How to overcome “skin hunger” (Craving physical contact)

If you live alone or spend a lot of time on your own, you may suffer from skin hunger without realizing it. Almost everyone desires physical touch from other living beings and when we don’t get enough of it, we experience skin hunger, also known as touch deprivation. The touching we crave can be something casual like a simple pat on the back or something as intimate as cuddling in bed

We rarely notice our desire to receive physical touches from others unless there’s a big difference between the amount we want to receive and the amount we actually receive. The recent pandemic and the subsequent quarantines and self-isolation periods left many of us craving much more physical touching than we were receiving. 

Feeling skin hunger can something be similar to feeling hunger for food. When our bodies crave food, our stomachs tend to growl and we often feel dizzy. Just as there’s a physical reaction to not getting enough food, there’s also a genuine physical reaction to not getting enough physical contact with other living beings. 

When we suffer from touch deprivation, we can start to feel anxious, stressed, lonely, depressed, and listless. Although we’re surviving, we certainly don’t have the optimum conditions needed to thrive. 

Did you know that the skin is the largest organ in the body? Just like all other organs in the body, it regularly sends signals to your brain about what’s going on. 

When someone you like touches you in a pleasing way, your brain releases a chemical called oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the love hormone and it makes you feel great. It encourages bonding between people and boosts social recognition. 

Craving physical touch

Physical touch is one of the first things we crave after being born. That’s why skin-to-skin contact between the mother and child is recommended immediately after birth. It encourages the release of oxytocin in both the mother and child, helping the two to develop a life-long bond.

While we can’t survive without food, it is possible to survive without any physical touch. There are some people in the world who don’t like being touched and don’t need the touch of others to feel happy and fulfilled. However, there are some people who crave physical touch and because of a lack of friends and family members, can’t get as much as they need to be happy. 

What to do if you’re suffering from skin hunger

If you’re craving the physical touch of others, but you live alone and aren’t getting as much as you need to live a healthy life, there are some things you can do. Try the following suggestions until you find a solution that works for you.

  • Hug your friends
    If you’ve got friends who are happy with physical touch, make an extra effort to hug them and ask them to do the same to you. Hug them when you say hello and hug them again when you say goodbye.
    Before the pandemic, physical touch happened naturally for a lot of people, but now people tend to be a bit cautious. As long as the people in your life are happy with physical touch, bring it back wherever you can.
  • See a physical therapist
    If there is no one in your life you can hug, consider making an appointment with a physical therapist instead. Consider seeking out massage therapy, chiropractic care, acupressure, acupuncture, or myofascial release.
    Simply being touched by someone else, whether they’re a professional or a friend, can help relieve skin hunger. Giving yourself a massage or practicing acupressure on yourself can also make you feel nourished. 
  • Pamper yourself
    For something a little less intense, consider having a manicure, pedicure, or haircut. All these involve a little bit of physical contact with another human being and will make you feel great at the same time. 
  • Sign up for a dance class
    Dancing is a great way to keep fit, have fun, make new friends, and boost the physical contact you have with others. Consider signing up for a partner dance class, such as swing or salsa, that has some form of physical touch — even if it’s just via the hands. 
  • Cuddle your pet
    You don’t have to be comfortable with physical contact from humans to alleviate your touch deprivation. Petting an animal can cause oxytocin to be released, just like it would be if you hugged a friend. If you’ve got a pet, spend more time with them at home and cuddle up with them on the sofa.
    If you don’t have a pet and can’t adopt one, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. Visiting a cat café also gives you the chance to pet animals and experience physical touch. 

Talk to a therapist

If you’re struggling with skin hunger and you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed as a result, consider reaching out to a therapist. They’ll be able to help you understand why you feel this way and discuss the options available to you. Just having someone listen to you and validate your feelings can make you feel better. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fix skin hunger?

Skin hunger can be addressed by seeking physical touch and connection with others. Hugging, cuddling, and massage can help fulfill this need. Building close relationships and engaging in activities that involve touch can also provide comfort and alleviate skin hunger.

What is touch starvation and skin hunger?

Touch starvation also know as skin hunger, refers to the physical and emotional longing for human touch and connection, often experienced when one lacks physical contact with others for an extended period. It can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and increased sensitivity to touch when it finally occurs.

Is skin hunger a disorder?

Skin hunger, also known as touch deprivation, is not a formal disorder but refers to a longing for physical touch and human connection. It can affect mental well-being, but it’s a common human need, especially during times of isolation or loneliness. Seeking social support can help alleviate its effects.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741