Interoception is the awareness of internal body sensations and provides us with information about how our body is feeling on the inside. Our emotions are felt distinctly in our body and the sensations differ depending on whether we are feeling happy, anxious or fearful. An athlete waiting for a competition may feel nervous and this can manifest as a dry throat, shallow breathing and a churning stomach. These sensations alert us to our emotions; if we didn’t feel these physical sensations it would be a lot harder to pinpoint what we’re feeling.
Interoception consists in the perception and integration of all signals from within our body, whether we attend to them or not. These include autonomic, hormonal, visceral and immunological functions: breathing, blood pressure, cardiac signals, temperature, digestion and elimination, thirst and hunger, sexual arousal, affective touch, itches, pleasure and pain.
Interoception therefore lies at the core of our very sense of self: physiology and mental life are dynamically coupled. The central and autonomic nervous systems act on each other, higher cognition and emotional states interacting constantly. We sense, monitor and adapt ourselves to the situations we find ourselves in, often without our realising it – homeostatic processes thanks to which we physiologically adjust to the changing environment, and to which interoception corresponds.
- Noga Arikha
Interoception is the sensory system that enables us to answer the question, “how do I feel?”
Relax and close your eyes. Tune in to what you feel inside your body.
How fast is your heart beating?
Are you relaxed or holding tension?
Are you hungry?
How does your stomach feel?
Are you in pain?
Interoception is the way we self-regulate to ensure that we look after ourselves, allowing us to sense things like pain, hunger or thirst and take appropriate action based on these signals.