When you don’t feel like yourself

So last week I talked about identity and how it shapes our actions; the way we define ourselves will determine the way we act and assist in developing our character. When our actions don’t match our internalised self-image, it causes distress and anxiety because we innately desire and feel a deep need for consistency.

This week I wanted to share some thoughts on how to cope when you don’t feel like yourself for any and all reasons, partly because it flows on from last week but also because I’ve been challenged with this myself in the past few days.

There will come some times in life where we just don’t feel comfortable about ourselves. This may be insecurity or anxiety that seemingly comes from nowhere, it may be an effect of medications, lack of sleep, it may arise when we are in unfamiliar circumstances or social settings outside of our personal preference. It is not good to dwell in this state for long; it is important to get back to feeling like yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean your anxiety will go away completely and you will be totally comfortable again but you will at least feel as is you have more control over yourself.

What worked for me this week was firstly confiding in someone that I felt wrong. In my case, I could pinpoint the reason for my conflict which was my recent surgery and the medication I was subsequently taking. I was drowsy, distracted and irritable – this was a recognised and predictable side-effect of my treatment. If I was less sure of what was causing my distress, telling another person may have been more difficult or simply not helpful. This would change from case to case, but in my experience, putting what I was feeling into words and explaining to a friend why I have been acting out of the ordinary was helpful.

Then, once I knew what was causing my troubles and could place a label on it, I was able to begin planning how to deal with it. These side effects were probably going to be around for a while, so I needed a way to feel like myself despite the situation. For this, I went way back to basics. I thought about the things I enjoyed and made an effort to do things that were ‘normal’ to me. Doing these things was consistent with who I felt I was ‘normally’, so it made me feel more like myself. I made a point of getting up and dressed in my normal way even when I wasn’t going anywhere. I listened to my favourite music, checked things off my to-do list, talked to my friends… basically I didn’t allow myself to be idle for long so as to not allow negative thoughts the chance to enter.

Now I must confess, this probably wasn’t the best strategy for me to use because I tired myself out. While it was helpful for me to do these ‘normal’ things and I felt happier overall, I admit I overdid it. I ended up exhausting myself even more. I was trying to live as if everything was regular and I did not account for the fact that I needed time to recover. It actually made me take a step further backwards – I became more irritable and intolerant of others and myself, I certainly didn’t like the way I was acting and there was still an underlying feeling of denial and discomfort. However, when I learned how to balance rest and activity, things improved dramatically. Once I figured out how to maintain my ‘normal’ activities while still taking care of myself, I felt so much better!

So how would I sum up this in some simple points of advice? First, try to work out what is causing you to feel unlike yourself. Tell someone you trust how you’re feeling, and/or how you aren’t feeling. Then practise doing things that match your ‘normal’ self. Going through the familiar motions will help you to rematch your identity with your actions and drive you back to consistency. Don’t try to pretend things are no different, but make adjustments so that you can still achieve consistency with your actions and self image.

Stay safe,

Stephanie

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