Jellyfish Brains

Improve Emotional Regulation Through Mindfulness Meditation (Interoception)

Interoception is an important yet often overlooked part of emotional regulation. It is the awareness you have of the internal signals and sensations within your body, such as heart rate, breathing, hunger, and signals of pain. Interoception plays a role in how effectively you can regulate your emotions. Improving interoception through practicing mindfulness can help you gain control over emotional reactivity, enabling you to better manage difficult feelings and make healthier decisions.

A statue of a person meditating with a gray cat on their lap.
A statue of a person meditating with a gray cat on their lap.

How improving your interception helps regulate emotions

When it comes to our emotions, many of us are very reactive. We may feel overwhelmed by our feelings, and we may not have a lot of control over how we express them. This is often because we are not very aware of what is happening inside our bodies. We may not be aware of the physical sensations that are associated with our emotions.

But what if there was a way to improve your awareness of these internal sensations?

Interception is the process of sensing and interpreting the internal signals that are coming from your body. This includes the signals that are coming from your organs, muscles, and tissues. Interoception is the ability to interpret these signals accurately.

What if there was a way to improve your interception?

A painting of a person meditating with a cat on their lap.
A painting of a person meditating with a cat on their lap.

How mindfulness helps improve your interoception

Mindfulness is a state of awareness or noticing your experience as you are having the experience. This mindful state can be cultivated through meditation, which is an intentional practice of focusing on the present moment and being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgment or criticism. After a while, the mindfulness state is more likely to happen spontaneously throughout your day, which is important for emotional regulation.

The act of mindfulness allows you to intently focus on the sensations occurring within your body (interception), which over time makes it easier to manage your emotions and stay calm during difficult times.

Interception can also be improved by mindfulness meditation because it allows you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. This means you are less likely to react impulsively to your emotions, and you are more likely to make thoughtful decisions about how to respond to them.

Mindfulness meditation can also help you become more aware of your body’s natural stress response. When we don’t manage stress, it can result in burnout, resentment, and health problems. When you are aware of your body’s stress response, you can choose to respond by setting a boundary and/or taking a break for self-care.

Mindfulness also helps cultivate self-awareness by allowing you to recognize patterns in your thinking and behavior which influence how you respond to situations. With this improved sense of self-awareness, you can become more aware of the impulses and responses that may be triggered by certain emotions. As a result, you may find that you are better able to cope with difficult situations and that you feel more in control of your life.

How to improve interception through mindfulness

Improving interoception through mindfulness is an easy, effective, and FREE way to gain control over your emotions. Here are some tips on how to get started:

  • Start with shorter mindfulness sessions and gradually increase the length of time you practice.
  • You can sit or lie down in whatever position is comfortable for you, just try to stay awake. (Though if you need to sleep, try mindfulness after your nap!)
  • Pay attention to your breath and focus on the sensations that come with each inhale and exhale.
  • Notice any physical sensations in your body, such as tension, tightness, tingling, or relaxation… anything at all, or notice a lack of sensations.
  • Notice anything in your sense channels… what you hear, smell, or taste, the temperature of the air around you, the clothes against your skin, the pressure of your body against your chair or bed, or even the sight of blackness with your eyes closed.
  • Allow yourself to simply observe whatever thoughts or feelings come up without judgment or following the train of thought. Notice what happens to the thoughts and feelings as you pay attention.
  • If you become distracted, that’s just how our brains work… gently bring your attention back to the present moment.
  • Some find it helpful to listen to guided recordings through mindfulness apps such as Waking Up, Insight Timer, and Calm… or search on YouTube.
  • Others find it beneficial to learn mindfulness from a teacher in a setting with other people. Check your local Buddhist centers, colleges, Meetup groups, etc. Lots of groups meet online to practice meditation live.
A painting of three people meditating with a little dog.
A painting of three people meditating with a little dog.

Other tools for improving interoception

– A tool I love showing my therapy clients is the “Emotion-Sensation Wheel” created by Lindsay Braman. It’s a downloadable PDF that costs $2.50 and helps you practice linking your emotions with commonly associated physical sensations, such as feeling “scared” and experiencing “trembling and numb hands.”

– Journaling about your body, tracking your symptoms in a health diary, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, yoga, Qi Gong, Pilates, and breathwork.

– Getting out in nature, being in stillness and silence, and connecting with animals can also be powerful tools for improving interception.

– Working with an occupational therapist who is trained in sensory processing.

– Finally, psychotherapy can be a great way to explore the root cause of your emotional and physical sensations. Learning healthy ways to manage difficult emotions can help reduce stress levels which are often accompanied by physical sensations. Body-centered therapies such as Somatic Experiencing and Hakomi explicitly focus on improving interception.