What is intuition, and how does it differ from anxiety?
Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning” (Puiman, 2017). It’s that ambiguous knowing. It’s a culmination of all of your rational mind, based on all your experiences, that are too much to decipher individually in a fleeting moment. Your intuition comes as a sixth sense. Anxiety, meanwhile, is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event” (Dictionary.com, 2018).
Intuitive thoughts focus on the present, and they tend to feel neutral or calm. Anxious thoughts relate to the past and future, and carry a sense of dread and nervousness.
Your intuition, ironically, is often precisely what’s giving you anxiety. There are times when your intuition is telling you what you need to do, and it’s completely against what you think you should be doing. The “should” voices come from anxious parts of your identity – the people pleaser, the overachiever, your tendency to avoid conflict and change. When your intuition tells you things that contradict those other voices, we can run into trouble.
Trusting your intuition is a decision.
Following your intuition instead of your anxiety is a decision. But it’s an extremely difficult decision when anxiety is present. We’ll often experience subtle emotional and physiological cues that indicate a “hunch” about something – that’s your intuition talking. When you’re anxious, the physiological responses related to anxiety take precedence over intuitive feelings. Studies have shown that our decision-making skills suffer as a result of anxiety. Anxiety causes us to feel less confident, be less trusting of others, and to avoid taking even the most necessary of risks. Even with safe and simple decisions, anxiety still has this damaging effect.
To follow your intuition, you first need to get in tune with your anxiety and learn to differentiate between the two.
So, what do I do?
When anxiety or fear is being triggered, there’s an overwhelming swirl of thoughts and emotions. So, give yourself a break, and take a moment to pause. Breathe. Allow immediate reactionary thoughts to settle, and the uncomfortable emotions to simmer down. Once you allow yourself stillness, you can start the process of untangling your anxiety from your thoughts versus your intuition. Intuition can be quiet, compared to thoughts, and it needs your trust.
Observe which thoughts carry emotion: Pay attention to the decision you’re pulled toward out of wanting that discomfort to go away, and which decisions are grounded in instinct. The decisions that keep you safe immediately but don’t always take care of you in the long run are likely being made out of fear and anxiety. The decisions that challenge you in the moment, but feel right and set you free in the long run are likely being made as a result of your intuition.