A Mini-Course by Chad Harrigan
Founder, You Can L.I.V.E. Now
Lesson 2: Intuition VS Anxiety
(Let's Nerd-Out for a bit)
These days there's so much noise competing for influence and our attention. All of our devices bringing as content that incessantly begs us to engage. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and quite annoying. It's like the entire world is team-too-much. How do I decide which voice to follow? Do I trust my gut, or do I believe everyone else? If you're hesitating to trust your intuition, then you're not alone. Though there are proven benefits of trusting our gut feelings, it can be hard to know who is doing the talking, your intuition, or your anxiety. Let's start with the most important question when choosing to trust your gut.
| Is this feeling my intuition or my anxiety? Could it be something else altogether?
We want to know that we have a good handle on ourselves and the situations that come our way. It's integral to regaining the confidence to trust ourselves and the decisions we make. Anxiety can interfere with building that trust.
What's the difference between Intuition and Anxiety, anyway?
Well let's start with good 'ol Webster's Dictionary:
Intuition: quick and ready insight; immediate apprehension or cognition; the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference
Anxiety: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill
Intuitive thoughts focus on the present, and they tend to feel neutral or calm. Anxious thoughts relate to the past and future and carry a sense of dread and nervousness
In Carl Jung's Theory of the Ego, described in 1916 in Psychological Types, Jung defined intuition as "perception via the unconscious." Intuition bridges the gap between the conscious (reason) and non-conscious (intuition) parts of our mind.
My wife's intuition is level 1000. She calls it her "Grime-dar." Ever since childhood, she's been a great judge of character. Have you ever met someone that wows everyone in the room, but something about them feels off? You can't place your finger on it. Then you inevitably find all the grime that comes to light. There's always one person, however, who knew the whole time. That's my wife! She knows. She always knows. (Don't tell her I said that though)
That gut instinct of yours signals potentially amazing or potentially dangerous situations. On a micro-level, it keeps us safe in dark parking garages or gives us insight into whom we chose to trust. On a macro-level, it can help steer us toward big life choices by keeping us in alignment with our purpose/goals.
In more-recent psychology, intuition can encompass the ability to know valid solutions to problems and decision making. For example, the recognition primed decision (RPD) model explains how people can make relatively fast decisions without having to compare options. Under the pressure of time, high stakes, and changing parameters, people use their base of experience to identify similar situations and intuitively choose feasible solutions. Thus, the RPD model is a blend of intuition and analysis. The intuition is the pattern-matching process that quickly suggests reasonable courses of action. (Klein, Gary. Intuition At Work. Random House, NY, NY. January 2003.)
Anxiety, Anxiety, Anxiety...
One thing about anxiety that kinda blows is you absolutely can't trust your "gut feeling" bc you get gut feelings that something is wrong every 22.5 seconds. (Twitter User @holy_schnitt)
Anxiety actually hinders your ability to trust your intuition. If you struggle with anxiety, your gut is overactive and often interpreting benign external information, internal sensations, or passing thoughts as threats. The good thing is that it's possible to wade through the murky waters and figure out what's what. (Melissa Weinberg, LCPC)
| "Think of anxiety as a reaction, not reality" Alison Stone, LCSW
We are constantly reacting internally to what the world is showing us, and anxiety is a common response to the stressors we encounter. In other words, that stress is making you react to something, even if it has nothing to do with the particular problem that's worrying you. When you're anxious, the physiological responses to anxiety override your intuitive feelings. Research shows that anxiety causes our decision-making skills to suffer. It makes us feel less confident. We are less trusting of others. We even avoid taking the most necessary risks. Anxiety still has this damaging effect even with safe and simple decisions.
Here's a checklist of some simple suggestions:
Be aware of your triggers: This is a moment for Unconditional Honesty. Some of the things/people/situations we "love" can be very things that trigger us the most. It could be social media, the news, substances, your ex-boyfriend Barry (we all hate Barry), or even WebMD. It's essential to identify your triggers and how they affect you. While it may be impossible to avoid some altogether, it is possible to limit our exposure and mitigate their effect on you.
Give your feeling a name: Whether you're experiencing intuition or anxiety, there's usually a feeling associated with it. So, what is it? At this point, you want to pay close attention to yourself. What's the first word that comes to mind when you think of this feeling? Nervous? Tight? Icky? Fuzzy? Tingly? Loose? Whatever your word is, naming what you feel helps give you context. Now you can decipher between the two.
Check with your body: Remember, intuition and anxiety cause both emotional and physiological responses from our bodies. Those feelings we just named may show up physically. If you give yourself the space to pause, breathe, and slow down, you'll find it easier to notice what's going on within you. Studies have shown that stress causes physical inflammation in the body or even tightness in some muscle groups. Have you ever experienced a stress-headache? Take some time to notice where anxiety is sitting in your body. This will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which shifts you out of flight-or-fight mode. When this happens, the anxious mind slows down, and you're able to create internal space to get a grip on what's actually happening versus what your anxiety thinks is happening.
Lean into being uncomfortable: Don't worry. I'm not about to scream at you to stop being soft and go hard after your goals. Getting good at using intuition is like working out a muscle. It takes practice and patience, but it also takes attention. Following your intuition first requires that you understand your anxiety in order to differentiate between the two. Anxiety is all about perceived fear, worry, and discomfort. Pay attention to the decisions that you're moving toward out of a desire to make that discomfort to go away.
Who's telling the stories around here? Our thoughts are great storytellers, especially when anxiety is the main character. (He didn't text back. Who's he with right now? / The boss didn't speak today, I'm probably getting fired. / Her Instagram looks so good. I'll never be successful.) Remember that our thoughts are not what they say they are. Thinking Traps cause our minds to create many negative stories about ourselves and the world around us. Try writing down as many possibilities as you can think of and tell yourself a different story. It doesn't even matter if the story is true or not. The purpose is to become aware of how your mind is fueling your anxiety. Once your mind settles down and stops fixating on the worst-case scenario, try meditation for 10 minutes. Over time, this exercise can help you sift through what's real and what's just anxious thought.
Have you done hard things before? Most likely, you have done at least one hard thing in life and survived! You're a bonified ass-kicking warrior. In reality, we've all gone through something hard. What can you learn from that experience? Think of a time that you trusted/ignored your intuition. What happened? What would you change? How did it feel? Write down these experiences and take note of the nuances. Note commonalities or stark differences and observe your reflections. The bigger idea here is understanding what we can learn from past experiences. We can then take that learning and use it to help us with decisions in the future.
Big T trauma & little T trauma: Unfortunatley, trauma is an all-too-real experience in this world. Some of us have issues that require more than this course can give alone. In these cases, anxiety needs the attention of a therapist. I can speak from experience using both therapy and coaching. Where therapy helped me survive, coaching helped me thrive. Some people aren't even operating at a baseline level because they haven't had the opportunity to deal with their inner demons. Trauma puts our nervous system into a chaotic state that lasts long after the traumatic event has passed. Trauma pushes the activation of the nervous system beyond its ability to self-regulate. When a stressful experience pushes the system beyond its limits, it can become stuck. If this is you, please know that it's ok to talk to someone. It may very well save your life.
Get a journal or notebook, a pen, and find a quiet space. You can even use the notes app on your phone.
Take all seven suggestions/questions from the list above and write out your responses to each one. What did you learn about yourself? What experiences did you remember, and how can they help you now?
What would you like your story to be moving forward?