Listening to our intuition is something we often find quite difficult. Whether it’s a deep sense of knowing about something or someone, or our inner voice indicating that we’re out of alignment with our goals, values or beliefs, it can be hard to distinguish between who’s doing the talking.
So how can we recognise the subtle differences between anxiety and intuition?
Intuition focuses on the present, anxiety worries about the future
When you’re feeling anxious, you’re mostly focusing on the future — where your irrational fears live. These thoughts carry a sense of dread and nervousness. Anxiety is worrying about the things that could happen, or what you think might happen.
Intuition, on the other hand, lives mainly in the present. Rather than forecasting the future it’s more of a feeling that ties you into something happening in the present moment. Intuition presents itself as an awareness that something needs to be done and what you should do, and rarely results in fear and worry because it comes hand in hand with solutions.
Intuition is subtle, anxiety is intense
When anxiety or fear is triggered, there’s an overwhelming mountain of thoughts and emotions. When you feel anxious, your body goes on high alert, looking for possible danger and activating your fight or flight responses. As a result, you experience the common symptoms such as feelings of danger, panic, or dread.
Intuition is more of a knowing or at the very least, a subtle prompting that something is ‘off’ or needs our attention. You know it’s your intuition talking when you say things like, “It just felt right”, or “It just felt wrong”. Unlike anxiety it doesn’t demand your attention, which is why it can easily be missed.
Intuition is calm, anxiety rages on
Anxiety is an overpowering wave of emotions that rages on and on. You experience racing thoughts, uncontrollable over-thinking, difficulties concentrating and feelings of ‘impending doom’ — your body’s way of responding to stress. Again, it’s a feeling of fear about what could happen, the exact opposite of calm.
Intuition doesn’t come in big waves of uneasiness. It’s more like a calmly lapping tide you can let wash over you without feeling overwhelmed or drenched in emotion.
Intuition feels detached, anxiety is full of emotion
Anxiety is highly emotionally charged and is often driven by a self-destructive thought process known as the ‘critical inner voice’. Like intuition, it too can operate subtly — but rather than encouraging you to take action, it coaxes you out of taking on challenges and going after your goals.
Alternatively, intuition is more neutral, unemotional, and is experienced in a very detached way.
When you intuit that something “just feels right”, it has a compassionate, affirming tone to it and confirms that you’re on target.
A quiet mind hears intuition over fear
Now that we know the feeling of intuition is calmer and more neutral than fear, it’s also safe to say that sometimes we feel afraid of what we intuitively sense because of what we need to do next, or who we know we could become. In other words, sometimes we’re afraid of our potential and stepping out of our comfort zone.
So, how can you get back in touch with your intuition when you struggle with anxiety? You can start with these steps to help minimise your anxiety levels:
Step away from common anxiety triggers. Anything that escalates your anxiety will bring you further away from recognising your feelings of intuition, which could include anything from social media to a lack of sleep. These, and mood-altering substances such as caffeine and alcohol, can all affect your anxiety levels, taking you away from your instincts.
Pause and ground yourself. In our culture of ‘go, go, go,’ we often forget about the significance of stopping, something which is especially important if you’re stuck in an anxiety cycle and can’t get a grip on the reality of the situation.
Practising mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing exercises will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and shift you out of flight or fight mode.
Train yourself to listen to other stories. Deepak Chopra once said: “The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” It’s true, our brains are great storytellers, especially when we have anxiety.
When you’re trying to get back in touch with your intuition, try taking pen to paper and writing down a different narrative from the one your anxiety is telling you (journalling is great for this).
Ways to develop your intuition
Prioritise your intuition. Allow time and space for answers to come to you without over analysing the situation. Make time each day, or even a few times a day if you have an important decision to make, to tune into yourself and your intuition.
Get to know how your intuition ‘speaks’ to you. People experience intuition differently. For some, it may manifest as an image, for others the classic ‘gut feeling’, while those elsewhere experience a more emotional response. Slow down and try to sense how, or where, you have your intuitions.
Keep a reflective journal. Writing in a journal about your thoughts, feelings, dreams and physical sensations trains you to pay attention to the ways you receive inner guidance — doing so is a great way to begin trusting and developing your intuition.
Employ mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness encourages us to notice feelings and thoughts without attaching to them, and can be particularly useful to develop your intuition. Watching and accepting thoughts, without judgement, will give you greater access to intuitive information.
Intuition or anxiety?
As you learn to identify and understand the subtle yet fundamental differences between your anxiety and intuition, you can reframe any unhelpful thinking. And as you break down all the noise from your mind, the more likely you’ll be able to feel — or “just know” — when your intuition kicks in.