Intuition Or Anxiety? How To Tell The Difference In Relationships

As someone who struggles with generalized anxiety, I find it difficult sometimes to differentiate between anxiety and intuition, especially in relationships. There are a lot of factors that can blur the lines between the two – previous experiences of being lied to, gaslighting, or making incorrect assumptions, to name a few. The definition of intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning. It’s your inner-sensing or your gut instinct. What can cause doubt to your intuition is the fact that it can feel very similar to anxiety, and it can be wrong sometimes too. Here’s how you know what’s really going on.

  1. Anxiety is future-oriented, intuition is present. Anxiety worries about the future. It involves a lot of “what-ifs.” If your gut feeling about something is coming from a place that’s worried about what could happen or about a possible future outcome, it could be stemming from anxiety instead of intuition. Intuition usually stays present. It focuses on the moment at hand and tells you how to process it. It takes what’s happening in the ‘here and now,’ and assesses the current situation as it presents itself.
  2. Anxiety is reactive, intuition is realistic. Is there something being triggered? Anxiety can be a learned reaction to a situation rather than a gut feeling. It can come from places that don’t apply to what’s actually going on. It can be brought to the surface by reminders of past events, or indicators of something you fear. Intuition has a more realistic perspective. It isn’t heavily influenced by things of the past, though it may call upon things that you have learned before and ask you to remember those things. It isn’t irrational. It’s practical. It’s grounded. It is pragmatic instead of theoretical.
  3. Anxiety demands attention, intuition wants you to tap in. Your sense of urgency is an indicator of anxiety vs. intuition. How intense is the feeling? Generally, intuition is usually pretty subtle. It wants you to pay attention but doesn’t scream at you to do so. Anxiety is loud. Anxiety is riddled with panic, and thus it can take over in a frenzied and demanding way. Intuition wills you to take a closer look. It doesn’t approach you as a panicked voice. It says, “Hey, notice this. Pay attention.”
  4. Anxiety makes you feel nervous, intuition feels confident. As a fear-based emotion, anxiety will make you feel nervous and unsure. While intuition can make you feel nervous and unsure as well, it’s more so telling you that you’re in a bad situation and need to leave, confidently, than it is telling you that you need to freak out. Anxiety comes as disorganized thoughts. It shakes your nerves in a way that doesn’t feel right. Intuition usually knows what it’s talking about.
  5. Anxiety feels physically different from intuition. Pay attention to the physical symptoms you experience. While both anxiety and intuition can feel uncomfortable based on the situation, anxiety has more specific negative sensory feelings than intuition does. Oftentimes, we will experience both feelings in our chest. Tightening, heart racing, etc. can be effects of either your anxiety or your intuition. However, anxiety can feel more like an ailment than a physical indicator. Anxiety is usually spiraling. By that I can mean: thoughts racing, physical symptoms getting increasingly worse, breath worsening, circulation decreasing, etc. And, usually, your thoughts and your physical symptoms are negatively affecting one another – worsening each other. Intuition can often speak to us in similar somatic ways, but it feels much less out of control.
  6. Anxiety feels isolated, intuition feels connected. Anxiety is a very lonely and isolating feeling. It tells you to pull away and retreat. It can make you feel detached, alone, or sequestered. Intuition is connected to source energy. It comes from direct access to unconscious knowledge – whether you believe that to be derived internally or divinely (or both at the same time!). Ultimately, it feels in alignment. It feels connected, not attached.
  7. Anxiety is directionless, intuition knows what to do.  What do you sense is your call to action? Intuition tends to be more action-oriented. If you are about to cross the road and a car is coming, your panicked thought will say, “Oh my god, a car!” Intuition would sound more like, “Move to the left.” Your intuition may not have all the answers, but it will nudge you in a certain direction because it knows in which direction you need to be nudged. Anxiety often doesn’t know what to do about a situation. Rather, it panics and yells at you without any knowledge of what needs to be fixed or how to fix it. If your instinct feels faltering, it may actually be anxiety.
  8. Anxiety lingers, intuition speaks to you when it needs to.  What does the timing look like when it comes to this feeling? Is it a lingering thought that spills into many events in your life? Is it something that you fear irrationally, that comes up often? While intuition might continuously call to you, it isn’t something that festers in your brain. As previously mentioned, it stays pretty present. It doesn’t pop up out of nowhere, and only comes to you when it needs you to hear it. If you have an instinctual thought about something, it’s not going to stick with you for days on end (unless you are subjecting yourself to the situation that it may be speaking to you about for days on end). Anxiety can linger with you and creep into your thoughts unprovoked. Intuition will appear only at the right time.
  9. Anxiety evokes fear, intuition brings awareness. What emotion comes along with this instinct? Are you worried? Afraid? Anxiety is derived from fear, and thus it evokes more fear. An anxious reaction to something usually stems from learned behavior and teaches you nothing. Intuition is there to bring you new knowledge and increased awareness. It brings light to a situation, rather than calling upon darkness from the past.
  10. Anxiety tells you to stop, intuition urges you to go. A difference between anxiety and intuition is like stop/go. It can be as easy to identify as the way it speaks to you. Anxiety might tell you, “Stop bothering him,” while intuition would rather say, “Move on with your day.” Intuition is less of a halting demand and more of a supportive inner voice.
I am a 26 year old writer living in Milwaukee, WI. Virgo, wine-drinker, lover of bad dancing. Insanity and getting into trouble are my fortes aside from writing.