Not feeling your usual self can be a distressing experience. But finding your way back is possible.
There’s only one constant in life: change. Over time, certain things about you will shift, like your interests, habits, mood, and lifestyle.
But what about when you feel “off,” and you don’t know why? You might even look in the mirror and think, “Who is this person staring back at me? I just want to feel ‘normal’ again.”
“Normal is an overutilized term that tends to foster comparison in negative ways,” says Dr. Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. “Rather than striving to be normal, I strongly encourage my clients to focus on being authentic and balanced in their lives.”
“This shift reduces the pressure of being what others expect and increases personal freedom and agency, both of which may boost overall well-being,” she adds.
Not feeling like your usual self can be confusing, but with support, you can find your way back to “you” again.
“The possibility of stepping into a higher plane is quite real for everyone. It requires no force or effort or sacrifice. It involves little more than changing our ideas about what is normal.” — Deepak Chopra
The word “normal” typically refers to something that conforms to a standard or that’s usual and familiar in a specific context. But standards can vary according to culture, situation, and individuality.
What’s “normal” to you may not be for someone else. Your own experience and concept of “normality” may change depending on the situation. The concept can be difficult to grasp or follow if you consider it from other people’s perspectives.
If you’re feeling off, you may be perceiving changes within yourself. These could be in response to internal or external factors.
There are many potential reasons why you may not feel like your usual self.
Feeling “normal” is relative to yourself, not other people, explains Dr. Lindsay Israel, a psychiatrist in Lake Worth, Florida. “It refers to your usual or typical patterns; the patterns that go with your grain, not against it.”
It’s natural to feel different or off some days. But if you haven’t been feeling your usual self, there could be many reasons, including:
Symptoms of depression can involve changes in your thoughts, behavior, mood, and judgment that could lead you to feel different than you usually do, Israel says.
“For example, if you are someone who usually enjoys socializing and going out for dinner with friends after work, in a state of depression, you likely would turn down the offer to go out, feeling disinterested or down,” she explains.
“You may choose to isolate rather than socialize because you might be thinking that your co-workers don’t really want to be with you, or because your energy is so low you just want to go to bed,” she adds.
Sometimes, you may not be aware you’re living with depression. You may just feel different and not know why, which can be confusing.
Living with anxiety can frequently activate your fight, flight, or freeze response, which in turn can alter how you perceive the world around you.
Anxiety can result from and lead to using more cognitive distortions, which can cause you to feel fearful or threatened in situations that used to feel benign.
“Whereas before you would be relaxed and unintimidated by crowds, for example, with anxiety present you may feel overwhelmed and panicked, and feel the need to escape the crowd or avoid going out altogether,” explains Israel.
Grieving can take us away from our typical emotions, says Manly, author of “Joy from Fear.”
“Deep grief can create feelings of severe hopelessness and sadness that were never experienced prior to the loss,” says Manly. “Even if others are grieving at the same time around you, each individual experiences the loss in a profoundly unique way.”
Understandably, this can lead you to feel different, especially if you find it hard to connect with others right now, or if you’re experiencing prolonged grief disorder.
“As our society tends to be focused on being happy, those who are grieving often feel that their grief is negated or pushed aside by others. This can, unfortunately, make the grieving person feel very alone and unsupported,” she adds.
A traumatic experience can change your brain, impacting how you feel about yourself, others, and your environment.
In some cases, trauma can leave you numb or create a sense of depersonalization, in which you feel disconnected from the world around you and yourself.
You may not even be aware you’re experiencing trauma if, for example, you’re in denial. You may feel different and not know why.
Other factors that could lead you to feel you want to “be normal” again include:
- existential crisis
- menopause and other hormonal changes
- pandemic anxiety
- significant life changes (moving, divorce, becoming a parent)
- substance use withdrawal
- transitioning into adulthood
Getting back to “normal” is different for everyone. You may even want to explore if you want to go back to how things used to be.
If you’re living with a mental health condition, you may want to talk with a professional. As you work through your symptoms, your sense of being “off” may decrease with time.
If you’re feeling different for other reasons, such as significant life changes or existential exploration, you may benefit from self-awareness exercises and life coaching support.
In either case, working through this feeling is possible.
Consider a self-care routine
Depending on why you’re not feeling like yourself, you may have a challenging time keeping up with balanced eating, exercise, and sleep, says Manly.
“In order to heal and find yourself again, it’s essential to foster healthy, basic habits that support mental and physical health,” she advises.
This could include:
- connecting with friends and family
- practicing self-compassion
- eating nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods (if accessible)
- meditation practice
- regular exercise
- sleeping 7 to 9 hours a night
- spending time in nature
- engaging in self-soothing and grounding exercises
Try reflective activities
If possible, try to incorporate some activities that allow you to experience quiet moments and go inward, such as journaling or creating art, even if it feels uncomfortable at first.
“Running away or avoiding difficult feelings just pushes them off for now. It can be painful to grieve, for example, but it is a necessary process,” says Jessica Myszak, a psychologist in Glenview, Illinois.
“It can be helpful for people to take some time to really feel and connect with their emotions. Spending time doing the things that are comfortable for you can give you the space to do this,” she adds.
Reach out for support
You don’t have to do this all by yourself. It can be helpful to talk with a therapist to better understand and work through your feelings.
“A good therapist can provide a listening ear but also help you notice patterns which may not be helping you. They can also guide you in ways to make small changes to enhance your well-being,” says Myszak.
Asking for help or a listening ear from a trusted person might also help you explore your emotions and thoughts. It could also assist in reconnecting with some aspects of yourself.
A support group could help
Others can relate to what you’re going through. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) might offer a support group in your area.
If you’re navigating grief, your local hospice chapter may have in-person or online support groups as well.
There are many reasons you may not feel like yourself right now. It’s natural to want to “feel normal again” if you live with a mental health condition or face a significant life change.
To work on this “off” feeling, you may find it helpful to build a self-care routine, try reflective activities, and work with a mental health professional.
As you heal, try not to compare your version of “normal” to anyone else’s. You might even want to reassess your understanding of “normal.”
“It is really easy to think that everyone else has it together, but you never really know what other people are experiencing in their lives,” says Myszak.
“What works for one person very well may not be what’s best for another. Rather than aspiring to things that you see on social media, for example, recognize what feels right to you,” she adds.
You may also want to embrace change. You may be different than you used to be, but this doesn’t have to have a negative connotation unless you’re experiencing significant distress. In this case, this feeling can be managed, and you can find your way back.