Interoception is a similar concept to proprioception. Just as there are receptors in the muscles and joints, there are also receptors inside the internal organs and skin. These receptors send information about the body sensations to the brain, which helps regulate such important functions as body temperature, hunger, thirst, digestion and heart rate.
Interoception helps us to understand and feel what’s going inside our bodies and allows us to tell if we need to use the bathroom, if we are hungry or full, hot or cold, thirsty, nauseous, itchy or ticklish.
There are many areas where interoception is important. These areas include self-regulation, emotional recognition, self awareness, flexible thinking, problem solving, social understanding, intuition, perspective taking.
For those who have sensory processing issues, the brain may have trouble making sense of interoceptive information. These individuals may not be able to tell when they are in pain, when their bladder is full and a light touch may feel like pain to them.
Those with interoceptive difficulties can also have trouble feeling their emotions. They may not be as aware of the body cues that help interpret emotion, which makes it more difficult to even identify the emotion.
Difficulties with interoception play an important role in mental health conditions including anxiety and mood disorders, eating disorders and addictions.
Signs of Interoceptive Difficulties
If they are under responsive to interoceptive input they will…
- have an extremely high pain threshold
- be delayed in toilet training
- not feel when they need the bathroom, leading to accidents and/or constipation
- not feel when they are hungry
- not be able to tell when they are full after eating
- not react to being hot or cold
If they are over responsive to interoceptive input they will…
- experience intense reactions to hunger or needing to use the bathroom. They may even describe hunger as being painful.
- have difficulties with focus and attention (they may be too preoccupied with their internal stimuli)
- experience extreme anxiety over minor dilemmas
- often feel nauseous
- use the bathroom frequently, unexplained by another medical condition
Activities to improve interoception by helping pay attention to what is going on inside the body:
- Breathing exercises
- Emotional recognition exercises, such as emotions sorting game or naming emotions
- Heavy work activities that involve pushing, pulling or lifting rather heavy object for sensory stimulation
- Mindfulness Yoga