Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve got a feeling of worry or distress, and you couldn’t tell if it was your intuition signaling a real problem or just another bout of anxiety? And you can’t totally distinguish between the two because it’s not uncommon for you to have intuitive thoughts that have been accurate. You’re not alone. We all have an inner voice that gives us guidance around situations, people, ideas, and decisions in life. It’s not uncommon in our daily life to move between intuitive feelings and anxious thoughts, making it hard to discern one from the other, but with the right guidance and a bit of practice, you can quickly learn to distinguish between the two.

Key Differences Between Intuition vs Anxiety

Intuition is a powerful feeling that arises from your subconscious mind, guiding you in the right direction without triggering anxious thoughts that are typical of anxiety.

When our intuition speaks to us, it often presents valuable insights as a clear answer. Some may regard it as a sixth sense, an inner knowing, or a gut instinct that is not clouded by fearful thoughts or worst-case scenarios. I find that intuition is more matter-of-fact in both myself and the clients I work with. It tends to have a calmer, more confident feeling than anxiety does.

Anxiety, on the other hand, may come with things such as a racing mind, shortness of breath, etc. There’s more of a feeling of fear, worry, and urgency. I’ve found my body feels more triggered; there’s more of a fight or flight response. In contrast, I feel much more grounded in my intuition.

If I had to sum it up in a few words, anxiety feels more fear-based, and intuition feels more supportive and matter-of-fact.

What is Intuition?

The meaning of intuition is essentially to know something immediately or to have an instinctive feeling without conscious reasoning or effort. Let’s expand on this idea of intuition and look at examples of how intuition can appear in our lives.

Intuition tends to come to us suddenly, without warning. It could present through a thought that comes out of nowhere. It could be having an inner knowing that something is or isn’t going to work out. It could be an instant feeling about someone- that they have good intentions or deceitful intentions. Our intuition may also be an urge to leave a situation; we may feel that something isn’t right.

Intuition tends to be specific to a situation, such as if you always attend a weekly exercise class in the morning; maybe there is one day something just doesn’t feel right about going at the time you usually go, and you feel you should go later in the day instead. It’s specific to one situation, not all workout classes in general.

Another instance of a specific situation is that you might suddenly have a flash of intuition or a gut feeling that someone near you in a parking lot doesn’t feel safe to you. Even though everything on the surface might seem normal, something feels off about them. You feel the quick urge to run inside and find safety in the store. Intuition, again, is specific to a situation, whereas, with anxiety, you may not feel safe in any parking lot.

Intuition can also come in other ways. An example from my life was when I went into a meditation class, where I typically turned my phone off when I arrived- as we were required to turn it off for the second part of the class, the meditation portion. I turned my phone off at the beginning of class as I did every week, and after just a couple of minutes, I had the intuitive thought that I should have my phone on; it didn’t make sense, but I didn’t question it and turned it back on. During that very brief time, my phone was off; I had missed a very important emergency call that I was not expecting. The inner knowing to turn my phone back on was very calm and clear. The urgency and panic came after I received the message.

A more fun example was when I was helping a very good friend house hunt where I live while she was living out of town. I would go on all the first showings of homes with her real estate agent. I walked into one home, and I just knew it was the one; I could feel a sense of familiarity about this home as if I had sat in that kitchen many times and knew the space I was in.

However, even though I very intuitively knew it was the home they would buy. I also knew I had to stay as neutral as I could, as it was a decision she and her husband needed to make without my influence of saying, “I know this is the one,” as there were other very strong contenders, and they had even been leaning a different direction at one point. My confidence that it was their home allowed me to stay unattached and let them decide independently without me telling them. It was a great example for myself of not needing to control a situation when I intuitively know something to be true.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling in our mind and body that is fear and doubt-based; there’s uncertainty. When we have anxiety, we tend to ruminate, worry, and overthink something, whereas intuition comes in as more of a clear knowing. Anxiety tends to feel more muddy; there’s a lack of clarity and uncertainty, and it builds up over time. You may waver between thinking you should or shouldn’t do something. Anxiety can feel as though it is a block and is holding you back in life.

Some examples of how anxiety could show up might be having anxiety about going to any workout class, not just a specific one. Anxiety about being in any parking lot without having someone with you. You must always have your phone on and near you, or you get anxious. Anxiety is more broad and generalized, whereas intuition tends to be more specific about a situation.

The Role of Your Nervous System

Learning to understand your nervous system can help guide you to further distinguish between anxiety vs intuition.

Our nervous system, more specifically our autonomic nervous system, is shaped by early childhood experiences and reshaped throughout our lives with ongoing experiences. Our nervous system has its own instinctual response to experiences based on our past experiences.

Our nervous system can greatly influence how we receive intuitive guidance as well as influence feelings of anxiety. Let’s dive into it.

There are three main parts of your autonomic nervous system, according to the Polyvagal Theory: the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch. The parasympathetic branch contains both the ventral vagal system and the dorsal vagal system.

The Ventral Vagal is the system that allows us to be part of the world, to connect to ourselves, to reach out to others for connection and support, to begin open to change and to consider different possibilities and feel in flow. What makes us able to be in this system is that we are experiencing a sense of safety and living in the present moment. In this state, you are most likely to feel at ease and experience clear thinking and intuitive insights.

The Sympathetic branch is the branch that prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response when there is potential danger or you are in stressful situations. In this state, you may experience an increased heart rate, a heightened alertness, and a desire to move quickly to take action. This is the state you are more likely to be in when you are experiencing anxiety.

Dorsal Vagal: The Dorsal Vagal state is when we experience a feeling of shutdown and lifelessness in an attempt to conserve energy. We may numb out, disconnect, or dissociate. We tend to feel more disconnected from our bodies and feelings in this state. We also physically move slower as we’re in a state of conserving our energy. This is the state you are more likely to be in when you experience an overwhelming amount of anxiety, and it becomes too much to handle. It is much harder to access your intuition when you are in this state.

The descriptions above are general guidance; it is possible to access your intuition while you are in a sympathetic response or a dorsal vagal response; it’s just less likely as your brain and nervous system are otherwise preoccupied with your survival. I personally find it helpful to understand the state of my nervous system I am in as a way to help me distinguish between anxiety and intuition.

For example, if you are aware that you are experiencing a fight or flight response, ruminating and overthinking things, you may be feeling the need to take quick action out of fear. If you have that awareness of what’s happening in your nervous system, you’ll be more likely to notice that your urge to take quick action is more likely coming from anxiety than intuition.

However, I do want to mention that if you are in a situation that is unsafe, your intuition very likely could work in tandem with your nervous system’s survival instincts to keep you safe.

You can learn more about your nervous system here.

Building Trust with Your Own Intuition

Learning to distinguish between your gut reactions and the overwhelming swirl of thoughts that anxiety becomes much easier with time and practice. Something I would like to recommend to help you build trust with your own intuition is to recognize the key differences and patterns between your anxiety and intuition within yourself.

The more we engage with and use our intuition, the more we begin to trust this guidance, and the easier it becomes to follow it. It’s like a muscle; the more you use it and strengthen it, the stronger it becomes. Like most things in life, it takes practice.

I recommended as you learn to build that trust within, lean into your intuition during situations that are not very high stakes, like which route to take home, what to eat or not eat at dinner, which restaurant to go to, or reaching out to someone when your intuition strikes. You may find that in following these intuitive urges; you may take a different way home and run into a friend or see something interesting. Sometimes, there won’t be any noticeable result of following your intuition, and that’s okay, too.

Some people find it helpful to start an intuition journal or write notes in an app on their phone when they see some tangible result from following their intuition. An example would be something such as: “I had the urge to leave early for an appointment and ended up seeing a friend in the parking lot that I wouldn’t have seen if I had arrived any later.” Or “I felt drawn to take a walk in a direction I wouldn’t normally go to and ended up seeing the most beautiful rainbow.

It’s okay if there’s nothing that seems worth noting. I’ve had intuitive hits about situations or people, and I’ve written down something like, “I really felt ____, and it’s not making sense right now because ___.” I’ve learned over time that sometimes it can take some time and patience for things to evolve or understand things fully.

I also recommend noting what you noticed about how you felt regarding the intuitive hit, did you hear a voice, was it a thought, was it a physiological urge, did a confidence come through you, what did you feel in your body? Were there sensations? Taking note of how your mind and body speak to you regarding your intuition will only help you better understand and trust yourself in the future. This is how you build your skills.

Decreasing Anxiety

The first step to decreasing your anxiety is to recognize and accept that you are experiencing anxiety without judging yourself or your anxiety. Anxiety affects so many of us and know that you are not alone, it is a treatable condition.

Awareness: Before addressing anxiety, you need to become aware of its presence and how it affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This might mean noticing the physical sensations of anxiety (like a racing heart or tense muscles), recognizing anxious thoughts, or observing how anxiety influences your actions.

Acceptance: Many people try to fight anxiety or feel frustrated by it, which can actually intensify the feelings. Acceptance involves understanding that anxiety is a part of your current experience but doesn’t define who you are. It’s about acknowledging your feelings without criticism or resistance.

Practical Steps: After recognizing and accepting your anxiety, you can take practical steps to manage and reduce it. These might include:

  1. Learning about anxiety: Understanding your nervous system, the nature of anxiety, its causes, and its physical and psychological effects can help “normalize” it and make it less intimidating.
  2. Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and EFT tapping can help calm the sympathetic nervous system, reducing immediate anxiety symptoms.
  3. Physical activity: Regular exercise can significantly decrease anxiety levels and improve mood by releasing endorphins and other positive effects for your mind and body.
  4. Healthy lifestyle choices: Ensuring adequate sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, limiting social media use, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake can also help manage anxiety symptoms.
  5. Seeking support: Talking to a trusted friend or family member about your feelings can provide relief and understanding. Additionally, my 1:1 coaching programs are designed to help you heal anxiety at the root cause.

Key Takeaways

Our past experiences can significantly influence our intuitive gut feelings and anxious thoughts. An intuitive thought often comes from a place of self-awareness and a sense of self to help guide present-moment decisions. Conversely, anxiety’s effects may include a heightened emotional reaction to potential danger, leading to a vicious cycle of anxious feelings and physical symptoms.

To truly leverage your intuition as a valuable tool, focus on practicing mindfulness and building self-awareness. By practicing staying in the present moment and observing your emotional reactions without judgment, you can begin to tell the difference between a genuine gut reaction and anxiety-fueled thoughts.

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Author Biography

Karla Kueber is here to support you in overcoming imposter syndrome and perfectionism so you can stop procrastinating, feeling stuck, and holding yourself back from your goals. Karla is here to help you believe in yourself and own your successes. You can book a freee discovery call with her here.