I’m sure you’ve been told many times to “trust your gut” and “follow your heart.” But is it that simple in reality?
Both sayings are premised on our sixth sense of knowing. But sometimes, it can be so instinctual it may be hard to tell if a gut feeling is just an intuitive insight or actually an anxious feeling. Trusting your gut is not as simple as the saying suggests.
We invited Mary Beth Somich, Licensed Professional Counselor, to talk to us about how we can distinguish the two so that in moments when you do experience either sentiment, you can still summon that inner instinctive voice that exists within all of us.
Anxiety vs. Gut Feelings
“First and foremost, you want to listen to both the experiences of anxiety and intuition,” Mary Beth said, “as they are informative, natural, and protective responses.”
Intuition, according to Mary Beth, can be described as a gut feeling we have about a particular person, event, or situation, and it often arises out of the attunement we are feeling.
Anxiety, in contrast, is more of a fear response or reaction to a perceived threat that dysregulates our nervous system.
Now that we understand what the two of them mean, we can learn how to tell the differences between them. To help you distinguish between the two, she highlighted some of the differences to watch for:
- May present with a physically distressing component e.g. feelings of restlessness, jittery, or potentially headaches or stomachaches
- Can feel draining and demanding, both mentally and physically
- Is rooted in fear regarding the past or future e.g. something that has happened before or that could happen again
Intuition or Gut feeling:
- Often doesn’t have the aforementioned physical symptoms attached
- May bring a sense of assuredness
- Is a present-minded and grounded experience and a mindful observation of what is occurring and the associated feelings attached
How to Attune to Gut feelings When Suffering from Anxiety
For those who suffer from consistent anxiety, especially irrational anxiety, Mary Beth noted, it can be difficult to trust their intuition or gut feelings. “They’ve become desensitized, lacking the required nervous system regulation needed to tune-in to themselves,” she said.
Instead, they might respond to uncertainty or perceived threats with what she calls “a sympathetic state of fight or flight.”
And so, for someone with anxiety, the key to successfully attuning to their gut feelings “lies in their ability to achieve a regulated state through healthy coping practices,” she said.
She recommended trying the following steps:-
Step 1. Establish the awareness of your triggers
“If you are unaware of what contributes to your anxiety, it is difficult to come back into regulation,” she said.
Step 2. Utilize coping skills properly
There are 5 types of coping skills that she recommended focusing on: emotional release, grounding exercises, thought challenge, distraction, and self-care; with regular emotional release being the most important one.
And that’s because “it moves anxious energy out of the body,” she explained. Some practices that help with it, for example, are therapy, physical exercise, and journaling.
Can Anxiety Be Triggered By Not Following Gut Feelings?
When asked this question, Mary Beth answered that it’s absolutely possible.
“When we ignore or deny what our intuition is telling us, it may feel like a betrayal of the self, which can create emotional dysregulation in the form of anxiety.”
Similarly, anxiety can also be manifested when there’s a perpetuating sense of threat or urgency. For example, “when we share our gut feelings with others who may not also be experiencing this same attunement and we feel dismissed,” she said.
Because of the manifestation of anxiety, our intuitive ability to explore possibilities is then disrupted.
To battle this dilemma, she noted that we should learn to honor our intuition. Reducing worry and encouraging experiences that connect you with joy, for example, can help regulate our nervous systems and better connect to our intuitive instincts.
“With honoring your intuition comes self-trust, the antidote to anxiety and mindful living.”