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5 Self-Care Tips I Wish I Knew in My 20s

Self-care isn’t always yoga and veganism, although I’m nearly 100% sure both those things work. Your 20s are busy, confusing and anxiety-inducing regardless of your relationship with your mental health.

My mentality used to be, “what’s the point? I am going to feel like this anyway no matter what I do, how healthy I eat, how much exercise I do, whether I keep my room tidy and if I get my eight hours sleep in.” Whoa, how that has changed.

Your 20s are strange. You’re not in school anymore, employment awaits and you are paving the way for your future, making really important decisions with a bit of a fuzzy head. Relationships are tested, and you feel as if your future really hangs in the balance of the next few life decisions you make.

I want to relay what I didn’t know then. I wish I had learned about self-care at school. I wish I’d been taught to look after my mind so I didn’t hit crisis so much, taught I can manage my mental health on a day-to-day basis without even knowing I was doing so and use self-care as a more permanent, second nature fix to ensure mental well being is at the forefront of your mind – teach it in schools!

I wish I’d know then what I know now and focused my energy on making sure my mind was OK before it wasn’t. But, a lesson learned is a lesson shared, right? Or something like that…

So, I’ve put together my top five self-care tips for living through your 20s and managing your overworked, tired brain – smaller, more manageable self-care which can be done without buying a yoga mat or buying every self-help book in the land.

1. Go out alone.

I know “alone” is the scariest word, but go with me on this. Go for a walk, go to a café (get a decaf) and read a book, sit in green spaces in the summer and read a trashy magazine or go walk around a museum (even if you’re not particularly interested in the content). I started doing this when I knew my mind would wander and I can’t even begin to tell you how much it has helped. Your mind is focused on something other than itself without you even realizing — it is absorbed in what direction you are walking, what you are reading, how nice the weather is, watching people pass by. Your focus has changed and when you do inevitably go home, your mind is calm and has much less space for intrusive thoughts.

Even if going out seems a million miles away, take it slow. Go for a five-minute walk against all will; the process of putting your shoes on, focusing on where you are going and getting back again is one of the biggest achievements you’ll gain today.

2. Have consistent and realistic phone breaks.

Everyone is addicted to their phones these days (sorry for sounding like your grandma) and the main thing I have taken from this is that it only confuses your brain and creates situations that aren’t necessarily there. We all know Instagram focuses on unrealistic attainment of beauty, but I’m talking about taking a break from everything: texts, calls, checking the weather. There is one exception – you can listen to music or a podcast, but you cannot go on your phone apart from to press “play.”

I use the walk or bus to work as my no-phone time, I put my phone in my bag and I read my book or listen to music. I do not check calls or texts and I manage absolutely fine. It sets me up for a good day at work with my phone out of my mind and when I check it at the end of the day that I haven’t missed anything, I haven’t aimlessly scrolled and I haven’t had an intrusive thought that my best friend is being off with me because they said “yeah” instead if “yeah, that’s fine babe xx” — in someone else’s mind, by the way, those two texts are exactly the same. When your day-to-day stress is heightened, a text you take the unintended way will only fill your day with dread. If I see that when I’m leaving work or when I’ve taken myself off my phone ban, I guarantee I won’t be feeling nearly half as bad as that. If I am watching TV on a night I often put my phone in my room, then when I come back to it, my mind is calm and hasn’t got caught up in all the negative things social media has to offer, I will approach my messages with a more rational mind.

3. Work.

Take your break away from your desk. Whether that be in the staff room, sat outside, sat in your car, sat in a meeting room – wherever, take yourself away from your work and have a break. You deserve it. Also, it’s disgusting to get crumbs on your keyboard. If you’re not working, take a lunch break anyway.

On my worst mental health days, I have been known to stay in bed all day, in the dark, go to the fridge to get a snack or a drink and go eat in bed. By all means go back to bed after your lunch, snack or whatever you can stomach, then sit and eat it on your sofa or your kitchen table. Take a meaningful break, whether that be 10 minutes or an hour. Get away from the thing that’s keeping you there, whether that’s your desk or your dressing gown – your mind deserves a little break. This also applies to hangovers. We all know, in your 20s, hangovers are anxiety-inducing days that cause paranoia and the thought of what your day could have been. Even if the only thing you do that day is taking a shower, go do it. That’s 10 minutes you’ve saved your brain.

4. Sleep.

Sleep is probably the thing that affects us the most when we’re feeling down or anxious. Thoughts come at night when your mind has nothing to focus on, then you can’t sleep, so you’re tired the next day which heightens your anxiety and then you nap in the day and can’t sleep at night again. It’s a vicious circle of sleep deprivation.

No sleep is depriving your brain of rest. If we didn’t rest our legs after a long run, they would cramp. Find something that works for you. If you need a nap in the day, set an alarm for 40 minutes. It helps me to breathe in for eight seconds and out for 11 seconds and keep my focus on that until I fall asleep. I used to get really stressed and restless when I couldn’t sleep and then cry and cry because I was so frustrated. I learned the simplest of breathing exercises and it changed my life.

Mental illness is exhausting; your brain is so overworked and thinking so fast all of the time. It will run out of fuel and it does need replenishing. I often think to myself, “what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t fall asleep tonight?” Then, I move to the other side of the bed – the change in position and changing your stress about how tired you’ll be to “what’s the worst can happen” has really been life changing for me and managing my sleep pattern. Find something that works for you; getting proper sleep is half the battle I never knew I needed to fight. I thought it was pointless because sleep wasn’t going to change my poor mental health. Oh, it does.

5. Laugh.

There will be something you find funny. A friend, a family member, a book, a TV show, a comic, a YouTube video — whatever it is, watch it, read it and speak to your funny friend. Every night, I try and end my night on something I find funny. I will text someone a private joke, watch a funny video or watch 15 minutes of “Friends” – whatever it is, no matter how tedious, how embarrassing you find it – just do it. Even if you’re not laughing out loud, just watch it with contentment.

At times, we drown in the significance of our thoughts, we beg our brains to stop overthinking, delving time and time again into the things we haven’t done yet. Stop for one minute and just laugh at something, anything. Everyone’s fight is different in the same way everyone has a different sense of humor, but in the same way that everyone can feel sadness, everyone can feel some joy, even if only temporary. I will you to find it. Find that one video you find hilarious and watch it every night until it gets old. Then find something else to laugh at and let yourself enjoy it. You don’t deserve to be fighting every second of every day. You deserve a break.

My 20s have been the biggest learning curve of my life. They have thrown me down, picked me back up, frightened me and inspired me to learn things I never knew about myself. They have inspired me to make bad decisions, to fight my demons, to learn to stand on my own as an adult, to learn that some character traits are endearing when I thought they were flaws and that the things I thought mattered really don’t.

I challenge you to practice self-care before you need it but know it’s OK to do it when you’ve reached crisis too. Give yourself the credit you deserve and know that nothing will ever replace the ups or the downs of your 20s. Don’t wish them away; they’re not all bad.

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash