top of page

Seven interoception workarounds

For me, my internal senses (proprioception, vestibular, interoception) don’t get enough of the right stimulation.

Interoception is your sense of what is physically going on in your body. For example, if you are hungry, too hot, thirsty, have to pee, are physically tired, in pain. It is also an awareness of internal sensations related to your emotions.

After my autism diagnosis, I found out I am not so great at interoception. Left unchecked, background anxiety builds up and throws me off because I’m not meeting all my basic needs.

I know this is true because:

  • I seem to get very suddenly way too hungry or hot without warning — but this is probably because my threshold for noticing is quite high

  • I can ignore pain or illness for quite a long time

  • I often get to the point of feeling sick and don’t know why—but the answer is just that I’ve overheated or let myself get too hungry

  • I’m very oblivious to my emotions and will ignore tension/anxiety for a long time

  • I can get super anxious towards the end of the day, which is magically solved just by eating dinner…

So, what to do? I need some manual checking and structure to help get around a lack of subconscious instincts here.

Here are seven things I have experimented with.

Experiment 1: Visual temperature checks

What is it? If I’m feeling “weird” I will check if my face looks red in the mirror. If it does, that probably means I’m too hot. I’ll also check my hands to see if they look pale and cold.

What happened? I’ve been able to sometimes catch myself getting too hot or too cold before it causes me to feel sick or anxious.

Experiment 2: Scheduling food

What is it? I have set times that I eat meals, and have scheduled snack times in my work calendar.

What happened? Before doing this, if absorbed in work, I would forget to snack and end up feeling sick or very anxious and not understanding why. Now, this almost never happens. I’ve made sure to stick to this on weekends, even on days when it doesn’t really fit. I recently went to a birthday thing where the meal wasn’t until around 9pm. I ate a sandwich at my usual 6pm dinner time to make sure it didn’t throw me, and just ate a small amount later on. I carry snacks in my rucksack when out and about, for the same reason.

Experiment 3: Noticing my energy levels in the morning

What is it? On my "autism whiteboard" I record an energy level out of ten first thing in the morning. I also tally energy points through the day, so I can see when I am running a deficit.

What happened? Surprisingly often, this pulls me into noticing how physically tired or under the weather I am feeling. That means I can adjust what I am doing in the day, add in some rest, and just generally look after myself a bit more. Previously I would have ignored (well, not noticed) these signals and ploughed ahead regardless. Leading to a now-predictable burnout later down the line.

Experiment 4: Interoception checklist for when I get home

What is it? On that same whiteboard, I have an interoception checklist which forms part of my “coming home” routine. When arriving home, I think through those points on the board to check if there are any physical needs I need to meet.

What happened? I do this when I come home because (more often than not) going out is overwhelming and so makes me worse at sensing my needs. Adding this as part of my routine for coming home helps me calm down quicker. Previously I would have run around in a spin doing all sorts of things before thinking about the fact that I’m starving or really overheated.

Experiment 5: Period tracking

What is it? I have started using a period tracking app so that I know where I am in my cycle. Hormones fluctuate predictably throughout the weeks. Depending on where you are in a cycle, you may be more likely to have extra energy, feel under the weather, find it easier to focus, etc.

What happened? This has helped me notice when I need to dial down my exercise regime and get more rest instead. Previously I would have carried on no matter what, but now that I can anticipate energy levels without always having to notice them directly, it helps me adjust.

Experiment 6: Telling friends

What is it? I have told friends and colleagues that I am bad at noticing temperature.

What happened? Now, people will comment on the temperature of a room and check-in with me about it, especially if they can see that I look uncomfortable. Usually, this will be long before I’d have noticed, so I can change something sooner.

Experiment 7: Going to the doctor more readily

What is it? I have lowered the threshold at which I make a GP appointment. Now I understand how much I can ignore in terms of physical wellbeing, pain, etc., I want to make sure I nip things in the bud quickly rather than accidentally letting them go on and on.

What happened? Unsurprisingly, I have made more GP appointments… I have resolved some minor things that have been going on for a while. Nothing that would have become serious, but I’m still young and healthy anyway. So, given what I know, I am going to stick to this rule of thumb to be safe.

Lauren x


bottom of page