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What is "Normal" When it Comes to Emotions?

By: Kari Mika-Lude

Q: What is "normal" when it comes to emotions?  How will I know if I actually have a problem?

The dictionary defines normal as "conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected".  But who determines what is standard, usual, typical, or expected?  Society, I suppose... which makes "normal" a matter of opinion.  

What I will say is that the human experience brings with it a variety of emotions.  When you really break it down, emotions - even the ones that don't feel so great - serve a purpose.  For one thing, they provide feedback about what's going on around us and help us navigate through our day-to-day lives and potentially hazardous situations.  If you've ever gotten that prickly feeling on the back of your neck or that fluttering in your chest, then you've had an emotional response (fear) that told you something wasn't right (danger?) and to get the heck outta there!  

Emotions also help us communicate with each other (because a whopping 70% of our communication is nonverbal,  meaning our facial expressions, body language, and gestures constitute the majority of what we "say" to others).  For example, when we smile at someone, we are showing approval.  When we cry, we let others know that we're hurting.

So is feeling more than just happy and calm "normal"?  Yes.  Okay, then how do you know when it's time to seek some help?  Well, that kind of depends on the impact it's having on your life.  We call this "clinically significant impairment or distress".  In simple terms: Whatever it is - anxiety, depression, substance use, etc. - is getting in the way at home, at work or school, in your relationships, and so on.  Yes, it's "normal" for a person to feel down every once in a while or anxious about certain things.  But if you are feeling like that more often than not, and it's getting in the way of doing the things you need to do, that's pretty significant, and it may be a good idea to talk to someone about it.

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