“Trust your gut.”
This is a common phrase people say in situations where they aren’t sure how to proceed. Trusting your gut – also known as intuition – is typically great advice. Our gut instincts are rarely wrong; that is when it’s actually your gut that you’re feeling.
Anxiety is intuition’s worst enemy. The feelings that anxiety can bring often mimic the feelings of your gut instinct, making it difficult to determine which is which. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to decrease – if not eliminate entirely– the chances of accidentally trusting your anxiety over your gut.
Gut Instinct vs. Anxiety
Nearly 20% of the world’s population struggle with some form of anxiety disorder, so you can imagine that distinguishing between one’s intuition and anxiety can be pretty tricky for many people. However, learning about the slight differences between the feelings of intuition and feelings of anxiety is indescribably beneficial in decision making.
A “gut feeling” is a calm sense of knowing that comes seemingly out of nowhere. This feeling comes from existing knowledge that you don’t know that you’re aware of and points you on a clear path at that exact moment.
When you suddenly get the urge to take a different route home from work than you usually would, later finding out that your usual route had construction adding on 45 minutes of traffic, this is a gut feeling. While you consciously aren’t aware of the thing that caused this feeling, your subconscious is aware. While driving, your subconscious picked up on observations that led your conscious mind to the decision to take a different route. After you decide that trusting your gut brought you to, the feeling won’t linger, and you won’t question yourself.
The feeling of anxiety often brings a stirring sensation in your stomach that makes you feel bad. Anxiety focuses on future outcomes of “what if” rather than what’s happening at that moment. These feelings can often be linked to a similar scenario that has occurred in the past, making the current situation play as a trigger. Rather than feelings of calm knowing, anxiety brings on feelings of overthinking and panic, lingering even after making a decision.
Imagine you’re sitting alone at a coffee shop. Across from you is a group of people around your age. You begin to notice that they’re laughing a lot since you sat down and start to feel that they’re laughing at you even though they seem to have not even seen you. Your mind begins telling you that there’s something wrong or that you’ve done something embarrassing, distracting you from hearing that they’re only laughing about things that happened to them the night before.
Instinct and anxiety can come across extremely similarly, but when you take a step back, with patience, practice, and awareness, you’ll be able to feel the difference.
There will be some situations where you genuinely will not be able to distinguish between the feelings of instinct and the feeling of anxiety, so establishing a process to use when you come to this crossroads can help you decide.
Fact-checking is a great tool to use in these instances. This is when you sit with your thoughts in a quiet space and ask yourself questions involving logic regarding the situation at hand:
o “What specifically bothers me about this person or situation?” o “Has something like this happened before?”
o “What are my assumptions about this event?’
o “Does the intensity of my emotions fit the facts?”
A great place to start when you begin to practice fact-checking is to write down your questions and answers. This way, you’ll be able to look back on previous instances when you’ve fact-checked. Also, it will become more apparent when focusing on logical questions if your gut or anxiety causes the feeling.
The process of working through your thoughts and feelings to determine whether they are helping you or hurting you can be complex but learning to trust your gut is beneficial in almost all areas of life. If you’re interested in learning more about fact-checking and strengthening your intuition while lessening anxiety, contact me for a coaching session.