Why It's Time to Boldly Own Your Normal
Maybe it’s all the Hallmark Christmas movies or the cheesy commercials, but the holidays always seem to come with pressure to fit the mold of “normal”—a crackling fire, a plethora of presents under the tree or near the menorah, two kids cheery and bright, a loving mom and dad, snow lightly falling outside. “Ahhhh, I love the holidays,” the dad says as he looks at his precious little family.
When I think of a “normal” holiday, that’s what pops up in my mind, at least. You might have a similar vision, or something slightly different (a cuddly pup thrown in, perhaps?)—but we can probably all tap into a stereotypical “normal” holiday season and how that’s supposed to look and feel.
And if we’re not living that commercial holiday dream, matching pajama sets included? It can make us feel some kind of way—like we’re not doing it right or something is wrong with us.
You’re not alone in not feeling “normal.”
It’s not just a holiday thing—the pressure to fit the norm exists all year round. And it’s human to compare ourselves to others. A major way we determine our own worth is through comparing ourselves to others, according to social comparison theory. Yes, social comparisons can help us grow—but they can also lead to feelings like envy and guilt.
The truth: We’re not all in nuclear families, we don’t all have the extra money to spend on special occasions, we might not even have the time off work to get together with the people we care about. You’re not alone in not feeling “normal.”
Here, four ways to help you own your normal in the face of pressure:
1. Recognize There’s No “Normal”
When the “normal” pressure starts to rear its ugly head, remember this: You create your own normal. Not the commercials. Not the top-liked Instagrams—you create what’s normal.
During the holidays, for example, your normal might involve not celebrating the holidays. Or maybe, it’s working on Christmas Eve so you can get presents under the tree on Christmas Day. Maybe it’s spending quality solo time with your cat. Take time to think of what normal looks like for you—and boldly accept it.
You create what’s normal.
“We are bombarded with external messages telling us how things ‘should be’ for our holidays,” Kurt Smith, Psy.D., writes for PsychCentral. “Keep yourself focused on what you like and on what the holidays mean to you.”
Try to create space for other people to define their own normal, too. When talking with co-workers, for example, don’t assume everyone has the funds for a big night out on New Year’s. Let others define their own normal.
2. Get Grateful For Your Normal
Gratitude helps us lessen the sting of social comparison and can make us less envious of others, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. “When you compare yourself to others rather than appreciate what you have, you’re not only expending more energy, but your self-esteem is left to hang in the balance of ‘who’s better,’” they explain.
If you find yourself playing the comparison game (thanks, Instagram!), try doing a quick gratitude exercise to show some love to your normal. Start a gratitude list and write down things you’re thankful for, from work you’re passionate about to spending time with someone you care about. It might sound cheesy, but it’s a proven mood booster that can help you shift your perspective.
3. Trust You Can Adjust to New Normals
Maybe you’re comfortable with your normal—but this year, it’s changed. Getting laid off, losing a family member, a big breakup—this holiday season could look completely different than the last. And going through the motions of your holiday traditions can make the change even more evident.
Know it’s OK if you don’t feel comfortable in your new normal ASAP. Change is abrupt—adjustment takes longer, according to Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.
Give yourself space to do what you need as you adjust. Maybe it’s changing up your typical plans, maybe it’s getting intentional about doing only certain things that bring you joy—your normal can change as needed.
4. It’s OK Not to Feel OK
One of the biggest norms forced on us during the holidays (and always): We should feel incredibly happy, all the time. But negative emotions, mental health issues, and stressful situations unfortunately don’t take vacations.
First: Know it’s OK not to feel OK, even during the holidays. Try to recognize your negative emotions and accept them—not fight them. Studies show that people who accept their negative emotions without rushing to change them or avoid them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.
A mindfulness exercise can also help you cope with the “I feel bad about feeling bad” vibes. And don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend—or an expert—for support if it feels tough.
Normal is yours to own—it’s yours to define, embrace, and adjust to, should it change. Whatever your normal, take pride in how it’s uniquely you.