6 Instances When You Should Follow Your Instincts & Trust Your Gut

Have you ever had a moment where you suddenly felt your chest tighten and your hands go ice cold, even though there was no visible threat in your vicinity? Did you immediately remove yourself from the situation, or did you talk yourself out of what you were feeling and stay? If you stayed, did you later end up wishing you hadn't? No matter how intelligent and well-decorated humans have become, the fact remains that we are simply mammals at our core.


Most people readily accept the idea that animals have instincts and even look to them for protection (guard dog, anyone?). However, when it comes to the concept that people possess powerful instincts and intuition, scoffing abounds. There is no doubt that religious or societal beliefs, limiting personal beliefs, and modern life in general can dull your natural instincts. But that doesn't mean they no longer exist. You can teach yourself to recognize and follow your instincts again, and the following six scenarios are great places to start. 

Square peg, round hole

There are times in life when you find yourself surrounded by people and atmospheres that make you feel almost alien. Maybe you joined a sport or club in high school or college, only to find that the activity and culture surrounding it made you feel like you didn't fit in. Perhaps you landed your dream job right after graduation, only to discover that every hour spent in your new office felt like trying to force yourself to speak a foreign language and exist on a different planet.


Feeling constantly out of place, even if you can't pinpoint why, is a clear sign from your intuition that you need a change of scenery. Pay attention to how your body feels in every environment you frequent on a regular basis. If you feel calm and relaxed at home with your family, for instance, but tense, dysregulated, and isolated as soon as you arrive at work, listen to what your instincts are telling you about your job. 


The term "dread" is often used interchangeably with "fear." When you think of these two emotions in the context of horror movies and true crime podcasts, this makes sense. However, these feelings are not one and the same. Fear simply equates to the anxiety associated with being scared or even terrified. Dread implies a severe anticipatory anxiety and strong aversion to an event or stimuli that hasn't yet occurred. Many people experience dread without even realizing it since it isn't necessarily as acute as fear.


If you've ever sat in your car for 30 minutes after arriving home because you couldn't muster the effort to go inside and exist in the same space with your at-the-time partner, you've experienced instinctual dread. If you aren't aware of your own bodily sensations and what they mean, you could easily attribute the sinking feeling in your gut and the heaviness in your limbs to being tired, stressed, or even hormonal. If you get into the habit of trusting your instincts, you'll know it's much more than that. 

Fear or danger

Many women have reported incidents in which they experienced a sensation of fear that seemed to come out of nowhere just moments before discovering a potential danger. Whether your body is screaming at you to look behind you when you're walking at night or to dump out the drink you've been offered by a stranger at the bar, you should always listen. You carry within you 300,000 years of evolutionary survival instincts.


When it comes down to the decision between potentially embarrassing yourself and potentially putting yourself in harm's way, the right choice should be obvious. It only takes one incident of ignoring your instincts to find yourself in a situation that puts your safety, health, or even life at risk. The next time the hair on the back of your neck stands up, stop what you're doing, look around, and assess whether or not it's time to cut your activity short and get to safety. 

Pain or illness

It's no secret that women are undertreated when it comes to chronic pain and illness, as outlined by the AMA Journal of Ethics. Often, their complaints are dismissed by their loved ones and medical professionals alike as dramatic, emotional, mental, or even hysterical. This is particularly true when it comes to disorders unique to women, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, childbirth, or the insertion of birth control devices. When these societal attitudes are internalized, it becomes second nature to doubt yourself when you get the feeling that something is wrong.


When you experience an internal sensation that sets off alarm bells in your head, your instincts are speaking to you loudly and clearly. If your chronic headaches are unsettling to the point that you're convinced something isn't right, don't ignore what your intuition is telling you. If that means hounding your doctor for diagnostic testing or hunting down a new physician who's more open to your concerns, follow through. It could end up saving your life. 


Not all instincts are associated with fear, pain, discomfort, or survival. It's just as important to listen to your body about what feels good as it is to notice what feels off or threatening. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you're truly joyful, happy, and at ease, take note of how you feel. You might notice a sensation of cozy warmth in your chest and a soft lack of tension in the muscles of your neck and shoulders.


Once you know what peace and contentment feels like in your body, you'll be able to spot it in different settings. The same way being aware of your body can help you remove yourself from situations that feel isolating, draining, or dangerous, it can lead you to seek out more of what makes you feel happy and safe. All you have to do acknowledge your instincts and follow where they lead you. 


Have you felt inexplicably drawn to a particular subject, hobby, or career since childhood? Maybe you're an investment banker with no obvious creative talent to be found. Yet you've gravitated toward painting or drawing for years, watching others create art online or buying the work of local artists while secretly wishing you could pick up a brush or pen yourself. Perhaps you consider yourself traditional or even religious, but you've never been able to shake an occult interest like tarot cards or spirit boards.


When you feel magnetically drawn to a particular thing, especially persistently over a period of many years, your instincts are clearly letting you know that you need to explore the topic at hand. You may have a hidden talent you would never discover if you didn't stop to notice your intuition. Don't listen when your mind insists that your special interest is taboo or that you won't be good at it — the mind is where societally-influenced limiting beliefs live. Trust your instincts and set yourself free.