Reconciling the longer term impacts of social distancing upon young minds
Through my series of blogs since the beginning of lockdown in the UK, in which I have focussed upon mental health impacts, I have discussed how homeopathy can help in building resilience, support us through lockdown and the transition out of it into a changed world. A new term has entered our lexicon since the arrival of Covid-19 - this is known as ‘social distancing’. This is still persisting and will continue to do so for some time to come until it is deemed necessary to reverse the ruling - i.e. as long as the pandemic remains a threat to the population.
Adults can rationalise this very well despite experiencing the effects of the inevitable sense of isolation this brings about. When communicating with my single friends at this time, however well they appear to be progressing, they often close the conversation with a comment like ‘all I need is a hug’. However, for children who do not fully comprehend the reasons for the lockdown (and whose parents/carers are likely to be feeling stressed at this time), the effects are already becoming embedded into their very impressionable psyches at a very young age. My concern lies with the possible enduring imprint this influence can have on their brain structures as they develop.
When considering the importance of touch and how much it is valued as a tool for healing both at the beginning and end of life, not forgetting the years in between, one cannot overlook the impact on their young minds which has been created during this protracted period of lockdown (and beyond) being physically separated from their peers and extended family members at the same time.
I speculate that owning a pet cat or dog could go some way in providing an outlet for this type of touch deprivation and recognition from another living entity, albeit not a human one.
According to an article ‘What Does It Mean to be Touch Starved?’ by Lauren Sharkey (1), humans are wired to be touched. The significance of being touch deprived or touch starved is explained by the discovery of scientists of a nerve ending called ‘C-tactile afferents’ which exists to recognise any type of human touch (2). This is transmitted through the vagus nerve and releases oxytocin - also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’. Skin-to-skin contact is vital for not only mental and emotional health, but physical health too. When an individual is under duress, which is inevitably often the case during the time of a pandemic, cortisol is released which increases both blood pressure and the heart rate. This in turn affects the production of dopamine - the reward transmitter - as well as serotonin - the transmitter which - in normal times - provides one with the ‘feel good factor’. Sleep disturbance is one of the first signs that the burden has become excessively overwhelming and more balance is required in the production of cortisol versus dopamine and serotonin.
Certain homeopathic remedies can act to stimulate the oxytocin receptors which have been shut down in such a way after a sudden and incomprehensible collective trauma like the one created by the pandemic. A severment in human relationships has occurred as a result, often felt both on a conscious as well as an unconscious level. The obvious remedy for this set of feelings is derived from mother’s milk - Lac Humanum - which is, of course, rich in oxytocin, being the hormone which is released during the birthing process as well as during breast-feeding. It also acts to support the bonding between mother and child. The main feature in the picture of this remedy is the longing for human touch, the absence of which could in later life lead to characteristics of addiction - the need to control a habit or substance which perhaps they could not control as an infant (their primal food - i.e. mother’s milk). (3) It all comes back to the quality of the primal attachment as to, not only how the individual responds to the current trauma, but also how the trajectory towards addiction can be triggered and stemmed along the way, before it takes over with the use of such a remedy.
Another group of remedies where bonding has been disrupted is the Magnesium group. In one Magnesium Muriaticum case, the healing came about in a vicarious way - the mother of a young toddler of 16 months had presented for post natal depression. As a result, there was little symbiosis between her and the son as he was growing up. After receiving the remedy (in a 200c split dose) the first reaction came about through the child. The mother reported back that he held up his hands for the first time ever to be picked up by her. She had been unable to caress him before that time and both she and he responded very well to the treatment. (I often find Magnesium Muriaticum has a more marked reaction than Sepia in such a case when the latter remedy could so easily have been given). The key is in the level of abandonment that historically runs through the preceding generations - even pre-dating the presenting patient and the current situation.(4)
The main reaction to trauma in the remedy - Helleborus Niger - is a type of regression shown in difficult comprehension and a marked indifference to the environment. This could have been triggered by a withdrawal of affection by the main caregiver at a time of great preoccupation and disruption in a regular routine. Surprisingly, the Helleborus patient is better for occupation and may be suffering from the suspension of schoolwork which the parents cannot provide in the same way. This patient is lacking in any type of ability to enjoy life due to an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.
There are many other homeopathic remedies which could act in a case wounded in this way by a sudden curtailment in certainties which, leading up to that time, had been relied upon to maintain the status quo to define their identity. Specific ones which come to mind are :-
Bismuth Subnitricum - the child (or regressed adult) wants to be held by the hand.
Borax Venenata - there is a history of difficult individuation. A possible concomitant is a fear of being contaminated by some infectious disease.
Capsicum Annuum - the patient pines away with homesickness and longing for others (this resembles the mental state of Aurum Metallicum).
Oxytocin (in potency) is a remedy where, in such extreme situations, the patient is propelled into a marked state of anxiety and inability to connect with others. The remedy assists the patient in recognising to whom they should gravitate and to whom they should not when needing support. This remedy is a sarcode and can be given in its own right or to support another remedy collaterally.
There is also a cluster of remedies known as ‘the matridionial remedies’ which are deeply connected to the birthing and bonding experience. They could certainly be indicated at this time when a rupture at source has taken place and symbiosis between the parent/carer and child needs to be rekindled. The one which mirrors the picture of the remedies which have so far been mentioned above - especially Helleborus Niger - is Placenta Humanum in its level of apathy and lack of emotional response. In this remedy, the isolation has led to a vulnerable and weepy state. Learning has been difficult to assimilate and a sense of failure can pervade. (5) The placenta is very emblematic in the context of both nourishment and protection. Taking this remedy, the patient is empowered to step forward beyond the constraints which have been imposed on them.
My conclusion is that the road ahead may remain rocky but the bumps can be cushioned along the way as a new pattern of relating emerges from the emotional fallout of the lockdown. Homeopathy offers this type of support in the recognition that each individual responds differently - this is very much based on the early epigenetic imprint which feeds into any ongoing traumas - individual or collective. They act to bring out the raw and ‘uncompensated’ vulnerability which lies dormant until such times of global threat. That which is left behind in its long-term wake will inevitably continue to unravel for years to come in what is being increasingly described as ‘the new normal’.
(This is the fourth in a series of blogs which I have created since the outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. At this stage, a fluidity has arisen between the different blogs so I recommend the reader refers to them in case of any overlapping material which could be relevant in the context of the specific subject in this article.)
Sharkey, Lauren, 2019; ‘What Does It Mean to be Touch Starved?’, www.healthlines.com
Susannah. C. Walker, et. al, 2017; ‘C-Tactile Afferents: Cutaneous Mediators of Oxytocin Release during Affiliative Tactile Interactions?’ Neuropeptides Epub. vol 64, pp 27-38.
Adalian, Elizabeth, 2017; ‘Touching Base with Trauma - Reaching Across the Generations - a Three-Dimensional Homeopathic Perspective’, Writersworld.
Adalian, Elizabeth, September 2014, ‘The Missing Equation: Transgenerational Trauma’, Hpathy.com.
Kathy Biggs, Linda Gwillim, 2000; ‘Placenta Humanum (Welsh)’, Welsh School of Homeopathy.