Are you listening to your gut or your anxiety?


Episode #111 – What’s the difference between intuition, instincts, and anxiety?

Also, How to get your reluctant teen to see a therapist.

Question of the Day: 

Dear Torie, I think my teen has anxiety but she doesn’t know it. She’s afraid to learn to drive. She gets herself all worked up about going out with friends to dances or parties. She thinks it’s her intuition telling her that something bad is going to happen and that she needs to listen to it. I don’t think it’s intuition, I think it’s anxiety. I remember you explaining how to tell the difference between instincts, intuition and anxiety. Can you remind me so I can explain it to her? Also, how do you convince a resistant teenager to see a therapist or life coach? Thanks! Tia

Parent Educator Answer: Is it my intuition, my anxiety or just a bad burrito?

As a kid growing up, it used to bug me when people said “follow your gut” or “listen to your intuition”. I was a very literal kid so this made no sense to me. If I feel a sensation in my stomach, how am I supposed to know if this is my inner wisdom, anxiety or just a bad burrito? When I became a mom, the talk about “mother’s intuition” really drove me nuts. I thought it was absolute B.S. My brain was in a high state of anxiety, constantly on guard, waiting for something bad to happen. I had no instincts or intuition, I wanted RULES. Concrete steps I could take to ensure nothing bad would happen to my baby. Life coaching helped me calm down my anxiety and understand what instincts and intuition were all about. It’s important to me that people understand the difference so they don’t use it as a weapon against themselves. When we believe our anxieties are inner guidance, it adds a layer of self betrayal and robs us of our innate ability to trust ourselves. Instincts– a natural or intuitive way of acting or thinking. An innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli. Intuition- The ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. A thing one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning. Anxiety– a feeling of fear, dread or uneasiness. Anxiety is very loud inside our heads and hard to ignore. When our imagination pictures bad things happening in the future, our bodies react as though there is a real and immediate threat. For example, if you think about going to a party and you imagine being stuck in a loud and crowded environment, wanting to leave but not being able to, your heart rate will increase, you will start sweating, and you will have a strong desire to stay home. If you imagine a very relaxing party environment with wonderful people who make you feel at ease, your body may go into a relaxation response. Only in a relaxed state do people have access to their intuition. Intuition is a calm knowing that can come in as a voice in the head, a dream, a symbolic image or a feeling in the gut. Intuition has a detached quality to it. It doesn’t come from the mind, in fact, there is no thought trail. For example, I remember a mom who was driving her 4 year old son to a pool party. On the way there, the word drowning came into her awareness. She thought, “That’s weird, I wasn’t even thinking about drowning.” She immediately dismissed it without a second thought….until an hour later when she looked over at her 4 year old struggling underwater. She got him up to safety and THEN became fascinated with understanding more about intuition. With anxiety, you can look back in your mind and see what led you to your scary image and thought. With intuition, it comes from nowhere and is always communicated peacefully with neutral detachment. Anxiety likes high drama. Human brains aren’t likely to worry about minor fender benders, our brains like to imagine horrible catastrophic things like driving off a bridge or killing a child in a crosswalk. Anxiety is more likely to latch on to horrific things that have a low chance of occurrence. When my son went to sleepaway summer camp for the first time, I was CONVINCED he would be attacked by a bear. Every part of my fight/flight response was in high gear. It took a lot of effort on my part to fight against this belief and let him go anyway. There was no room to worry about more realistic problems because my anxious brain had taken over with horrific images of bear attacks. Anxiety doesn’t waste energy on minor problems like poison oak or homesickness when it can conjure up dramatic life or death scenarios. So, in a nutshell, anxiety lies. Intuition is a calm knowing (not thinking), that comes out of nowhere (not your brain), that is easy to talk yourself out of and has no thought trail. Anxiety is thoughts and pictures in your mind that evoke a fear response in the body. Anxiety is hard to ignore and only goes away if you avoid the activity your brain thinks is scary. You can look back in your mind and find the thought trail. A bad burrito is also hard to ignore, but will last the same amount of time whether you go to the party or not. So, I think Tia is right. It sounds like her daughter has some anxiety but thinks it’s her intuition talking to her.  

Life Coaching Answer: Convincing a resistant teen to go to therapy.

  1. Make it a normal family activity.
  2. Live by example.
  3. Watch reality TV together.
  4. Be judgmental of people who refuse to grow.
  5. Make it an expected part of your teen’s future.
  6. Use your calm, leadership energy. Give choices.
  7. Make it a reward, not a punishment.
  8. Get them to talk about their future goals.
  9. Ask her if she knows anyone who talks about seeing a therapist or a life coach.
What gets in our way from following through on this list is our own Supermom tendencies! “If I was a good mom, my daughter wouldn’t have anxiety” “I should be able to help her with this.” “If she’s depressed it means I have failed.” “I’ve given her everything so she shouldn’t have these issues!” “What does she have to be anxious about, all he does is lie around all day.” “I figured it out, why can’t she?” “It’s my fault, I should have been a better mom.” These are just a few of the thoughts that can keep parents from being able to talk about therapy and coaching from a positive place. If any of these sound familiar or these The main thing is to show your teen that you are friend, not foe. Her walls will go up if she doesn’t think you are on her side, so convincing her that you are her ally is step one. If you find it hard to talk about therapy or coaching in a positive way, find someone to help you explore your bias and uncover any subconscious resistance.  

Supermom Kryptonite – Narrow objective focus

From the time we start school, we are taught to focus our attention on the teacher, the blackboard, the words in the book. The kids who are great at narrow focus get rewarded. They get their work done quickly, absorb information, and breeze through standardized tests. Our culture has learned to associate a narrow focus with success. However, narrow focus also causes stress and anxiety. If you’ve ever caught yourself “doomscrolling” through your social media, going down a rabbit hole of stress, looking for bad things happening, you’ll know what I mean. When a forest fire was threatening our home, I watched the social media reports two times a day. Checking the latest updates, texting the neighbors, and feeling the stress of a situation I had no power to control. If you are trying to convince your teen to go to therapy from a narrow focus, it will not work. Narrow focus keeps our brains in a beta brain wave state. Great for getting things done, not great for motivating resistant teenagers. This is an emergency mode that should be used if your kid is running into oncoming traffic but not when you want them to be open minded and receptive to a new experience. If you walk through your house with a narrow focus, your eyes will dart from one chore to another. “I’ve got to get dinner started, the clothes need to be folded, why is this family room messy again, can’t the kids pick up their stuff…” This narrow focus brain causes you stress and makes your family not want to be around you. With the introduction of ipads into the hands of toddlers, kids are spending massive amounts of time in narrow focus before they even begin school. I suggest parents, kids and teens, understand the value of the open focus brain and start prioritizing it’s practice. Right now, pick an object to focus your attention on. Stare at it intensely like a predator stalking its prey. Now gently keep your gaze on that object as you become aware of the periphery of your vision. Let all the peripheral and background objects come into the foreground, focusing on everything equally. You might start to notice that your breathing slows down and you feel a little calmer than before. If we were watching your brain on an EEG machine, we might see you switching from beta to alpha brain state.  

Supermom Power Boost – Open Focus Brain

The Open Focus Brain book by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins teaches readers to “Harness the power of attention to heal the mind and body.” An open focus brain shifts your awareness to the spaces in between things. It’s what artists do when they are drawing, they are paying attention to the spaces in between. It’s what basketball coaches teach their players to do. Have soft eyes, see the whole court, so you can anticipate what’s about to happen. Having an open focus shifts your brain into alpha brain wave state. Why do so many people enjoy an expansive view, a sunset, or stargazing? Could it be that our eyes have shifted into an open focus and universally we all enjoy that brain state? You cannot make your kids shift their gaze from narrow to open, but you can try not to interrupt when you catch them staring into space. When they get into the car after a long day of school, you might be hungry to reconnect but they might be zoning out because it’s the best possible thing for them to do after a day of focused attention. When you see your kids staring out the window, zoned out (but not into a phone which is narrow focus), consider it sacred time. Think of it as a bubble bath for the brain: healthy, restorative and therapeutic. Let’s try another exercise to help you shift into open focus. First, pick an object to stare at instantly with narrow focus. Listen to the most dominant sound you can hear and really pay attention to it. Let it get louder and fill your awareness. Then, release your focused gaze and tune in your peripheral vision. Diffuse your gaze, soften and stare into space. Notice all the sounds you can hear. Nearby sounds like a hum of the heater or a barking dog, as well as far away sounds like wind in the trees or freeway noise. Hold all the sounds you can hear in your awareness at the same time. Then, tune in to the silence between the sounds. Even in a very noisy environment, there is also silence. Like words written on a page, become aware of the page or the silence underneath the sounds. Hold all sounds things in your awareness at the same time. The way we pay attention, whether narrow and rigid or soft, open, and flexible, is the biggest determiner of well-being because it shifts our brain state. Using open focus techniques to shift into a synchronous alpha brain state will help you calm down and relax. When YOU are in a relaxed state, your kids are more able to hear what you have to say. When they pick up on your relaxed alpha brain state, it sets them up to be open to new experiences. The benefits of open, diffused focus is that it reduces stress and makes it easier to play, rest and engage with others socially. It reduces physical pain, anxiety and depression while increasing focus, creativity and well being.  

Quote of the Day:

“Practice following your intuition in everyday things, trusting your gut feelings moment by moment and acting on the them the best you can. As you learn to trust yourself in small matters, you will build power and confidence to build bigger risks and deal with the larger issues in your life successfully.” Shakti Gawain

10 Powerful Questions

5 Questions every morning to give you clarity and intention.
5 Questions every evening to give you satisfaction and gratitude.

This is the best way to get you in the driver’s seat of your life.

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