I’ve suffered with anxiety most of my life. It has held me back in a lot of ways. I have doubted myself in situations and I have allowed fear and worry to define me. But, I’ve been working through my anxiety over the last few years. I’ve tried different methods and techniques as well as talking about it to work through some of my anxiety. Recently, I worked on controlling my anxiety when driving and finally got my driver’s license after years and years of failing my road test. I made a lot of progress. But on the road to “recovery” (no pun intended) I’ve noticed something. As I worked on my anxiety and learned to trust in myself more, I’m often faced with the task of figuring out the difference between anxiety and intuition. Sometimes they can feel similar. Someone like myself who suffers from an anxiety disorder often worries and doubts themselves. It can be hard to know if that worry or feeling is just due to my anxiety or something I should pay attention to. What is anxiety? What is intuition? And how can we tell the difference?
According to Healthline, “Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. The first day of school, going to a job interview, or giving a speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder.”
Anxiety is a natural part of life. It’s natural for us to feel stress and for us to worry. However if your anxiety prevents you from doing things that you want or need to do or if it lasts for long periods of time, it’s likely you may suffer from an anxiety disorder. So for me, not being able to drive without constant fear is an example of anxiety lasting a long duration of time and interfering with my life. Anxiety can also have physical symptoms as well. Sometimes you can feel physical pain and can even feel ill. Overall, it’s way more extreme than everyday stress and occasional anxiety that we feel day to day.
Intuition can be described in many ways. Some say it’s a “gut feeling” or your instincts. For some people intuition is spiritual and for others it’s a biological advantage and part of our evolution. According to Psychology Today, “Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and non-conscious parts of our mind, and also between instinct and reason.” In other words, intuition is a feeling we get based on the things we know and are aware of and things that are below the surface or a part of us that we are not conscious of. Both kind of melt together. It’s a little confusing, but that gut feeling people describe sometimes that may not make sense, it comes from a good place.
So, why do we mix up anxiety and intuition?
It can be easy to confuse anxiety and intuition because anxiety messes with your inner voice. Someone who suffers with an anxiety disorder often worries and doubts themselves. They’ll overthink situations. Sometimes our intuition will feel similar because we can get gut feelings that something just isn’t right. And in a nutshell, anxiety makes almost everything not seem quite right. In a normal situation, you may examine your gut feeling and even be able to trust it. But when you have anxiety, it can be difficult to spot the difference between the two. Am I worrying for a good and logical reason or am I just having anxiety?
How to spot the difference.
There are a few key differences between anxiety and intuition that are important to note. According to Bustle, “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.” Anxiety is fear-based. We are often worried or scared of a risk or an outcome. Whereas intuition isn’t something brought on by fear. When your intuition kicks in, or you get that gut feeling, it is reasonable and calming. You get a sense of just knowing. You feel secure instead of fearful. Bustle breaks it down, “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.”
Knowing the difference between intuition and anxiety has been very helpful for me. On one hand, it helps me trust myself more. On the other, I know that my anxiety isn’t based on anything real. It’s just my fear of the unknown. I can spot when I’m anxious and work through it. It helps knowing that my anxiety isn’t my gut feeling and once I knew the difference, I was able to prevent a lot of my issues with anxiety. Part of working through my anxiety was learning to trust my inner thoughts or inner voice again and have it work in my favor.