Interoception: Tapping Into Your "Sixth Sense"
By Sithara Stohr LCSW
“Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater that awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives.” — Bessel A. van der Kolk
Many of us live with the belief that we have five senses when in reality we have at least eight. Interoception is a sense, similar to sight or touch, related to our internal experience and the processing of these physiological signals. It is what helps us recognize we’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or even experiencing feelings. You may be thinking—well, sometimes I forget to eat or drink because I don’t feel it, so how can interoception be a sense? In the same way that some may struggle with other senses such as sight or hearing, we may struggle with interception. This common experience has led to research and questions regarding the connection between interception and mental health.
We can likely all agree that being tuned into our interoception can be beneficial in maintaining balance in our minds and bodies. Tuning in to our interoception can drastically shift our self-awareness both physically and mentally. Interpreting our body's sensations allows us to take care of physical needs, regulate our emotions, and connect to responses that feel appropriate. This sense is paramount to understanding our experiences as well as how symptoms of physical and mental illness may arise. Difficulties connecting to interoception can lead to mixed signals and missed opportunities for connecting to what we need to regulate.
There are many ways to strengthen our interoceptive sense. You’ll find a list below with a few quick links to these exercises. Look out for more interoception content (@ArtesianCollaborative).
Exercises to Develop Interoception:
Body Scan – progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to go through a full scan of your body. Spend at least 30 seconds on each part of your body from your toes to your head, and observe what you notice. This Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise is a great place to start.
Breathing Exercises – take a moment to notice your breathing, and then connect to a breath exercise. Diaphragmatic breath, square breathing, and infinity breathing are great places to start.
Journal – if you track your emotions or journal, you can develop interoception by connecting to secondary emotions. Once you recognize your main emotion, there are often secondary emotions beneath it. Try out the How We Feel App to get started!
Utilizing these exercises can help you notice anxiety in your body and regulate, or recognize when you may be reaching a shift in your mood and engage with appropriate interventions. Strengthening your interoception can help you notice physical cues like hunger or exhaustion, and help you recognize when and how to meet your body's needs. Developing this connection to your interoception can increase your understanding of your body's signals and significantly impact your self-care.
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Artesian Collaborative is a mental health practice based in Chicago. We excel at guiding individuals and teams through tense and difficult topics - and helping them feel good about it.
Our therapists provide mental health counseling for individuals, couples, and families. Our team also leads corporate and community trainings in the areas of Stress Management, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, and Relational Leadership.