The Interoception Sensory System

Interoception is our sensory system that provides information about the internal condition of our body—how our body is feeling on the inside. Interoception gives us the body sensations such as a growling stomach, dry mouth, tense muscles and racing heart. Awareness of these body sensations helps us to experience much needed emotions such as hunger, fullness, thirst, pain, body temperature, need for the bathroom, sexual arousal, relaxation, anxiety, sadness, frustration and safety.

Research shows that the ability to clearly notice body signals is linked to the ability to identify and manage the following emotions and more:

How do we use interoception?

At the most basic level, Interoception allows us to answer the question,
“how do I feel?”

Interoception also helps us manage the way we feel, by prompting us to
take action based on the body signals we notice. For example, awareness of a
growling stomach is our clue that we are hungry and motivates us to eat.
Noticing shivering muscles or Goosebumps on the skin gives us as a clue that we
are cold and prompts us to put another layer of clothes on. Being aware of a
tight chest, racing heart and tense muscles lets us know that we are anxious
and urges us to seek comfort or make changes.

If your Interoception system was not functioning as it should. Think
about what would happen and how this would feel.  What if you were unable to feel what was
happening in your body? Or what if your internal sensations were so overwhelming
that you could not figure out what they meant, resulting in not being able to
respond or adapt. When you at, you never felt full, resulting in you not
knowing when to stop or stopping you from getting a satisfied feeling inside
that your stomach is full.

Unfortunately, this is a reality for many people with conditions such as
autism, anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, obesity, toilet training
difficulties, sensory processing disorder and behavioural challenges.

Difficulties with one or more of the following:

  • Recognising when hungry, full or thirsty
  • Identifying when tired
  • Toilet training (daytime and/or night time)
  • Overly sensitive to pain or high pain threshold
  • Pinpointing symptoms of illness
  • Identifying emotions in self or others 
  • Recognising signs of distress as they build up

You can view strategies for Interoception under the Resources section.