The Hidden Sense: Exploring the World of Interoception

Mar 15, 2024 | 0 comments

In our fast-paced world, we often focus on our external senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell—while largely neglecting a vital internal sense known as interoception. Interoception refers to our ability to perceive and understand the sensations and signals emanating from within our own bodies. It plays a crucial role in our overall well-being and is increasingly recognized as an essential component of human consciousness. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of interoception, exploring what it is, how it works, and why it matters.

What is Interoception?

To understand interoception, it’s important to grasp the concept of the “inner self.” Interoception is all about tuning into the sensations within your body, such as your heartbeat, breathing, temperature, hunger, and thirst, as well as the more subtle cues like pain, pleasure, and emotional responses. Essentially, it’s the sense that connects you to your body’s physiological state.

Interoception encompasses several components:

  1. Homeostasis Awareness: This is the ability to perceive basic physiological states like hunger, thirst, and temperature regulation. When you’re hungry, your interoceptive system lets you know it’s time to eat.
  2. Emotional Awareness: Interoception also extends to recognizing your emotional states. It helps you distinguish between anxiety, happiness, sadness, and other emotions by interpreting the corresponding bodily sensations.
  3. Sensory Awareness: Beyond basic functions, interoception allows you to notice sensations like pain, pleasure, and the feeling of a full stomach.

Why Interoception Matters

Interoception is an often-overlooked sense, yet it has profound implications for our physical and mental health:

  1. Emotional Regulation: Developing interoceptive awareness can help us better regulate our emotions. Recognizing physical signs of stress, for example, allows us to take steps to manage it effectively.
  2. Mind-Body Connection: Interoception reinforces the mind-body connection. Being in tune with your body can lead to better self-care, including healthier eating habits and more balanced stress management.
  3. Mental Health: Impaired interoception is linked to various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. By enhancing interoceptive skills, individuals can improve their mental well-being.
  4. Physical Health: It also plays a role in physical health, influencing our ability to recognize pain or signs of illness. It also helps us be aware of when we need to eat or are full so that we provide ourselves with the correct amount of nourishment. It recognises when we are tired so that we get enough sleep. 

How Interoception Affects Individuals with ASD and ADHD

Both Autism(ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are neurodevelopmental conditions associated with distinct patterns of brain structure and function. The insula, a region in the brain integral to interoception, experiences specific changes in individuals with these conditions. Let’s explore how the insula and interoception are affected in autism and ADHD.

Autism (ASD):

  • Atypical Insula Function: Research suggests that individuals with Autism may have atypical functioning in the insula. The insula plays a critical role in processing interoceptive information, which includes awareness of internal bodily states and emotions. In individuals with Autism, this function may be impaired, leading to difficulties in recognizing and interpreting their own emotional and physiological states.
  • Altered Connectivity: Studies using neuroimaging techniques have revealed differences in the connectivity of the insula in individuals with Autism. These differences can influence their ability to integrate sensory and emotional information, contributing to challenges in social and emotional understanding.
  • Enhanced Focus on Detail: Individuals with Autism may have a tendency to focus on detailed sensory information, such as textures, colors, and patterns. This intense focus on external sensory input can sometimes overshadow their awareness of internal sensations, including those related to interoception.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

  • Reduced Insular Volume: Some research suggests that individuals with Attention Deficit may exhibit reduced volume in the insula, especially in the anterior insula. Smaller insular volume may affect their interoceptive processing.
  • Impaired Emotional Regulation: Attention Deficit is associated with difficulties in emotional regulation. The insula is crucial for recognising and processing emotional states, and changes in insular structure and function may contribute to challenges in managing emotions effectively.
  • Distractibility: Individuals with Attention Deficit often struggle with distractibility. The insula is involved in filtering relevant information and ignoring distractions. Altered insular function could play a role in the distractibility associated with Attention Deficit.

It’s important to note that the relationship between brain structure and function, especially in the insula, and these neurodevelopmental conditions is complex and not fully understood. While these observations shed light on potential mechanisms underlying the challenges associated with interoception in ASD and ADHD, there’s ongoing research to uncover more precise details of these brain changes.

Interoceptive Therapy

Improving interoception and addressing the challenges associated with it in individuals with Neurodivergence often involves tailored interventions, therapies, and strategies that focus on enhancing self-awareness, emotion regulation, and sensory processing. These can help individuals develop a more profound understanding of their internal states, leading to improved overall well-being and quality of life.

Ways to Improve Interoception

If you’re interested in enhancing your interoceptive abilities, there are practices and activities that can help:

  1. Interoceptive Awareness Training / Body sensing: For individuals that have Neurodivergence or Trauma, their interoceptive awareness is reduced. They may require a more in-depth approach to learning their bodies sensations through a graded body sensing approach. Here at Kool KATTS we use the Kelly Mahler Interoception program to help children and teens to connect their brain and body sensations. This gives them a better understanding of not only their body sensations but also helps them to begin to recognise the physical sensation of their emotions also.
  2. Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool to improve interoception for individuals that are able to connect with or focus on individual body parts using their thoughts or body map within their brain. Mindfulness encourages you to focus on bodily sensations and emotions, fostering a deeper understanding of your internal world.
  3. Yoga: Yoga promotes body awareness and encourages the connection between the mind and body through physical postures and breath control.

Interoception, the “hidden sense,” is a fascinating aspect of human perception that so far is yet to fully be explored. It not only connects us to our bodies but also plays a significant role in our mental and physical well-being. Developing a deeper awareness of interoception can lead to better emotional regulation, improved overall health, development of empathy and stronger social skills and independence in self care skills. So, take the time to tune in and listen to the magic of what your body is telling you – as adults we also need to take time to listen to our inner workings so that we can be physically and emotionally available for our little people.

Interoception Awareness for Children and Adults in Parramatta

If your child is having difficulty with knowing what their body signals are or their emotional regulation, then they may benefit from our Interoception program! And if you’re a parent who also struggles from anxiety, depression or have a trauma background – it may be helpful to see our resident Psychologist to help with your own Interoception awareness so that you can return to a calm and regulated state more easily. Contact us to get started at our Parramatta Clinic.