Interoception: The most effective tool against anxiety

The strides made in pharmacological psychiatry are not without their cost. One of which is illuminated by a concept called interoception.

Interoception, the sixth sensory system delineated by Sir Charles S. Sherrington in 1906, is the somatic mechanism that informs us of all of our internal sensations. It’s a difficult thing to define in laymen’s terms without appearing like a new-age-nonsense peddler, but the science itself is actually pretty simple.

The tiny receptors that reside inside our organs, muscles, skin, and bones are constantly collecting data to send to the brain, which in turn interprets their messages as sensations like hunger, pain, sexual arousal and so on.

Various internal responses coalesce to form emotions–heart palpitations, tingling, shallow breath, and pressure in the sinus cavities is neatly defined as “anger” for instance. The more efficiently our brain is able to both receive and interpret these signals the more our social understanding, problem-solving skills, and institution are enhanced.

Unfortunately, despite the impressive advancements we’ve made in molecular medicine, the instruments intended to alleviate suffering has further obscured this vital and underappreciated sense. A collective over-reliance on clinical psychology and pharmaceutical drugs has hindered our flexibility of thought, overcomplicated our theory of mind and dulled our “sense” of self. Sort of like the tower of Babel: a perversion of communication has disrupted their shared goal.

Studies reveal the distortion of interoception to be the nucleus of many ailments of the mind – anxiety, eating disorders, addiction; all afflictions that are in direct conflict with the body’s wants, needs, and perception. The science that fuels convenience is also scorching avenues of correspondence between our bodies and our brains–and I don’t see it losing momentum anytime soon.

As stated in the report written by David Plans of Scientific America: of which this meditation is based: “Our use of drugs to mask symptoms has contributed to a lack of awareness about our own bodies. So has the emergence of technologies such as computers, smartphones, remotes and game controllers, which only involve our bodies—usually just our fingers—as control inputs.”

A return to mindfulness

We’re better equipped to process harmful emotions like anxiety and stress when we understand their agency clearly. Instead of the eagerness to address them exclusively by mitigating their effects, through the use of various medications, most experts stress the importance of reconditioning the language that allows them to run rampant in the first place.

Moreover, as Plans points out: “Benzodiazepines such as Valium dull anxiety but also create profound dependence, and they also can sidetrack investigation and treatment of underlying causes.

Mediation seems to be the most effective tool for cognitive reconditioning. In your spare time, whether for a couple of minutes or maybe even an hour, make an effort to practice mindfulness–listen to your body. Try and locate your pulse without touching yourself.

When met with feelings of anxiety, task yourself with evaluating its rationality. Examine every sensation that accompanies a deep breath in and out. Interrogate every emotion with patience and curiosity.

No professional would recommend a resolute rejection of medication–we’ve come along way, and I for one am very grateful. There are some illnesses that simply cannot be confronted without them. However, even in these instances, it’s imperative that the mind and body are on the same team.