You know what they say: Trust your instincts. That “gut feeling” can be incredibly valuable when you’re trying to make an important decision — think accepting a new job, moving to a new city, or trying to figure out if someone you’re dating is “the one.”
A gut feeling can also help you separate fact from fiction. You know that feeling you get when someone tells you one thing, but you just know they’re not telling the truth? That’s your gut talking to you. And it’s important not to ignore it.
But for the 40 million adults in the United States who suffer from anxiety, trusting our intuition is easier said than done. Whether it’s reading too far into an email from a boss, worrying about a medical issue, or constantly thinking through worst case scenarios, anxious people have a hard time knowing what their gut is telling them, or if it’s telling them anything at all.
So, how can you cut through the noise and actually listen to your gut when you struggle with anxiety? Here are a few tips to help you get started.
If you’re anxious, you probably don’t exactly find meditation and the process of “quieting your mind” easy. But doing your best to learn to meditate can be worth it, because it can help gain a greater understanding of what’s actually happening instead of listening to the story you’re telling yourself. Need a little help getting started? Give these apps a try.
Write down what you know
Anxious people tell themselves a lot of stories, and often those stories aren’t rooted in facts. If you’re trying to tune into your instincts, take out your journal and write down what you know about a certain situation.
For example, imagine you’re worried about your significant other breaking up with you. Writing down facts like: “We’ve been together for three years,” “he told me he loved me yesterday,” “we have a great time together” — the list goes on — can help bring you back down to earth, and help you realize that everything’s OK. Or maybe it will help reveal something else that's important, and not rooted in irrational anxious thoughts.
Learn to make friends with your anxiety
It would be great if anxiety was something we could fully get rid of, but most anxious people will always live with some level of anxiety. The key is learning to befriend it, and then setting some healthy boundaries.
Skeptical? Here's how that works. When you feel anxiety starting to creep in, try talking to it (even if it’s just in your head), using a phrase like “I see you there, anxiety! Thanks for stopping by. I know you’re here because you want to protect me, but you’re not serving me right now, so I’m going to quickly show you the door.” The act of literally telling your anxiety to leave can help you tune into the truth and help you get a better handle on your gut instincts.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
While there’s an old saying that you should never go to bed angry, many mental health and relationships experts disagree with that statement.
Why? Because when we’re tired, we’re often our most wound up, least irrational selves — and things often look a lot more clear in the morning. So if your anxiety is stopping you from tuning in to your intuition, try getting a little more sleep. You’ll probably find that when you’re well-rested you’re a lot less anxious and have an easier time listening to your gut. And if you’re trying to get in touch with a specific gut instinct, try doing it first thing in the morning, before you’ve taken out your phone or done anything else.
Keep a worry list
This doesn’t work for everyone — in fact, some people find that when they list out their worries, it only makes them worry more! — but others find that the process of writing down their worries helps them worry less, simply because those worries are no longer only living inside their brain.
So if you find that your anxiety has made it so that you’re not able to listen to your gut, try writing out exactly what you’re worried about. This act may help you realize that you’re being irrational, or at the very least it might stop you from obsessing so much.
Remember, if you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone — and there’s actually a lot you can do to make living with it more bearable. Start with these journaling prompts for anxiety.