75% of mental health issues begin by the age of 24
Your twenties are a time of changes and challenges, and making mental health a priority can be difficult
If you are struggling with day-to-day life, find a therapist here
Your twenties are strange. You’re not in school anymore, you're employed or looking for work, 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.
Your twenties 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, if I keep my room tidy and if I get my eight hours sleep in. But things have changed.
I want to relay what I didn’t know then. Self-care is something I wish I had learnt about at school. I wish I had been taught to look after my mind so I didn’t hit crisis so much, taught that 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 wellbeing is robust. I wish I’d known then what I know now and focussed my energy on making sure my mind was okay before it wasn’t.
Self-care isn’t always yoga and veganism, although I’m nearly 100% sure both those things work for many. Self-care can be a range of things, big and small.
I’ve put together my top five self-care tips for living through your twenties and managing your over-worked, 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 might be the scariest word but go with me on this. Go for a walk, go to a café (maybe get a decaf if you struggle with anxiety) and read a book, sit in green spaces in the summer and read a trashy magazine, go walk round 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 realising – it is absorbed in what direction you are walking, what you are reading, how nice the weather is, watching people pass by. Your focus changes 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 your biggest achievement today and you should feel proud of that. If not, try again tomorrow.
2) Take time away from screens
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 an unrealistic attainment of beauty and makes you believe you can lose three stone in a day by drinking a sip of protein every day (FACT CHECK – if you only have one drink of anything a day you will probably lose an unhealthy amount of weight) but I’m talking about taking 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 you check it at the end of the day you haven’t missed anything, you haven’t aimlessly scrolled and you haven’t had an intrusive thought that your best friend is being off with you because they said ‘yeah’ instead of ‘yeah that’s fine babe xx’.
3) At work – take your break
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 any way. 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/whatever you can stomach but sit and eat it on your sofa or your kitchen table. Take a meaningful break, whether that be ten minutes or an hour – your mind deserves a little break.
This also applies to hangovers. We all know in your twenties hangovers are anxiety-inducing days of our lives that cause paranoia and the thought of what your day could have been. Even if the only thing you do that day is have a shower, go do it. That’s ten minutes you’ve saved your brain.
Sleep is probably the thing that affects us the most when we’re feeling down or anxious. The thoughts come at night when your mind has nothing to focus on – then you can’t sleep and 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.
I used to get really stressed and restless when I couldn't sleep and then cry and cry because I was so frustrated, and then I learnt the simplest of breathing exercises and it changed my life. It helps me to breathe in for eight and out for 11 and keep my focus on that until I fall asleep. Mental health is exhausting, your brain is so overworked and thinking so fast, all of the time. It will run out of fuel and it needs replenishing – I often think to myself ‘what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t fall asleep tonight’ and move to the other side of the bed – the change in position of the bed and changing your stress about into how tired you’ll be to ‘what’s the worst can happen’ has really been life-changing for me. 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.
There will be something you find funny. A friend, a family member, a book, a TV programme, a comic, a YouTube video – whatever it is, watch it, read it, speak to your funny friend. Every night I try and end on something I find funny. I will text someone a private joke or watch that funny video of someone 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 in time and time again in 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 humour but in the same way everyone can feel sadness, everyone can feel some joy, even temporary joy in something and I will you to find it. Find that one video of someone falling off a camel that 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 twenties have been the biggest learning curve of my life. They have thrown me down, to pick me back up, to frighten me, to inspire me, to let me learn things I never knew about myself, 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, that the things I thought mattered really don’t. I challenge you to self-care before you need to but know it’s okay to do it when you’ve reached crisis too, to give yourself the credit you deserve and know that nothing will ever replace the ups or the downs of your twenties, so don’t wish them away, they’re not all bad.