For so many of us, August marks a time of change, a beginning or ending, or a shift from one life phase into another. Some of us return to school, leave home for college, or begin a new job. August is the long kiss goodbye to summer as our bodies and minds prepare to shift for the seasonal change. August brings colder weather, new routines, nesting, and finally, reflection.
Change tends to excite some of us, while for others it invokes fear and uncertainty. If you are anticipating change in the next few weeks, this could be a perfect opportunity to “tune in” to your eighth sense: that of interoception.
WHAT IS INTEROCEPTION?
Interoception, broadly defined, represents the act of sensing, interpreting, and integrating information about the state of inner body systems. It’s about having a coherent relationship with ourselves; an awareness of the shifts in our mind, body, feelings, and sensations. It’s the ability to detect internal clues that signify a response to a potentially stressful event. Thanks to our nervous system, we can teach ourselves how to be more aware, thus improving our resilience to stress, our emotional regulation, and maintaining mental health.
Imagine that your teacher calls on you to answer a question in front of your class. Maybe your heart starts to race, and you have “butterflies” in your stomach. Your mind races as you try to form an answer. These are signs that you are experiencing nervousness.
INCREASING YOUR INTEROCEPTIVE AWARENESS
Increasing your interoceptive awareness increases your ability to notice and respond to potential danger or distress, while giving you the motivation and means to take action to alleviate the distress. For school-age kids, teachers and counselors can use modalities such as art therapy, creative writing, and shared stories to help children increase their body/mind connection. Getting into the practice of naming emotions (ex: feelings check in) and learning to connect body sensations to specific feelings is a great start. Introducing students to simple mindfulness practices (such as a brief guided meditation) can help them learn how to return to a state of calm, while physical exercises can help students increase awareness of their physical capabilities.
Adults can also benefit from a mindfulness practice to improve interoceptive functioning. Body scans are a great way to get in touch with areas of tension or discomfort, while engaging in yoga or sitting quietly and doing a Five Senses exercise can help one tune into their sensory experience. Journaling can help one track their responses to various stimuli, while breath work can help an activated person return to their state of calm.
Whether responding to potential changes in your life or just being present for your daily experience, interoception can help you develop a healthier relationship with yourself.