Your racing heart beat matches the pace of the cars on the streets. Your eyes frantically scan for a chance to get to the other side. You take a step forward only to fumble back two as ferocious honking bark at you. You almost trip. Just then you feel a familiar warmth gulfing your sweaty palms. A wave of relief flushes over you as your fingers intertwine. The cars furiously race by but your heart beat softens.
There is something special about the act of holding hands. The simple act can be an expression of deep connection, one of benevolence and one of the shared intimacy of togetherness. However, what makes the seemingly plain gesture of two hands finding their way to each other so intricate?
Humans, by nature, are wired to crave touch before we are even born. It is the first of our senses to develop and is an indispensable means to connect with the external world. Human fetuses have been observed to grasp onto their mother’s umbilical cord in her womb. In an awe-striking sonogram, two twins, of whom one was critically ill, were seen holding on to each other. The son had miniscule chances of survival, with a hole in his heart and an “abnormal” brain. In a bitter-sweet episode, a moving sonogram image displayed the twin girl clutching the thumb of her ailing brother, as if to protect him. A gesture that makes every heart swell is when a baby clutches the fingers of an adult, their little frames exhibiting as much strength through their tiny fingers as their bodies allow them to. This is known as the grasp reflex. While the grasp reflex relinquishes into adulthood, the crave for touch only heightens.
A research conducted by Charles Nelson, a professor at Harvard Medical School on orphan children in Romania aimed at studying their developmental progress. The children, although they had sufficient nutrition in their diets and activities for development, showed stunted growth. Upon digging deeper it was found that the children had not been held, caressed or hugged in years. Skin hunger is an issue faced by many children and adults alike. It is a condition in which people are deprived of touch. The condition has been linked with increasing cases of depression and anxiety disorders.
As the fingers of our hands intertwine, our brains release a hormone known as oxytocin. Popularly known as the ‘love hormone’, it has been found to induce feelings of compassion and trust and curb anxiety. The delicate pressure diffused as fingers interlace calms down heart rates and regulates blood pressure. The action has been associated with decreasing levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Humans have been found to cope with pain and discomfort better with their hands entwined.
It is difficult to measure the impact of the softness of an action like holding hands in laboratories, under magnifying glasses or in test tubes. However, on a chilly winter day, when stuffing your hands in your pocket might just not be enough to keep you warm, or when the sight of the number of steps you need to climb makes you dizzy, on a day when you need to present that massive project that you have been spending sleepless nights over or maybe when you simply crave presence, your comfort might just be a hand’s reach away.
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Hello! I am Sudrisha. I am a daughter, a friend, a student or a mere passer-by on the street. My mind is a cauldron of ideas, imaginations, dreams and values imbibed in me through everything I have been in the past twenty years. Fictional and non-fictional characters from the glossy pages of Vogue to Austen’s exquisite Pride and Prejudice are my travel guides through life. There is nothing more thrilling to me than a warm cup of cocoa (with extra marshmallows) paired with a book that makes me explore beyond the four walls of a room.