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Felt Sense & Neuroscience?

Updated: Apr 1


Have you ever had the experience of not noticing how hungry you are until it gets to the point of “hanger?” By that point, you might have realized that you got caught up in the busy day-to-day and forgot to slow down for breakfast or lunch. This is a very common experience because we often focus on our busy lives and sometimes miss our bodies’ cues to go eat, get some rest, or maybe even use the bathroom.

This awareness of your body’s inner sensations is referred to as interoception. Recognizing and naming the sensations our bodies feel is an important part of taking care of our health and wellbeing. When our bodies need things like food, rest, water, sleep, etc., they send us signals in the form of sensations that we can feel which ideally prompts us to find a way to tend to whatever need we’re experiencing. How do those signals get interpreted? The answer lies in our brains! Our brains are always working scanning our environments and taking in information through our senses. Because our brains are doing so much work, it can be difficult to manage it all if there are potential threats that our brains perceive. When our brain detects a threat, a chain reaction occurs sending different signals and hormones throughout our body activating our Fight Flight or Freeze response. When this happens, the front parts of our brain go offline while our more “primitive” parts become very activated. Along with this can come an increase in heartrate, decrease in feelings of hunger, muscles tightening, and breath becoming shallower. These physiological responses are innate to us and are our brain and nervous system’s way of keeping us safe in the face of potential threats.



Ideally, after experiencing a stress response, we would have time to “come back down” and feel calmer, but that isn’t always the case. If we experience multiple stressors, long periods of intense stress, traumatic events, or even having little time to ourselves, we can become “stuck” in this more aroused and agitated state. The example of being too busy to realize our own hunger cues seems like a benign enough example, but it’s only one example of how stress can impact our awareness of the signals our bodies give us. Taking care of our bodies’ physical needs influences our emotional and mental health, and our emotional and mental health can also influence how we’re able to take care of our physical health. For many of us, recent years have been significantly stressful and even traumatizing. So, if someone’s brain is being forced to put most or all of its attention on external stressors, it leaves little room for focusing on the sensations within our body, creating a disconnect between our mental health and how we feel our bodily sensations.

It may seem like shifting that focus is impossible, but it’s not. Our brains have the capability to continue learning and developing all throughout life, so there are ways to build on that. One good way is starting to practice mindfulness and self-awareness. Mindfulness is the practice of being present with one’s emotions, thoughts, and surroundings, as well as taking a non-judgmental and observational attitude. Meditation is a well-known form, but mindfulness can take on many forms such as simply noticing your breath, paying attention to how clothes feel on your skin, focusing on the sensations of chores like washing dishes, or even just closely observing the environment. Taking a few moments to slow down can help the brain shift focus away from stressors and be in the present, and that awareness can also include how our bodies may feel. Some other ways to strengthen our self-awareness include activities like yoga, physically moving and paying attention to the feelings in your body, and body scans, which also serve as positive coping strategies in the face of stress. By becoming more aware of our physical and mental health needs, we can learn what coping and self-care strategies may be the most effective for us!

Resources

Introception

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/interoception-how-we-understand-our-bodys-inner-sensations

https://occupationaltherapy.com.au/interoception/

Interoception and emotional regulation

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798/full

https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it

Social Emotional Learning

https://ggie.berkeley.edu/student-well-being/sel-for-students-self-awareness-and-self-management/

Mindful Awareness in Body-oriented Therapy (MABT)

https://www.cmbaware.org/about-mabt/

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