What I Wish I'd Known about Self-Care in My Twenties

Monday, October 8, 2018


My college friend Tara is an established self-care coach & speaker who founded The Self-Care Suite, which "creates affirming spaces for women to flourish." She's also the founder and chief creative curator of The Bloom Beautifully Box, a self-care subscription box for women (currently on hiatus). In other words, Tara knows self-care.

Recently, she posed a question in the Facebook group she runs:
"I’m doing my first self-care workshop for young women (ages 19-22) this week and I am so excited to be spreading the gospel to women at the very beginning of their journey. Tell me: What do you wish you had known about self-care back in your early 20s?"
My response was long-winded & not posted in time to be of help to Tara. Still, it got me thinking, feeling, remembering - so I thought I'd share it with you here.

What do I wish I had know about self-care back in my early twenties?

I wish I had known & really internalized that self-care isn't just for older women, or career-established women, or women with kids. Self-care is for everyone - maybe especially twentysomethings, who are way more overworked & overwhelmed than the world seems to acknowledge.

We expect them to do everything, & to do it with enthusiasm, without recognizing the strains & stresses these expectations put on their fragile ability to balance it all. At that age, I was running myself ragged with work, school, side gigs, a social life, & trying to learn how to be an adult. I had more than one anxiety-induced meltdown that left me feeling completely useless & hopeless & horrible.

Two such memories stand out. In college, I quit my newspaper beat - the prestigious administrative beat, which had made me the senior-most non-editor reporter on staff, with regular access to the university president & other execs. There just weren't enough hours in the day, & I couldn't do it all without letting something fall behind - it was either my deadlines or my grades or my sanity. I beat myself up about quitting, sure that I was a failure & a disappointment who would never amount to anything. I was reassigned to a more flexible beat, but I was embarrassed to show my face in the newsroom around colleagues who seemed to be able to balance all so much better than I could.

In my second year of work, I was asked to travel on a whim to accompany the head of our company on a meeting with the ambassador to Israel. It was a huge responsibility, & I was honored - but I was also petrified. I had a ton of work on my plate in the office, & I didn't feel that I had the time to take this trip and complete my everyday work; I didn't think I would be given leeway on the latter, & I didn't feel as though I could ask for it. I remember this time so vividly because it was the first time I had a panic attack, though I didn't know what to call it.

I felt I was too young to "deserve" self-care or downtime or relaxation or a mental health break.

In my mind, self-care was for other people. I hadn't yet proven myself at work, hadn't worked enough hours, didn't have the excuse of being a mother or a wife, should've simply been able to handle it all by myself. I though that if I admitted that I needed a break or to take some time for myself, I would be chastised or looked down on or ridiculed, whether publicly or behind my back. I was certain it would hurt my career, my friendships, my professional relationships, & my social standing. Self-care seemed like a detriment, not a necessity.

In short, I thought I had to earn my keep in order to earn the right to rest from the pressures of daily life. 

Now, at 34, I know this is not true, & in retrospect, the way I treated myself in my early twenties is one of the main reason I focus so heavily on self-care & mental health today. I can very obviously see how the stress of daily life weighed on me & so negatively impacted my mental health when I was young - in a go-go-go mentality, an amped-up social life, never saying no to any opportunity or possibility, even when I was maxed out. I worked long, late hours; I ate dinner at work, usually Taco Bell or Chipotle; & when I did have free time, I spent it drinking with friends, not taking care of myself.

These days, there's nothing I value more than a "mental health day," be it a workday I'm taken as vacation or simply an unscheduled weekend to myself.

I understand the value of quiet time, just for me - in listening to my body & my mind & my emotions & figuring out what they need in order to operate at full capacity.

I see how health & wellness play into the whole self-care picture, how exercise & movement & healthy foods are related to my overall well-being.

I know that a pizza & a Netflix binge are, in themselves, not sufficient acts of self-care - except for the times when they are.

I see the maintenance of my friendships & other relationships as vital to my own ability to thrive & to feel supporter, loved, & surrounded.

I try not to feel guilty about needing more sleep than the average bear, especially since being diagnosed with a rare sleep disorder.

With all of this in mind, what would I, at 34, tell young women today who are struggling with self-care?

I hope young women today truly take in the lesson that self-care is for them, too - that they are deserving & worthy of mental, physical, & emotional health simply by virtue of existing.

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