“Listen to your heart.”
That might sound overly romantic, but it could also be one way to improve your mental health. . .
. . . at least, according to a study by researchers at the University of London.
Led by Manos Tsakiris, PhD, researchers set out to see how paying attention to the rhythms of your own body affects mental health.
They gathered 50 healthy female volunteers between the ages of 19 and 26 for the study.
First, they measured each woman’s interoceptive awareness – in other words, how in tune they were with the information from within their bodies. A researcher recorded each subject’s pulse while she was asked to silently count her own heartbeats.
After the interoceptive awareness test, the women completed three questionnaires designed to measure how much they objectified their own bodies, how self-conscious they were, and how conscious they were of their bodies.
The results were fascinating.
The women who were best at counting their own heartbeats were also the least likely to view their own bodies as mere objects, scoring lowest on the self-objectification test.
On the other hand, the women who scored low on the body consciousness test tended to score high on the self-objectification test.
Together, these findings suggest that high levels of interoception lead to a lower tendency to objectify one’s own body. If this result is borne out by more research, it could have useful implications for clients whose interoceptive awareness is very low, like in cases of anorexia.
It’s important to note, though, that these findings are limited by the research design. It’s a correlational study and thus, we can’t assume causation. We can’t be quite sure that improved interoception leads to lower self-objectification. Because this study doesn’t look at women’s interoception over time, the reverse might be true: women who don’t self-objectify naturally have better interoception.
Still, these findings appear to support the idea that being in touch with your own body is an important component of mental health.
If you want to hear more about interoception and how brain and body combine for healing, check out our Brain Science Series.
And if you’re interested in the full study, it was published in Issue 8, Volume 2 of PLOS One.
Have you ever worked with a patient who had trouble staying in touch with their own body? What interventions did you use? Please share your experience in the comments below.