This feminine noun is made up of the verb ‘streicheln’, meaning ‘to stroke’ or ‘to pet’ – usually referring to an animal – and ‘Einheit’, meaning a single unit or, more accurately in this context, a session.
Put together, ‘Streicheleinheit’ means ‘a session of stroking or petting’. It refers mostly to a physical act, but can imply any display of affection, including words of affirmation and endearment.
Imagine coming home after a long day at work, setting your cat on your lap, and stroking along its head and back as it purrs quietly. This activity helps to produce stress releasing hormones and makes you feel more relaxed and at ease – and your cat is likely to be practically ecstatic too. This is the archetypal image of Streicheleinheit.
Although it is usually used in the context of animals, particularly household pets, you can also deal out a session of stroking to your human friends. Here it means something analogous to TLC – tender loving care – the perfect remedy to a stressful day and a great way to show care to the people closest to you.
You might be more used to hugging or kissing your loved ones when you greet them than stroking them, but if your friend tells you they are in need of a few Streicheleinheiten, in practice that generally means slowly stroking them up the arm or on the back.
This kind of physical affection is proved to be effective at relieving stress for both the giver and receiver: it reduces secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increases levels of oxytocin, which helps to maintain emotional and mental wellbeing.
However, it also doesn’t have to be a solely physical activity – you can also experience a Streicheleinheit ‘für die Seele’ (for the soul) by treating yourself to something, for instance a holiday or a spa trip, which will make you feel better: just as in English we might refer to a vacation or time with family as ‘good for the soul’.
But the main purpose of a Streicheleinheit is that it is given as an expression of love and care – it isn’t something that can be paid for, but is something freely bestowed. It might be reciprocated, but it is not conditional.
Jeder braucht hin und wieder seine Streicheleinheiten.
Everyone needs some TLC every now and again.
Von wahren Freunden kann man viele Streicheleinheiten erwarten.
From true friends you can expect a lot of TLC.