girl smiling holding a water bottle in her hands
girl smiling holding a water bottle in her hands

Part 2: Interoception the hidden sense key to wellbeing

Interoception refers to your ability to detect and interpret your internal sensations, like fatigue, the need to go to the toilet, feeling hot/cold, and hunger/thirst.

Interoception refers to your ability to detect and interpret your internal sensations, like fatigue, the need to go to the toilet, feeling hot/cold, and hunger/thirst. When you understand what your body is feeling, you can act to meet that need effectively.

To complete the article on interoception we walk you through 4 additional strategies that may help with interoception difficulties. 

Although there is very limited research on the effectiveness of interventions to improve interoceptive awareness, there are some early indications that they may influence positive outcomes. 

Please ensure that these strategies are implemented under the care of a clinician, especially if your child has a suspected or diagnosed eating disorder, depression, trauma or suffers from acute pain.

Strategy 1: Teach them about interoceptive awareness 

Explain the different aspects of interoceptive awareness

1. Awareness – this is when you notice a sensation in your body. You might not know exactly what it is, but you know something is different. 

Example: I feel a bit weird around my chest

2. Naming – this is the point when you can use your awareness of this change to focus on it and describe the sensation and where you feel it. 

Example: I can feel my heart beating really quickly

3. Link feelings – this next step helps you link the sensation to a feeling. Many feelings will be neutral and do not affect behaviour. 

Example: 

A) My mouth mouth feels dry > grab water bottle and drink (neutral feeling) or 

B) My mouth mouth feels dry > I have nothing to drink because I left my water bottle at home (worried about not having my water)

4. Assess the impact – this refers to reflecting on the intensity of your sensation then forward thinking and planning. 

Example: last time I ignored this strong pressure on my bladder I wet my pants because I didn’t have enough time to make it to the toilet

5. Managing – at this point you will need to decide whether you stop what you are doing and take an immediate action or whether you can wait a bit longer before taking action

Example: 

A) I’m going to ask my friends to stop the game so that I can go to the toilet or 

B) I’ll finish the game and then I’ll go to the toilet

Strategy 2: Making connections

Help your child connect emotions and the different body sensations that they can experience from beginning to end.

Visually represent common emotions and physical sensations then ask your child to show or explain how they experience each emotion. A nervous child might have wide eyes and wobbly legs but your child might have sweaty palms and a dry mouth.

Strategy 3: Experiment with different sensations

Explore temperatures by holding a cup with icy cold water and one with warm water against your child’s arm. Can your child recognise which one is which?

Explore hunger and fullness by asking your child to describe how their body feels just before eating and after having a full meal. Can they feel an empty tummy and a full one?

Explore fast breathing and a pounding heart by doing a physical activity that gets the heart rate up and discuss those sensations. You might want to talk about similar body sensations that might be linked to a completely different emotion like fear, and how to distinguish fear from excitement. Can your child connect a situation or activity to an emotion?

Strategy 4: Mindfulness

Practice mindfulness and breathing exercises regularly and when feeling calm. Bedtime is a great opportunity to take a few minutes to breathe deeply and in a controlled rhythm. A slow calm breath sends messages to the brain that signal that it can calm down. Focusing on the flow of their breath and the beating of their heart, is a great way to help your child practise the shifting of attention to their body.

Other

You might also want to consider in addition to the above, two treatments that have shown to strengthen interoceptive awareness:

  • Mindful awareness body oriented therapy (MABT)
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) 

References

  1. Helping children with interoceptive awareness
  2. Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT)
  3. Interoceptive Awareness and ADHD
  4. Interventions and Manipulations of Interoception
  5. Interoception: A Multi-Sensory Foundation of Participation in Daily Life
  6. What is Interoception and Why is it Important?
  7. Impact of an Interoception-Based Program on Emotion Regulation in Autistic Children
  8. Taking time to feel our body: Steady increases in heartbeat perception accuracy and decreases in alexithymia over 9 months of contemplative mental training
  9. Interoception and psychopathology: A developmental neuroscience perspective
  10. The Role of Interoceptive Attention and Appraisal in Interoceptive Regulation
  11. Interoception, contemplative practice, and health
  12. Feeling and Body Investigators (FBI) – ARFID division: an acceptance-based interoceptive exposure treatment for children with ARFID
  13. Interoception and emotion
  14. Interoception in Psychiatric Disorders: A Review of Randomized Controlled Trials with Interoception-based Interventions
  15. Improvement of Interoceptive Processes after an 8-Week Body Scan Intervention
  16. The Emerging Science of Interoception: Sensing, Integrating, Interpreting, and Regulating Signals within the Self

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