuscitation a patient.
Research has also shown that having family in the ICU with a patient can help them all deal with the depression and anxiety that often follows a stay in the ICU, called post-intensive care syndrome, even reducing the impact of it long-term.
So, the next time you have a difficult discussion with your spouse or your child or notice that your emotions are starting to escalate, reach for their hand. Emotional connection is more powerful than you realize and that simple act of touch has the ability to calm emotions and situations quicker than you can like this post.