Intuition is an extremely powerful tool that often allows us to make good decisions or protect us from potential dangers. However, it does not always work, nor does it work for everyone. Anxious people, for example, feel often frustrated when they follow the indications of their intuition.
How can they trust their instincts if they often tell them that they are on the verge of death when it is just a panic attack? How can they trust their visceral reactions if they convince them that they have an incurable disease or that the plane they are about to take will crash?
Anxiety manifests itself through negative anticipatory thoughts and a sense of apprehension, as if something bad should happen at any moment, followed by intense vegetative reactions. In those cases it is difficult to pay attention to instinct.
Anxiety suffocates the instinct
A study developed at the Free University of Berlin, analyzed how anxiety affects intuition. These psychologists analyzed and compared intuitive skills in decision making.
Over a hundred participants were randomly assigned to three groups, in which different moods were induced with the help of sentences and images: anxiety, optimism and neutrality.
For example, to promote the feeling of optimism, one of the phrases said: “The affection of the people we love makes us feel particularly secure and confident. There is always someone who loves us” then the image of a young couple with a pet was shown smiling.
To generate anxiety were used phrases such as: “Security is not guaranteed, neither in the neighborhood or at home”, followed by the image of a man who holds the neck of a woman.
Participants then had to complete a questionnaire designed to assess their tendency to make intuitive decisions and analyze their effectiveness. It was thus found that a neutral or positive mood did not seem to influence intuition, but anxiety drastically reduced the ability to let oneself be carried away by instinct.
How does anxiety influence intuition?
Everything seems to indicate that anxiety makes us reluctant to take risks because it generates a more pessimistic state of mind and reinforces the feeling of insecurity, qualities that make us more likely to choose the alternative that we believe is safer, more routinary and not binding. In some cases, anxiety can even paralyze us, so we will not be able to make any decisions.
These psychologists explain that to use intuition in making decisions, it is imperative to trust ourselves. The problem is that anxiety takes away that trust, so we’re more likely to ignore the subtle emotional or physical signals that we usually classify as “insights”.
In fact, the physical signals that we normally assume as indicators of intuition, such as an accelerating heart rate or having butterflies in the stomach, for anxious people tend not to be anything but unpleasant psychosomatic symptoms.
Therefore, if you want your intuition to show you the right direction when you are at a crossroad, the first step is to learn to relax. Only in this way you will be able to listen to its message.
Remmers, C. & Zander, T. (2017) Why You Don’t See the Forest for the Trees When You Are Anxious: Anxiety Impairs Intuitive Decision Making. Clinical Psychological Science.