Intuition Vs. Anxiety

Natalie Marc, LMHC March 27, 2022

Understanding the difference between intuition and anxiety can help us live with greater clarity, purpose, and peace. Here’s how to tell them apart.

We’ve all acted on a hunch at some point in our lives. We’ve also all experienced anxiety to varying degrees. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern the difference between them—that is, a hunch’s message from the gut vs. anxiety’s message from the amygdala. Let’s consider the two and explore which can best guide us through life.

Intuition is the product of your gut instincts, your deductive reasoning, and your emotions providing insightful wisdom. In contrast, anxiety is rooted in fear—a fear that urges you to protect yourself, preserve your treasures, and control the outcome. With anxiety, there is no rest unless you have certainty that you are safe and all the outcomes are accounted for.

A small example: did you lock the front door? Intuition says, “I think I did, but I don’t remember. It’s best to double-check.” Anxiety says, “Oh God, someone might break in, let me go lock it again.” The difference is that intuition encourages us to check because you have no memory of locking the front door, so double-checking is a sound course of action. Anxiety threatens you with the possibility that harm will come if you don’t check. Intuition provides calm, comfort, and trust. Anxiety provides panic, distress, and fear.

Another example: is the “Sunday Scaries.” This is when we feel increasingly uncomfortable on Sunday night about work the following morning. Intuition says, “I know they’re going to overwhelm me with work, I don’t like my supervisor’s attitude, I really don’t want to go in tomorrow, and I want to work somewhere else.” Anxiety says, “I will face devastating criticism. My spreadsheet had errors and someone’s going to find out. My supervisor is trying to find a reason to push me out and that’s why she treats me this way.” Intuition provides insight, revealing why this workplace no longer works for you. Anxiety stokes fear: “I am going to get in trouble and the consequences will be unbearable.” Intuition prepares you for making it through the workday. Anxiety amplifies your difficulties at work, emphasizing just how unbearable it will be.

Now that we have a better understanding of the differences between intuition and anxiety, what can we do with this information? First, distinguish what you are experiencing at the moment. Is it intuition or anxiety? Here’s a quick checklist to reference.

Anxiety vs. intuition: do you feel …

Anxiety Intuition
Fearful of the possibilities? Conscious of currently known facts?
Threatened and intimidated into helplessness? Ready to act with intention based on the information you have?
The urge to start catastrophizing about the worst-case scenario? Motivated to produce the desired outcome based on your knowledge of the situation?
Uneasy and overwhelmed? Resolved and calm?

Second, ask yourself: do I want anxiety or intuition guiding me in this moment? And finally: try to be receptive and trustful of the information your intuition is sharing. While building that trust can be challenging because fear is a great persuader and influencer, your intuition is ultimately a better guide for settling decisions over matters both big and small. As you become more conscious and trusting of your intuition, it becomes easier to discern—and act in—ways that are more aligned with your values and goals. If you ever need assistance understanding and engaging with the tricky question of anxiety vs. intuition, we’re always here to help!

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