Listen to your gut.
When a client of mine, Amanda*, got in touch with me, she’d been experiencing anxiety in her yearlong relationship pretty much since it began. At rst, she put it down to new relationship jitters and not being used to dating such a nice guy. After a while, she blamed it on her ‘baggage’; intolerance and being ‘too sensitive’. But, as is the way when we dismiss our feelings, the anxiety kept niggling and building. Next thing, it was keeping her awake at night.
Whether we realise it or not, many of us feel anxiety every day and in many di erent contexts. But in order to react to it correctly, we need to know whether the anxiety is due to past issues, our insecurities, or our intuition trying to alert us to something. It’s one of life’s ongoing challenges, and Amanda did what we often do in these situations: she rationalised her anxiety so much that she missed the wood for the trees.
We tend to see anxiety as a negative trait, believing that the fact we’re anxious makes us wrong or our thinking faulty. But what we should be doing is acknowledging that our body is trying to communicate something. It’s letting us know that we need to be careful, based on past pain, fear and guilt – or that we don’t have faith in ourselves. Or both.
The reason Amanda was anxious for the entire relationship is that she told herself that she shouldn’t feel anxious; that her partner was ‘nice’, educated and fun and that, relative to past relationships, this one was ‘better’. She talked herself out of her feelings because the relationship looked good on paper. It was as if there had to be something drastic to pin her feelings on for them to be justi ed. In the absence of that, she overlooked the obvious: her anxiety was communicating that she was in the wrong relationship. Her emotional state was the evidence she needed to take action. She didn’t understand it, but her body did.
Anxiety wants our reassurance, and where needed, our action. This means that we’ve either got to do something that demonstrates to it that we are OK, or we’ve got to remedy the situation. We also have to take care of ourselves, so that anxiety can do a better job of alerting us.
What often happens instead is that we freeze. Analysis paralysis sets in. We want to think everything out to the nth degree because we’re afraid of getting things wrong. It creates a Catch 22 situation: we struggle to listen to and trust ourselves, but also don’t feel entirely safe in trusting the other party. One of the handiest things I’ve learned through listening to myself and teaching others to do the same, is that intuition is only concerned with what is. Unlike ego, fear and criticism, it’s not trying to prepare you for what will happen in 2099, nor is it concerned with the past or power trips like winning and being right. Intuition is about now.
When we fail to listen to our intuition, or to act in a particular area, anxiety is the body’s way of telling us. The best thing that anxiety ever did for me came in the form of a panic attack. As horrendous as it was, it forced me to acknowledge the accumulation of missed messages from my intuition. It was a massive wake-up call, and nally got me to take action.
Throughout our lives we’ll experience getting what we want (or what others want for us) and having to act on the realisation that it’s not right for us. This is why I hear from so many people who nally land the ‘perfect job’ or achieve what they thought was their dream, only to be besieged by unexpected emotions that convey that this isn’t the path for them. They feel like they should be happy, that they should be able to make it work.
That’s not to say we should always take anxiety purely at face value, but we do need to see it as an ally doing its best to alert us to something about an aspect of our life. Hating ourselves for experiencing anxiety will only tighten its grip, not least because we will respond in less-than-supportive ways. By rst accepting that this is how we feel, we have an opportunity to assess why. We can address underlying causes so we can talk and act ourselves out of the wave of emotions, or come to understand the current nature of our life. It might require us to get uncomfortable, to make changes that y in the face of the ‘shoulds’, but inner peace is on the other side.
Our intuition won’t always tell us what we want to hear, but it always has our back. When we cultivate a more mindful relationship with it, we gather the intelligence we need to understand our emotions. By basing ourselves in the present, we can acknowledge insecurities and past experiences – and respond in the now. The more we do this, the less we will be held hostage by it or be confused by its presence. We’re never going to be best friends with anxiety, but we can treat it as a friendly nudge to take care of us.
“We have to take care of ourselves, so that anxiety can do a better job of alerting us”
NATALIE LUE has been writing her blog www.baggagereclaim.com for 12 years and is the author of five books aimed at helping people-pleasers and overachievers to break unhealthy relationship patterns and harmful habits. Follow her on Insta @natlue