Everyone has heard of the Golden Gate bridge that connects San Francisco to Marin county or the Brooklyn bridge that connects Manhattan to Brooklyn. However, are you familiar with the bridge that connects our emotions to our body sensations called interoception? In this blog post, we will unpack: What is it? Why should we care? Where should we start? Therefore, welcome to an introduction all about interoception.
*Most of the information discussed below is pulled from Kelly Mahler
What is it?
Our bodies have 8 sensory systems: smell, sight, sound, touch, taste, vestibular, proprioception, and interoception. Interoception enables us to feel occurrences in our inner bodies (such as hunger, a full bladder, breathing, etc.), which gives us clues about our emotional experiences. For example, a fast heartbeat and stomach pain could be associated with feelings of anxiety.
Why should we care?
Interoception exists in order for us to reach homoeostasis - a state of internal balance.When the interoceptive system works well, our body states will alert that there is an imbalance and jumpstart our motivation to respond. As well, interception helps us to conceptualize emotions. For an emotional experience to occur, there must be a change within our body.
If we develop interoceptive awareness, we can access self-regulation. Self regulation is the ability to control the way we feel and act.
Where should we start?
The suggested sequence to build interoceptive awareness (IA) is:
Step 1: Introduce the concept of interoception
Start with a clear definition. An example for kids: interoception tells us what is happening in our bodies (when we are thirsty or too hot) and our feelings (happy, sad, mad).
Step 2: Implement adaptations for IA
Adapt a task in order to compensate for reduced IA
For example, for bladder sensations, use discrete alarms to alert the person when to use the bathroom.
Step 3: Build IA
For a starter activity, you can perform body checks. Start with a visual representation of a generic body outline. Create images of body parts and body symptoms (start with a few and then gradually increase the number). Select a body part with the individual and ask them how that body area feels. Then the individual can select a corresponding descriptor.
There are many activities out there that can help increase IA; so, find one that resonates with your child! Or reach out to an OT!
Step 4: Give IA meaning
Use everyday vocabulary when connecting IA to emotions and body states ("I feel… irritated, tired, angry, bored, hungry")
Step 5: Use IA to maximize related skills
Eventually you can use these IA builders to maximize skills such as self-regulation and social interaction
Depending on your comfort level, you can incorporate coping strategies (when I feel angry, I can do this…)
Interoception is such a large and important sensory system. Therefore, it is important to truly comprehend it and all its moving parts. There are several resources out there to explore. For more interoception inspiration, check out the posts on the Connect Therapy instagram this past June.
-Celina (OT Student)