Estrangement is heartbreaking.

I’m sorry. Estrangement is truly heartbreaking. The stories I hear on this topic are always heartbreaking, and include much ongoing, unresolved loss. The stories hold such longing for what could have been rich, healthy, and loving relationships. It happens between siblings, parents and children, and in-laws. 

These are always stories about wretched boundaries and differing belief systems, from political parties to substance abuse, and to mental health disorders that disrupt even the possibility of “normal.”

The issues will often be generational as well, passed down in a chain that is among the hardest to break. I often tell clients that the very difficult work they are embarking on is heroic. It requires So. Much. Courage.

I’ll offer some examples of what this can look like. 

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touch starvation

If you are hug starved, I want you to know you are not alone. Touch starvation is real. Dopamine, oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), serotonin, and endorphins—all of these necessary hormones are greatly reduced with loss of touch. I can guarantee you miss touch if you live alone, are neuro-typical, and have been much more isolated since the start of COVID19. Touch starvation is a real thing. And among much lower doses of the aforementioned neurochemicals your brain releases when touched (in a positive manner), it also lowers your immune response. Bad news indeed. But there are ways to counteract the absence of touch.

touch starvation

Are You Hug Starved?

What Touch Does For Us

We are accustomed to physical touch, casually and intimately. Evolution dictates that we are born with a need for it. Many hospitals have volunteer cuddling programs for babies in NICU. Failure to thrive due to lack of human connection has killed many babies and children. Our skin is the largest organ in our body. It has billions of sensors that are activated when we are touched. Pleasing touch aids in food digestion, improves your immune system response, and helps you sleep well. Physical touch is one of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. I know how incredibly important it is to me.

Every single medical disease including heart attack, diabetes, hypertension, asthma — every single physical disease — is altered if you are more anxious, more depressed or if you have more mental health issues.— Asim Shah, M.D., professor and executive vice chair of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine.

When we are missing touch, it contributes to feeling isolated and uncared for in a way that leads to depression and an amplification of other challenging issues in our lives, both medical and psychological, that are already present. Touch calms the limbic system, and when lost, it leaves your stress response at a level that makes it much more readily activated. It leads to higher levels of cortisol, the stress response hormone. Yes, loss of touch is one more result of COVID19, the gift that just keeps on giving.

Counteracting Touch Starvation

Here are ten ways to counteract touch starvation during COVID19. You will be be familiar with many of these, but it is still important to try them if you are feeling this loss.

  1. Video-chat connection, whether it’s FaceTime or Zoom or WebEx, has been shown to be about 80% effective at replacing in-person connection. But you have to have the visual connection.
  2. Interaction with animals, namely pets, can be crucial.
  3. Online yoga, workout, and dance instruction are helpful in the release of oxytocin.
  4. Actually dancing online, moving in tandem with others, in either dance parties or with one other person activate mirror neurons, which in turn make us feel a part of something other than ourselves.
  5. Singing can also aid in the release of helpful neurochemicals, especially with others.
  6. Manicures, pedicures and getting your hair done are terrific for touch stimulation, and feeling renewed as well.
  7. Applying gentle pressure with wighted blankets, or simply one with a texture that is pleasing to you, along with the various compresses /eye-pads that can be heated or chilled.
  8. Simply wetting a washcloth with very hot water, wringing it out and placing it gently over your face, inhaling the steam and enjoying the warmth is quite pleasing.
  9. Massage (with a trusted professional who is abiding by heightened cleaning standards) is a proven way to relax.
  10. Playing games online while also maintaining a live video chat connection is fun. Make sure you take time to chat and catch up with people’s personal lives before you leap to playing.

One Other Factor Contributes To Touch Starvation

Even before COVID19, touch in our lives has become greatly, sneakily, reduced. I attribute this directly to our screens and mobile devices. We hide behind them. And the incredible power behind the algorithms that run the various social platforms we hook into keep us scrolling. We may spend less and less time engaged with the here and now, and what is going on right in front of us.If you don’t believe me, I highly recommend you watch the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix.


Many of us are touch starved. Safety and the pandemic has dictated this. But we are resilient and adaptable, and this pandemic will pass. Meanwhile, those most deeply affected by touch starvation must increase our awareness and practice ways we can successfully counteract this deprivation in order to live healthier lives.

If you are isolated and lonely, engaging in therapy online can help. Contact me here if you think it would help.

Mother's Day Grief

My mother died last June, and her name was June. This is my first Mother’s Day Grief without her in the world. The picture you see (scroll down if her head is chopped off; my lack of technical prowess is showing) shows her in her prime doing what she did best: organizing several hundred Pixy Pin-Up children’s photographers and their schedules all over the United States, BEFORE there was such a thing as spread sheets,  google, or online flight reservations. She had this great big board in her office with constantly changing slips of paper and schedules representing each photographer. The schedules all changed weekly, too. I always thought my mom was born in the wrong era. She would have made an incredible chief of operations and logistics. She majored in home economics, because that was really about the only option there was when she attended college. On this Mother’s Day, consider what your relationship is or was with your mother, and plan your day accordingly.

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Isn’t it interesting that some of life’s most paradoxical challenges have simple solutions that are tough to execute? The takeaway? You are far more resilient than you think.

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male depression

Consider this quote from Men’s Health magazine about male depression:

The bro culture that dictates limited ways of interacting: fist bumping, shoulder punching, sports banter, and shrinking from talk that gets too real is hurting men. Being too sensitive with other males invites talk of “manning up”, or worse, causes others to shrink away from you as if you have a raging contagious case of the flu.

Would you agree that your mental health is inseparable from your physical health? That your mind and body cannot be divided? If so, why are there so many men stigmatized if they even breathe a hint of trouble on the mental health front?

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I’m so sorry you’re in the midst of a bad depression episode, but here are some possibilities for you. I want you to know there is a future.

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Is boredom the problem

Humans are a problem solving species. We are wired for it, beginning perhaps with the evolutionarily imperative to find food. And boredom is a problem we are driven to solve.

In modern times, boredom can mean many things. Generally there are plenty of things to do, just nothing you want to do, or feel like doing. It’s the uneasy feeling of being unstimulated with nothing to occupy your mind. It’s one reason social media thrives. It’s the fastest feel-good balm we can turn to for that ping of instant gratification.

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speed of want

The Speed Of Want is a chapter title I read in the recent (great) book by therapist Lori Gottlieb Maybe You Should Talk To Someone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). In it she alludes to what I think of as the human evolutionary trait of finding faster, easier ways to the goal, with none or less of the hard work necessary to accomplish it. Witness the recent college admissions cheating scandal. In modern times, think of the changes that have occurred simply between the start of the industrial age and the present that have impacted our lives with mass production, instant worldwide communication, and outsourced labor due to advanced robotics alone.

But there are unintended consequences to this ‘need for speed.’

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talk therapy

It’s pretty standard knowledge that you go to therapy to change something. But changing a way of thinking or a behavior we don’t like is just not that easy, is it? And it is especially difficult to change our reactions to other’s mayhem. If it was we’d all do it and be on our merry way. Let me share three signs you need therapy.

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Let’s start with the bad news, but with the knowledge this is all PREVENTABLE! I struggle so much with how to make this important topic more palatable, but feel strongly that knowing the SUPER-power of connection is critical to good mental health. Did you know you have an inborn ‘connection neediness’ level? It is different for each individual and varies widely among us.

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