For most of my life, I have struggled to decipher between promptings from the Spirit and my own thoughts or worries. After sharing my frustrations with friends, family, and bishops, I realized two things: 1) I was not the only member of the Church who struggled with this and 2) There were not many solutions.
We know the Holy Ghost speaks to us through feelings, so how can we tell which emotions are sent from God? Galatians 5:22-23 says:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
The Holy Ghost is commonly known as the still small voice. Most of the time, the feelings of the Holy Ghost are gentle and warm, as listed above. But what about when you need an answer to a stressful life decision, like who to marry or which job opportunity to pursue? When I am faced with big decisions, my anxiety kicks in. I overthink and worry about the outcome of each choice, making it hard to hear what the Spirit is trying to tell me.
Difference Between the Spirit and Anxiety
First, let’s note what the roles of the Spirit are. The Holy Ghost teaches us truths and fills us with love, hope, and comfort. The feelings of the Spirit are not always positive though. The Holy Ghost is also capable of warning us of physical and spiritual danger. Because of this belief, I have confused the feelings of spiritual warnings and the feelings of my own anxieties. But we have to remember how the Holy Ghost communicates to us versus how anxiety feels:
Anxiety feels tight, constricting, and intrusive. The Holy Ghost feels calm, assuring, and relaxed.
Anxiety is a constant What if? The Holy Ghost provides a moment of knowing.
Anxiety is generalized. The Holy Ghost is specific.
Anxiety brings pressure and fear. The Holy Ghost provides clarification and warning.
Psychologist Debra Theobald McClendon Ph.D. created the chart below to provide insights on how to distinguish between anxiety and the Spirit. I have found it to be extremely helpful during my times of worry.
One thing that has helped me in recognizing the Holy Ghost versus my own thoughts is noticing my physical reactions to both anxieties and to spiritual promptings. When I feel anxiety, my heart begins to race, my hands get sweaty, and my leg shakes.
The Holy Ghost does not communicate to us in that manner. The Spirit does not shake and is not aggressive but is soft and quiet. When I feel the Spirit, I get chills and I feel peace in my heart. Knowing how I physically react to both helps me understand in moments of questioning what is the Holy Ghost and what is my own fear.
Many people struggle with deciphering between the Spirit and their own thoughts. But when you understand the fundamentals of what the Spirit feels like and what its role is, knowing the difference between the two becomes easier.