I heard the words “being a teenager is hard” a lot as a teen from the sympathetic adults in my life. I didn’t find it hard being a teenager per se. I found it hard being a person. All of my problems, fears and worries revolved around feeling uncertain about my worth, my body and my path through life. I wanted friends so I didn’t feel alone in the world. I wanted a boyfriend so I felt validated; it was a status symbol, but it was also confirmation that someone could want me. I wanted a magic ball to prophesies my future so I could relax and know it all works out. Fundamentally, I didn’t want to feel lost and alone in the world.
You may not always know exactly what you need at any given time, but either way, if you are feeling lost, it is fundamental that you protect your health and well-being while you rebalance and find a way forward. Although I wrote this for my teenage self, I probably could have done with all of this advice throughout my twenties too. These are the things that I wish I could relay and discuss with my teenage self:
- Be kind to yourself
I still struggle with putting this advice into practice, but I am improving. I can be very cruel to myself. I have said every hateful thing under the sun to myself in my own mind. It is neither productive nor is it healthy. If you wouldn’t be so unkind to another human being or creature, why be so cruel to yourself? Honestly, I do not do it consciously. It’s something I am working on in my personal mental health journey. Seeking professional help is a great thing, but for the times when it is just you and your head, please try to remember to be kind to yourself. I didn’t hear those words until the age of 26, but they stuck and I think about them at least once a day now.
- Exercise for you
I resented PE as a teenager because I felt constantly compared to thinner, fitter, (in my opinion) prettier girls than me. It was the teacher’s way of trying to trigger some competitive instinct, but all it did was make me feel I lacked.
As an adult, I downloaded the Coach To 5K app (I didn’t tell anyone) and secretly started working myself up to a 5k run (my first fortnight of trying I could only do 30-second bursts before dying in a sweat puddle on the pavement and freaking myself out about my asthma.) I lost several stone, managed to run 5k with no breaks in half an hour on the dot, and I had never felt so genuinely proud of myself. I couldn’t have done it without the app, it suited my need for solitude with guidance. It also led me on to other fitness challenges, such as the Kayla Itsines BBG programme (prepare for your legs to not work) and eventually led me to daily yoga.
I am not you. You need to discover what fits your own needs and work out at your own pace. Maybe you feel more comfortable blending into a group, or actively cheering other people on during workout classes. I do advise that you, in your own time, look into it though. The health benefits are enormous, the satisfaction is wonderful, and the routine is soothing.
Fun fact: my bad-day song is Ariana Grande’s “Breathin’” because the beat reminds me of walking, and walking reminds me of the “head-down, keep going” mentality I slip into during tough hikes.
Breathing is fundamental to our existence; it is also an excellent tool for surviving emotionally. Anxiety can be life-long. It can be triggered by anything and everything, and it can be terrifying. I have experienced it since the age of fifteen, and it sucks.
Learning deep breathing practices is a powerful tool for relieving yourself of stress, overwhelming emotions, pain and suffering. Although I absolutely believe that everybody should have a therapist to open up to, the art of breathing is something you can do for yourself that will stand you in good stead for life.
- Clean space, clean mind
I cannot concentrate in untidy spaces. As a teenager, I was permanently groggy and my mum put it down to being a forever-sleepy teenager. Now I am ninety percent sure it was due to the appalling state of my bedroom. I fought my parents constantly over it as well, adamant that I knew where everything was on my “floordrobe” and how I didn’t feel the same about “empty” spaces as they did. Now, I clean when I’m sad to make myself feel better. I clean when I need to think about important decisions. I feel an absolute calm wash over me when I smell Method’s All Purpose Antibacterial spray or the pine and sage bleach that I wish they made candles of (minus the bleach). I promise you, there is something to be said for minimalism and clean spaces. I also include this because pollen and dust are very bad for you. Your skin, lungs and immune system will thank me.
- Save yourself stress; get a planner
I cannot stress enough: my “Things to do” notebooks keep me sane. I used to be ridiculously disorganised as a teenager and ended up with a stupidity complex because I could never remember things I needed to remember, appointment times, important things people had told me etcetera. Save yourself the stress and write it all down. Buy a planner, and set alarms for yourself on your phone. Organisation can feel like a chore, but it does save you in the long run, and it allows you to maximise your time.
- Have goals
Being directionless can feel awful. Having too many options is overwhelming, and having too few is hard on a number of levels. If you have nothing specific to work towards, use the time you have to figure it all out to try new things. Commit to a fitness challenge. Complete a course on something that sounds fun to you. Plan a project, then see it through to completion.
- Take care of your appearance
I used to resent the idea of being the girly-girl, because I didn’t fit in with the popular girls and school who seemed to spend 95 percent of their time talking about hair and beauty discoveries and practices. I didn’t take care of my hair, or paint my nails, or practice fun make-up techniques until my mid-twenties. I cannot express how much better I felt when I started taking proper care of my appearance. My confidence skyrocketed, my inner peace improved, and generally, it made a massive difference to me day to day.
- Stop punishing yourself with food
I came to realise as an adult that I punish myself with unhealthy foods, or large quantities of food. If you feel bad, it can be easy to get into a habit of comfort eating. Or I eat too much despite being full and make myself feel worse, Pasta will not fix your problems. You can get your pizza fix with a tomato/cheese tortilla or omlette. Salad is your friend, and you always feel better for it. Stop hurting yourself with food. Eat nice foods, but not because you are sad. Eat them because life is too short to never indulge. Its also long enough that over indulgence has lasting effects.
- Give, do not over-give
Probably the biggest lesson of my twenties is that you do not have to do things for people to be loveable. If people only keep you around so you’ll do things for them, they are not your friends. They are not good for you. You do not need to clean their house, buy them presents, message them all hours of the day to check on them, drink with them when they feel like it, drive them places, pay for things, solve their problems, the list goes on… Its okay to do nice things for people because you enjoy it. But people do take advantage, and if you do not give them what they want, that does not mean you are not deserving of love and care. It does not make you unloveable. You do not have to break yourself to make other people like you. If you say no, you do not deserve to be shunned. If you don’t want to go drinking, don’t. If you don’t go out of your way for someone else because you do not have enough energy to keep yourself afloat, its okay. If they decide to hate you because you put your own needs first, they are not good people to have in your life. Re-read tip number one of this blog: be kind to yourself.
- Self-love: know what it actually means
My boyfriend has taught me a lot about love since we met. Not being needed, but being wanted, absolutely blew my mind when we got together. He found my epiphany very confusing, but to me it was a revelation.
I was ostacised as a kid for my eczema, nicknamed “disease” and regarded as an infectuous freak. I hadn’t really spoken about it in a long time in any depth until I met my mr, but I always felt like an
“other” and hadn’t really noticed how much it was festering that I didn’t believe I was worth love that wasn’t bought with giving.
His love for me has pathed the way for me to find my first steps to love within myself. I used to roll my eyes at “self love” blogs and advice, now I am writing about it on a path to healing a lot of hurt within myself. Self-love isn’t a buzzword as I once thought. Self-love is respecting yourself. Its belief that you are worthy of love for no reason other than the fact that you are a good person. Its accepting yourself, and celebrating that you are absolutely unique as a creature on this earth. My loved ones are aware that I am quite odd. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I like that about myself.
If i could talk to teenage me right now, I would want her to know that she has always been worthy of love, and worth peoples time. She does not take up space for no reason. She will have to have her own back for the rest of her life, but that doesnt mean to say that she is alone.
Life isn’t one hundred percent happy from start to finish. There are down days, weeks and months. Happiness is maintaining your peace, striving for your personal goals, and being grateful for what you do have. If you take away all worldly possessions in this life, the gift is another day of possibilities.