Lis­ten to your gut.

In the Moment - - Contents -

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.bag­gagere­ 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

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