Do you ever get a “gut feeling” about something? That is your interoceptive sense at work. Interoception is the process of sensing the internal state of the body, and it plays a huge role in our wellbeing. Unfortunately, most of us don’t even realize that we have this hidden sense!
In this blog post, I will discuss what interoception is, the link between interoception and mental health, and what we can do to improve our interoception.
What is interoception?
Interoception is the process of sensing the internal state of the body. This includes things like hunger, fullness, pain, temperature, heart rate, and breathing. It is basically our ability to sense what is going on inside our bodies.
Most of us are not aware of our interoceptive sense because it happens unconsciously. We are not consciously aware of the signals our body is sending us. For example, you are not consciously aware of your heart rate or breathing unless you focus on it.
The link between interoception and mental health
There is a strong link between interoception and mental health. Studies have shown that people with anxiety and depression have a higher interoceptive sensitivity. This means that they are more aware of the internal signals their body is sending them.
“Researchers and clinicians are recognising interoception as a key mechanism to mental and physical health, where understanding our body’s signals helps us understand and regulate emotional and physical states.”Dr Helen Weng at the University of California San Francisco
People with anxiety and depression are constantly bombarded with negative thoughts about their body. They focus on every little sensation and interpret it as something bad. For example, they may feel a pain in their stomach and think they are going to vomit, even though there is no evidence that they are sick.
What can we do to improve our interoception?
There are many things we can do to improve our interoception.
The first step is to become aware of the sense itself. Once you are aware of your interoceptive sense, you can start to pay attention to the signals your body is sending you.
You can also start to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can help you to become more aware of your body and learn to interpret the signals it is sending you correctly.
Finally, you can try some interoceptive exercises. These are exercises that help you to focus on the internal sensations of your body. One example is the Body Scan Meditation. You can also try breath awareness, heart rate variability training, and yoga.
How to do the Body Scan Meditation
- Find a comfortable position lying down or sitting up.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Start to focus your attention on your toes. Notice the sensations in your toes. How do they feel? Are they warm or cold? Do you feel any tingling or pain?
- Now move your attention to your feet. Notice the sensations in your feet. How do they feel?
- Continue to move your attention up your body, focusing on each part for a few minutes.
- When you reach your head, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.
How to practice Breath Awareness
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- Breathe normally and focus your attention on your breath.
- Notice how your stomach and chest move as you breathe.
- Try to breathe from your stomach, so that your stomach moves more than your chest.
Heart Rate Variability Training
Heart rate variability training is a type of meditation that involves focusing on your heart beat.
To do this, you need to find a comfortable position and place your hand on your heart. You can also use a heart rate monitor if you have one.
Focus your attention on your heartbeat and try to breathe in sync with it.
You will notice that your heart rate will start to slow down.
Yoga is a great way to improve your interoception. It involves both physical and mindfulness components that can help you to focus on your body and become more aware of the signals it is sending you.
There are many different types of yoga, so you can find one that suits your needs and abilities.
If you are new to yoga, it is best to start with a beginners class.
Interoception is a hidden sense that plays a big role in our wellbeing. By becoming aware of this sense and practicing interoceptive exercises, we can improve our mental health.
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor about interoception and how it might be affecting you. They can help you to find ways to improve your interoception and live a healthier and happier life.