Interoception: when our body speaks to us

Published Jan 22, 2024 • By Candice Salomé

Interoception defines our ability to be aware, or perceive ("ception"), the interior ("intero") of our body. Perception is not only directed outwards: when you feel your heartbeat speeding up, or your stomach tightening, you're demonstrating an ability called interoception.

So what exactly is interoception? In what situations can this ability be useful? Can we develop it?

We explain it all in our article!

Interoception: when our body speaks to us

What does interoception mean? 

According to Wikipedia, interoception means: "a collection of senses providing information to the organism about the internal state of the body".

Thus, interoception is the ability to be aware of the sensations and stimuli that our body sends us. It is our brain's perception of the state of our body, transmitted to it by the receptors in all our internal organs.

For example, having "butterflies in your stomach", "goose bumps" or "red cheeks" means that your body expresses certain emotions physiologically. It's not easy to be aware of them and understand them correctly, let alone express them verbally. However, all this information expressed by our sensory organs is received and perceived by the brain, which then interprets and translates it into words, thoughts, desires, etc.

The ability to perceive and process this information varies from one individual to another. Some people have more "interoceptive skills" than others. This is known as "interoceptive ability". Others are much less sensitive to these bodily signals and therefore pay less attention to them, or don't know what to make of them at all: this is known as "alexithymia".

Understanding our interoceptive ability would undoubtedly enable us to learn more about the relationship between our body and mind. What's more, it could help us take better control of our health, since these bodily sensations are there to warn us when something goes wrong.

Interoception: in what situations can it be useful? 

In the case of eating disorders

Several studies have shown that people who suffer from interoceptive dysfunction may be more prone to eating disorders. In fact, not being aware of the sensation of hunger can end up facilitating restrictive eating and, on the contrary, not being aware of the sensation of fullness can contribute to compulsive eating.

Managing your mental health 

All bodily signals (increased heart rate, muscle tension, etc.) can play an important role in various mental conditions. According to a number of studies, people suffering from depression often show a lower level of interoceptive awareness. This reduced ability to feel their bodily signals could be at the root of the feeling of lethargy or emotional numbness, that impression of 'not feeling anything at all'.

On the other hand, people who suffer from anxiety tend to be very attentive to their interoceptive signals, but they don't always interpret them accurately. For example, they may misinterpret a slight variation in their heart rate as being greater than it actually is. This can lead them to sense 'danger' and thus amplify their feelings of panic.

Understanding your aches and pains 

In our daily lives, we all tend to be insufficiently attentive to our body and we aren't always aware when it sends us certain signals, such as tension accumulating in the back of our neck, a headache that seems to give us sinus pain, etc. When we experience stress, our whole body reacts to this destabilizing emotion without us paying it all the attention it deserves.

Controlling your emotions and making more balanced decisions 

Being sensitive to the signals sent by our body is a way of better understanding our emotions. This allows us to have better self-control, which in turn enables us to make better choices, thanks to more intuitive decision-making which is more in tune with our deepest self.

How to improve your ability to be interoceptive? 

When our interoception is not sufficiently developed, it can have an impact on the way we perceive and react to our body's internal signals, and this can lead to health problems and affect our overall well-being.

However, we can improve our interoceptive ability by:

Practicing mindfulness 

Mindfulness and meditation involve paying conscious attention to our bodily sensations. Regular meditation, focusing on your breathing, heartbeat or other internal sensations can help you strengthen your mind-body connection.

Doing yoga 

Practicing yoga regularly encourages body awareness, and leads to a better understanding of your internal bodily sensations.

Doing relaxation exercises 

Breathing exercises and guided meditations help us establish a better connection with our bodily sensations

Practicing bodyscan 

Bodyscan consists of regularly taking time to concentrate on different parts of your body in order, for example, to feel muscle tension, heat or coolness in different parts of your body, etc. This allows you to be better "tuned" to your sensations.

Keeping a diary

Keeping a diary in which you record your internal sensations can help you monitor your progress and better understand your body signals.

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1 comment

on 1/26/24

Great article, thanks!

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