The Difference Between Anxiety and Intuition

Michelle Velan, CEO at Wondersource

According to the American Psychiatry Association, anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. Over 40 million Americans experience an anxiety disorder, though that figure would likely be much higher with more awareness. It’s not surprising. At one point or another, everyone has experienced debilitating anxiety.

What are intuition and anxiety?

Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.

While anxiety, can be characterised by changing viewpoints, inconsistent self-talk and fluctuating ideas, intuition is all about abundance, confidence and positivity. It’s much more steady and does not come from a place of fear. It provides us with an inner guidance – beyond logic or learned responses, revealing who we are and guiding us along the way with the knowledge we have gained over time.

If we listen and cultivate our ability to connect with our intuition, we can massively benefit from the sense of peace, creativity and feeling of confidence that it brings. It can guide us to a more meaningful, healthy, happy and well-lived life.

On confusing intuition and anxiety

Yet, for many, intuition can easily get confused with anxious thoughts. If you’ve ever experienced an all encompassing anxiety, you’ve probably noticed that it can be really difficult to quiet in the moment. That’s because the other voice in your mind, your ego, can be quite mean, disruptive and convincing. The ego holds the imprint of our past experiences and has beliefs shaped by them. It is designed to keep us safe and it does this by trying to protect us from things that are unfamiliar. Often when we’re faced with important life decisions we mistake the voice of anxiety for the wisdom of intuition and stop ourselves from taking action that would help us to rise to our full potential. 

Clairvoyant, Catharine Allen has a great explanation of how people can confuse the two, “I noticed that many people are prone to confuse intuition with fear when they’re trying to get answers to something they’re already stressed about. But when you’re already wound up about a problem, you will project that fear onto everything else around you.

Let’s say you don’t know if your job contract will be renewed and you have a difficult boss. This is a super-stressful situation. Your livelihood depends on the job, the job depends on the relationship you have with the boss—so you’re understandably fearful. You walk around thinking almost 24/7 about whether your boss likes you or doesn’t like you. Will he keep you based on your job performance? Is she favoring the new person because they are younger, even if they’re less qualified? You can’t really stop obsessing. You’re feeling anxious and need an answer or solution to feel secure again. Then, in the middle of days of this worry, you get a flash of a new person sitting at your desk and are sure that you’re going to be replaced. Your heart rate shoots up even further, and you fully believe you’re right. 

You are sure you’ve had a psychic flash. Or have you? This is probably not true intuition. You’re too far gone down the rabbit hole to be objective in that vision.”

Is there any benefit to ego and anxiety?

Sometimes ego can be beneficial — it reminds you of your self-worth and advocates for self-respect so you avoid situations in which you could be taken advantage of. Similarly anxiety isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. In many cases, it means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone which is a good thing. According to mindfulness expert, Jay Shetty, there is ‘unhealthy drama filled anxiety’ that is overwhelming and we want to avoid and ‘healthy anxiety’ which we can think of as positive nerves. We need a certain amount of anxiety to spark action, change and creativity. On the other hand, when we have no anxiety, it can create boredom or lethargy. There is an optimal amount of anxiety.

To better equip ourselves, let’s look at some differences between intuition and overwhelming anxiety:

  1. Anxiety is a reaction to a perceived threat. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s because you’re scared of something or you feel threatened. Intuition on the other hand doesn’t come from a perceived threat or a fear; it just comes to you, often 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 usually loving, gentle and calm. Intuition comes from a calm and mindful state. It doesn’t have an agenda.
  3. Anxiety can often be related to our mental or physical state. Are you lacking sleep? Do you feel particularly high levels of stress? If yes, your anxiety may be acting up.
  4. Anxiety usually comes with physical symptoms in the body. Unlike intuition, anxiety is loud and intrusive. Tightness or pain in the body or a racing heart are common symptoms.
  5. Anxiety is a lot more chaotic and intense than intuition. Relationship expert and psychotherapist Jonathan Marshall told Business Insider, “Intuition, for many 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, often taking over everything else, while intuition won’t be quite as intense and strong. With anxiety, you will likely experience changing viewpoints, fluctuating ideas and inconsistent self- talk.
  6. Intuition is typically about bigger moments, whereas 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 about anything and everything. 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.”
  7. Intuition helps us feel comfortable, not necessarily relieved or certain. Anxiety, on the other hand, wants a decision or answer that makes us feel relieved. Take the case where you’re waiting to hear back about a promotion. Anxiety would typically jump all over the place: “yes, you will definitely get that promotion” to “no, you’re never going to get that promotion.” Whereas intuition, might quietly tell you “no matter what happens you’re going to be ok, just relax, all will be ok.”

Cultivating intuition

Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, says that intuition is the wisdom we gain from taking on risks and opportunities and learning from successes and failures. In other words it comes from experience, none of which is possible if we shy away when faced with anxiety or fear. Instead, we need to recognize our unhelpful internal voice, befriend it and allow ourselves to trust the knowledge we’ve gained from experience and the voice of intuition. 

If you haven’t been in the habit of listening to your intuition, it can be hard to make that commitment to yourself to make a change. When anxiety appears, don’t let it limit your possibilities and confine you to your comfort zone. Instead, take the time to listen to it, and be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone towards what excites you and lights you up, trusting your intuition and growing to your fullest potential. It doesn’t mean you will always get it “right” but you will eventually land exactly where you need to be. The world needs more people who follow their dreams. 

A final note on when anxiety is a mental health problem
According to mental health charity, Mind, anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if:

– your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
– your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
– you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
– your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
– you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
– you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy

If you believe your anxiety is holding you back, reach out to us at admin@wondersource.co to learn how one of our vetted and curated coaches, therapists and experts can best support you. We’re here for you.

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Wondersource is on a mission to save and improve people’s mental and physical lives. If you need some extra support with anxiety or any other area of health, please know we’re here for you. Browse our expert section to book a 1-1 session or email us at admin@wondersource.co. You are not alone.



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