8 Unexpected Differences Between Intuition & Anxiety That Could Help You Listen To Your Inner Voice
As someone with general anxiety, I am constantly questioning whether my inner thoughts are simply a product of my anxious mind, or something more intuitive and real. It's endlessly frustrating for me to express my worries, then hear someone say something like, "You just have to trust your gut." If you've ever experienced the kind of soul-crushing anxiety that makes little sense to anyone but you, you know that trusting your inner voice is a lot more difficult than it seems. There are a lot of unexpected differences between intuition and anxiety.
A few weeks ago, I came across a tweet that simply and quickly explained all of my stress over the whole differences between intuition and anxiety debacle I constantly have in the back of my mind: from user @holy_schnitt, "one thing about anxiety that kinda blows is you absolutely can’t trust your “gut feeling” bc you get gut feelings that something is wrong every 22.5 seconds." The thought stayed with me, both as a comforting reminder that I am not alone, and as an annoying reminder that I do not know how to differentiate between two very separate feelings.
And as is probably already obvious, I am certainly not alone. Research has found that people who are anxious have a significantly reduced ability to use their intuition. This confirms my thoughts that, when anxious, there is no such thing as "trusting your gut." For example: I am terrified of flying. Recently, before a flight, I convinced myself that all of my anxious feelings (racing heart, butterflies in my stomach, images of crashing in my head) were a sign that something was going to go wrong on my flight. Of course, everything ended up being fine — but that "gut feeling" I convinced myself I was experiencing made me feel sick to my stomach with worry, and I had to talk myself into getting on the plane as I silently cried.
Instances like these bring up the question of how to tell the difference between intuition and anxiety. They can seem small, but there are actually distinct differences between the two. Here are a few:
1. Anxiety Is A Reaction To A Perceived Threat
Anxiety evolves from fear, and is more often than not a reaction to a perceived threat. It is an exaggerated way of trying to keep ourselves from harm. Sometimes anxiety keeps us from doing risky behaviors that could result in harm — oftentimes, it keeps us from doing things because of irrational fears. As a writer for Mind Body Green explained, "Our ability to manifest is powerful enough that if we believe in our fears, they become our reality. The more this happens, the more evidence we build up in our minds supporting the fact that our anxieties are our truths."
The bottom line is this: when you're feeling very anxious, it's because you're scared of something or you feel threatened. Intuition doesn't come from a perceived threat or a fear; it just comes to you, seemingly out of nowhere. If you're feeling anxious and believe your thoughts are intuitive feelings, try to think about where they are really coming from, and be honest with yourself about it. This will help you differentiate between the two.
2. Intuition Is Accompanied By Feeling Relaxed
The biggest difference between intuition and anxiety is the way they make you feel, physically and emotionally. Let's start with intuition. When you're experiencing intuition, it comes with pleasant sensations; like a relaxed and calm feeling, a soothing thought that things have fallen into place, a simple "knowing" that you just understand. Intuition is clear and reasonable, and it just makes sense. Judith Orloff, M.D., says intuition "has a compassionate, affirming tone." Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote the book Blink, says it is "a gentle inkling, a fleeting answer that happens in an instant."
In other words, intuition is a pleasant feeling, not a stressful one. Which brings us to anxiety...
3. Anxiety Comes With Physical Symptoms
Unlike intuition, anxiety is far from pleasant. It comes with a whole slew of negative reactions, like an adrenaline rush, sweating, stomach pains, panic, and difficultly breathing just to name a few. Empowerment coach Elizabeth Kipp says, "fear is an emotion that causes us to want to run away, hide, and not face the oncoming negative happening, whereas intuition is about heeding the possible dangers, but having the strength, resilience, and wherewithal to focus our actions and attitude so as to face and deal with the negative occurrence."
So, again, the most notable way to tell if you're anxious or feeling intuitive is to pay attention to your body. If you feel negative reactions, you're more than likely just feeling anxious.
4. Overall, Anxiety Is More Intense Than Intuition
If intuition comes with peaceful feelings and anxiety comes with negative physical reactions, then it's pretty obvious that, overall, anxiety is a lot more intense than intuition. Relationship expert and psychotherapist Jonathan Marshall told Business Insider, "Intuition, for any people, is less verbal and more silent and more textural. It's more of a sense, like a feeling or vibe. Whereas the intellectualisation and the over-analysis, it seems to me is a lot more chatty. It is a lot more noisy. [Intuition] is not like the waves on the surface, it is more the tide beneath the waves."
Basically, feelings of anxiety are going to overwhelm you, probably taking over everything else, while intuition won't be quite as intense and strong.
5. Intuition Is About Focusing On The Present, Anxiety Is About Focusing On The Future
When you're feeling anxious, you are mainly focusing on the future, which is where your irrational fears live. Anxiety is about worrying about the things that could happen, that you think might happen, because, again, it's all about your fears.
Intuition, on the other hand, lives mainly in the present. Intuition isn't about predicting the future, it's more of a vibe or a feeling that clues you into something going on in the moment.
6. Anxiety Is More Demanding Than Intuition
Anxiety is not something anyone can easily ignore — it demands to be heard. It's delivering a very loud message, and as Forever Conscious explained, "The message can be very repetitive, loud or demanding, can cause over analyzing." You can't just pretend anxiety isn't happening. When you feel it, it's something you can't let go of - if it were that easy, I think we'd all be a lot better off!
Intuition, on the other hand, is not demanding. Again, it's quite and softer, without the intense reactions anxiety gives you. Because it is a pleasant, quiet feeling, it is much easier to ignore and dismiss.
7. Intuition Is Typically About Bigger Moments, While Anxiety Can Be About Anything
Intuition isn't something that just happens out of the blue, all the time, about everything. Anxiety, however, can be exactly that. According to Happify, "Intuition rarely speaks up for the minor decisions of life, whereas fear can throw a fit whenever we are required to try something new and different. Intuition emerges for the larger decisions of life, when reason does not seem to provide conclusive answers."
8. Intuition Feels More Detached
Again, the biggest difference between intuition and anxiety is a feeling that you get. And while anxiety can be all-encompassing, intuition feels more detached, as if it's something you're realizing while looking at yourself, if that makes sense.
What it really comes down to, when trying to figure out if you're experiencing anxiety or intuition, is how your body and mind are reacting. Being able to examine this is part of understanding yourself and your fears.