Holding Hands Can be a Natural Painkiller

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February 14, 2006 | 12,152 views

The first study of how human touch affects neural stress response indicates that married women who hold their husbands' hands feel instant relief from extremely stressful situations.

The effect was visible in scans of brain areas that register emotional and physical alarm.

Emotional Distress Reduced

Sixteen happily married couples, all screened for their compatibility, were tested. Female patients were placed inside an MRI machine, aware they would receive periodic but mild shocks to an ankle. Brain images showed all the signs of emotional distress, but it diminished significantly when a husband touched his wife's hand.

The Closer, the Better

Women received more relief from a husband's touch than from a stranger's, which may be part of the explanation for the well-known truth that married men and women tend to be healthier than those who are unmarried.

Couples with an extremely close relationship, as judged by the result of a questionnaire, experienced the greatest effects, even reducing sensations of physical pain.

Withdrawal of Touch

This also may explain why the withdrawal of affectionate touch can be so upsetting. Rejection registers in the brain in a way similar to an electric shock. Physical problems, such as blisters, also tend to last longer during marital strife.



Something as simple as a human touch can make all the difference when it comes to healing. Of course, married couples, particularly the happier ones, enjoy this and many other health benefits just by being together.

These results certainly support a study I posted last year about one's healing properties being slowed, in part, due to marital conflicts. Just a great example of your body's ability to adjust the way it reacts to pain.

Stress is a key factor in any illness and it plays a major role in the health of nearly every patient I see. To completely eliminate stress from your life is virtually impossible. Yet, if you don't learn how to deal with stress in a healthy way, a recent study shows how your brain may actually "rewire itself," altering its connections in such a way so it affects the way the brain functions.

So what can you do about it? The key is not to eliminate the stress itself but rather adjust your body's ability to tolerate it. I've found energy psychology tools, like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), can be very useful to battle the dual effects of stress and depression.

And, there's no questioning the power of prayer either. So many studies have documented it and the science that proves its healing power is very solid. So solid, I believe it's criminally negligent for physicians not to recommend it.



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