How often do you find yourself feeling lonely, craving more affection than you get? If this sounds familiar, then you’re experiencing a common problem known as skin hunger, and you’re far from alone.

According to Psychology Today,  more Americans live alone than ever before. One in four Americans reports not having not a single person to talk to about important issues and loneliness among American adults has increased 16 percent in the last decade.

Just as lack of food, water, and rest have detrimental effects, so does the lack of affection. Known as “skin hunger,” people who feel more affection-deprived are less happy, more lonely, more likely to experience depression and stress,  and, in general, in worse health. They have less social support and lower relationship satisfaction, experience more mood and anxiety disorders, and more secondary acquired (versus inherited)  immune disorders. They are more likely to have difficulty expressing and interpreting emotion (think Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory)  and they’re less likely to form secure attachments with others in their lives.

Basic physical affection such as holding hands and getting hugged are very important to humans.  If you are suffering from skin hunger, here are some strategies for getting more touch in your life.

Ask for a hug. There’s nothing wrong with simply asking a friend or family member for a hug at the end of a long day. Chances are, they are in need of the affection as well. Increase your hug ratio and you can also look forward to reduced blood pressure, decreased cortisol (a stress hormone tied to weight gain), improved healing, reduced cravings, and boosted immunity.

Get a furry hug! Studies show that people with pets experience less stress. The act of petting an animal brings pleasure and provides a way to physically connect with a being that loves you.

Stimulate your skin. One of the things you are missing when you don’t get enough touch is sensory stimulation of the skin. Help yourself by deliberately choosing the softest sheets, blankets and pillows, and very soft and even silky clothing.

Pay someone to touch you. Get a massage from a licensed massage therapist. If you find the right person, he or she will be able to comfort and nurture you in a respectful and fulfilling way. If money is an issue, call your local massage school to schedule an appointment at their clinic.

Move your body. Exercise, dance, walk. Moving your body will heighten your endorphins, make you fit and help you feel good about yourself. Moving outdoors will enhance the experience, because you will also feel the sensation of sun and wind.