Interoception is the ability to sense changes from inside our body, for instance our heartbeat, feelings of hunger or breathing. Whether we’re excited, hungry or anxious, these sensations naturally fluctuate depending on internal and external cues, allowing us to take action based on the signals we notice.
Tuning into these body sensations can help us to figure out why we feel the way we do in any given moment.
Can Interoception Help Improve Mental Health?
Our internal sensations are made possible by electrical signals and hormones that flow between our brain and our organs and tissues. Each and every one of us experiences feelings from inside our bodies differently. Some people may misinterpret harmless body sensations as a signal of threat. This may contribute to sustained anxiety, which can be very unpleasant and even contribute to poor mental health.
By deliberately choosing to focus inside our body it is possible to learn more about ourselves. Over time, by improving our interoceptive skills we can learn to tell the difference between internal sensations and external situations which may previously have been confused. Improved interoception can give us more insight and control over how we react when we feel anxious or stressed. Interoceptive skills have long been linked with improved mental health and can be used to help manage a number of conditions, including:
As with our other senses, we can train ourselves to improve interoceptive awareness. Practicing simple body-focused techniques, allows us to become more in tune with how we feel and increase awareness of our bodies’ signals. Over time, this can help us learn to regulate bodily processes and change how we react to them.
Over the next few months, we’re working with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) on a ground-breaking new study into interoception. With the help of ARU’s Dr Jane Aspell, we’ll be developing a web-based training programme for improving internal body awareness.
The aim is to provide people with affordable and easy to access resources for improving wellbeing, both in the UK and across the globe. As COVID-19 continues to restrict where and when we can see each other, this accessibility is now more important than ever.
The eight-part training programme will cover topics such as:
Every session includes exercises for participants to practice new ways of being aware of their body.
Our pilot study aims to find out if, as participants complete the training, it helps them deal with stress more effectively and helps improve their wellbeing.
We’re incredibly lucky to be working on this study with a fantastic team at ARU.
Jane is a cognitive neuroscientist, with a research focus on the multi-sensory bodily basis for self-consciousness. Jane’s research also involves studying interactions between interoception and body image, autism and empathy. For the Inner Sense project, Jane is providing consultation on the design of the online programme and how it may be used to study the role of interoception in wellbeing.
Paige Leggett, Research Assistant
Paige is an MSc Psychology (ARU) graduate, with experience in health care and mental health. Paige has worked on projects involving health psychology, stress and mental health. For the Inner Sense project, Paige’s role is to help refine the training programme and design ways to measure its effectiveness.
If you’d like to help us improve the online training programme whilst developing your own inner body awareness, please leave your details in the box below. We’re looking for volunteers to take part in the study remotely. Participants will be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 gift voucher. If you have any questions or would like to register your interest by email instead please contact Paige Leggett at: firstname.lastname@example.org