What is Interoception?
Interoception is the way that we sense how our bodies feel.
Being aware of sensations such as tense muscles, racing heart rates, pain, arousal, anxiety, and frustration helps us to take action based on these signals. Basically, it helps us understand what is going on in our bodies, especially during traumatic experiences.
Our emotions and sensations are frequently overwhelming and override our autonomic nervous system (the part of our brains that controls unconscious functions like heart rate, digestion, breathing).
In other words, if we are anxious or distressed, we focus solely on those feelings to the exclusion of everything else. We are unable to make logical decisions and begin to see the world in the same lens as our anxiety and fear and react to everything based on negative emotions. These intense emotions knock our brains “offline” and we behave by pure instinct and preservation, rather than thoughtfully and with purpose.
For example, interoception tells your mind to breathe deeply and try to relax your muscles when your heart rate is elevated due to stress. It is a way to regulate your body and emotions by paying attention to what you are feeling at the moment.
When you are scared, what happens? Ears start ringing, the hair on the back of your head stands up, your heartbeat is through the roof. Where do you feel it?
When you have been hurt by someone, where does it show up in your body? Does your heart literally ache? Does your head hurt because you are trying really hard to hold back tears? Maybe your stomach aches.
Without getting all scientific on you, know that working with me will always involve some aspect of interoception. I don’t believe in treating clients just psychologically. We have physical bodies that store a lot of good and bad memories and a wide variety of emotions that manifest themselves in physical symptoms.
A huge part of interoception in therapy is to use mindfulness activities to get your brain back “online”. It takes moments of stillness and self-reflection to sit with how your body reacts during times of distress, and I can show you ways to recognize and regulate those sensations so that you can focus on what is really going on and address troubling issues with a clear head.