Is it intuition, or anxiety?

Many of us are taught not to value our gut instincts, and even to ignore them. The less privilege you hold societally the more likely that you have been told that you can’t trust how you feel. If you’re offended, that’s because you’re too sensitive. If you feel unsafe, you’re being paranoid (or you actually brought it upon yourself). If you want something more for yourself, you’re being greedy. If you feel undervalued, you’re just not asserting yourself enough. And so on.

There’s another layer that can be self-imposed: in a challenging, dangerous, unfair world sometimes we choose to tamp down our awareness as a way of coping (and surviving). There are situations where this is beneficial. And there are many where it doesn’t serve us well.

As a therapist often working with a variety of forms of anxiety (including post-traumatic stress) I found that many of the techniques for managing “symptoms,” especially those of a more cognitive-behavioral frame, were built on the premise that most anxiety is irrational.
Certainly some anxiety could be described as pretty “loosely related” to the current events at hand, but it always has some kind of underlying meaning. Why that particular anxiety, why now? And furthermore, quite a lot of anxiety is not unreasonable— even though it may be debilitating nonetheless. I like to say that anxiety doesn’t solve problems, actions do. Anxiety tells you that you’re doing something constructive when really you’re in a repetitive cycle that is keeping you held in an emotionally and physically activated state.
Anxiety often points both to actual external threats (or past experiences of threat) along with present moment challenges in self-worth. Without these components, it is merely “worry.” Which is a normal and transient feeling state that resolves as situations resolve.

My approach to working with anxiety has changed over the years. It began with developing insight as to why it’s making you anxious rather than merely worried or concerned, and how to tolerate fear of the unknown rather than attempting to soothe that fear by rationalizing. I see this as a shift from “everything is going to be ok” to “no matter what, I’m going to be ok,” at least eventually. As I began to integrate the body more directly it became important to explore how to tolerate heightened states enough to remain flexible within them. 

Anxiety points to things worth witnessing and working with. They can be a map of our tender areas within the psyche and overall worldview. When we have the capacity to stay anchored and able to make choices in a state of activation, that activation is not as disruptive or problematic to our life. With the inclusion of Energywork, I began to see how cultivating a strong connection to intuition became an alternate expression of that heightened awareness that anxiety brings.

Putting it another way: anxiety allows us to attune deeply to certain sources of “threat,” to notice tiny details in a person’s tone of voice, or correlation of events that we see as significant, or even produce physiological responses to certain situations. These are unconscious coping mechanisms to interpret the environment based on our accumulated experiences and our internal narratives. But those raw skills are also the basis of intuition. Careful use of the senses, in order to perceive more than is immediately apparent is a protective skill. Much like how a big part of pain management is tolerating the psychological aspect— learning to reframe pain as a sensation that is not correlated with doom— managing the psychological pain of anxiety and fear allows us to stay grounded in the face of the physiological phenomena.

I mentioned recently that people often feel confused about how to know the difference between anxiety and intuition. There’s no simple way, no flow chart to definitively tell every person how to make that distinction.
But there are a few key points that can help guide you:

The first is that anxiety often has a “charge” that is quite negative or critical in nature, whereas intuition is more neutral (even though we may have a range of responses to that intuition). Intuition itself does not hold the quality of fear the way that anxiety does.

The second is that quite a lot of intuition is simply brushed aside as anxiety because we have learned not to trust it (remember that first paragraph?). So you might ask yourself, if I say this is anxiety and not intuition, who does it benefit? If it doesn’t hurt you or others to follow your gut (intuition), I say take a risk and listen to it. Then see what happens. Your intuition grows when you take it seriously, and teach your body that you will listen. If the sensations are not disruptive and panic inducing, then whether it’s anxiety or intuition it’s just another layer of awareness to explore.

Finally, very frequently intuition is happening alongside anxiety. Sometimes they are in alignment (if this is the case we usually don’t interrogate it), and other times they are in conflict. For example, we may feel anxiety about speaking up when we’re upset, alongside an intuition that we will regret not expressing ourselves. Instead of asking yourself “is this just anxiety” you could ask yourself “is there more information here?” Allow your anxiety and intuition to dialogue with each other.

In reiki training a few weeks back a question emerged about making this distinction because someone was feeling a little wired/“anxious” during practice. I remembered that my early experience of learning about reiki also helped me understand how to feel the difference. The presence of a greater volume of energy flow can produce sensations that are similar to anxiety: a fluttering/heart racing quality, quickened or more shallow breath, changes in feeling of core temperature as well as skin surface temperature changes. Frequently this begins some time before practice or a session begins, those who have highly developed Clairsentience (clear feeling) may notice this especially. But it doesn’t hold the content of anxiety, and as one becomes more accustomed to it the feeling it is recognized as an increased awareness and connection rather than something associated with a problem to be solved.

Intuition and energy practice go hand in hand for me.
 If you practice only one, you are missing an important component. Intuition brings that awareness to the “unseen,” and energy practice allows us to do something with the awareness. It’s usually a good idea to take physical actions in relation to intuition when it’s possible (such as sending that text, applying for the job, having the tough conversation, or putting your phone away at a certain time), but often the change that is being called for is an internal one. Thoughts, especially, can be quite prone to repetition and hard to shake out of a well-worn pattern. (Anxiety!) Bringing effort and focus to changing the energetic pattern, alongside the discipline of interrupting thought patterns can create deep and lasting change.

I’ve had more than a few experiences just in the last year, focusing on this blended approach where over some months of disciplined action I have seen my emotional responses to a certain situation completely change. And alongside that, the thought pattern completes in new ways. That feeling of abandonment and loneliness reduced to mere annoyance, sudden insights into far-flung connections between past and present that completely take the air out of the recent situation.

The best part being that these shifts are available even if our environments haven’t changed, even if the people connected to these feelings and thoughts haven’t changed. This is the energetic alchemy that opens up when we allow intuition to become a partner to us, and instead of focusing on “getting rid of anxiety” we listen even more deeply and learn to stay present and secure in spite of it. When we see this as a series of opportunities to continuing growing and healing, the sudden onset of anxiety (while unwelcome) feels less like a punishment or affliction, and more like an ordinary experience that offers us choices.

What is your anxiety telling you?

How do you differentiate anxiety via a heightened state of awareness?

How does your intuition offer additional information when you’re feeling anxiety, are there patterns you can notice?

If this topic has been interesting for you to think about I welcome you to join me for Tuning In, where we’ll be finding space for learning and practice using each of our psychic senses. And you know I’ll be incorporating some energywork into the group, because I can’t help myself
If you’re not able to attend the 90 min classes live you can opt to take the class by recording (let me know in the notes and feel free to adjust with sliding scale accordingly).
This class has been some years in the making and I’m really excited to share it! We’ll be meeting Tuesdays at 8pm ET starting May 2, the recordings will go out the next day.

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