The Weird Thing I Do For Stress Relief—That Works Every Time

I can vividly remember the first time I realized that I could attain a sensation of calm by totally natural (albeit totally weird) means. I was sitting in my high school science class waiting silently to take a final; our teacher was quietly passing out the test packets, one by one. We were all in the zone, anxiously hoping we’d do well (hello: the periodic table isn’t exactly riveting subject matter).

And as she passed out the tests, the sounds of the paper—gently swooshing against the others, being written on by pencils—made me sort of feel, well, calm and tingly. Totally at ease. (Yes, you heard me correctly: The sound of the paper made me feel at-ease. What!)

You know when you suddenly shudder out of nowhere? It was like that—all along my scalp and back. The paper sounds made me feel sleepy, while also sort of ticklish. It was intoxicating, euphoric, and, clearly, tremendously strange.

Related: What Happened When I Drank Golden Milk For 30 Days Straight

I would come to experience this phenomenon for years, but I had absolutely no context or language for it. I told one friend about it (she was one of the only people who wouldn’t be convinced that I was a serial killer or total maniac). Years later, that same friend asked me if I’d heard about something called ASMR. It sounded like an abbreviation for a nerdy science conference or a sexual kink. Naturally, I needed to know.

“ASMR is this weird phenomenon where people have all sorts of pleasurable reactions to noises,” she said—which didn’t exactly sound not creepy—“and it sounds like what you’ve experienced before. Being relaxed by sounds and stuff,” she said.

Yes, you heard me correctly: The sound of the paper made me feel at-ease. What!

Sure enough, ASMR had me pegged.

Defined as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, ASMR is an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation (in response to slow movements, whispers, soft sounds, or even personal attention) on the skin around the head, back, and neck. But it’s also very internal; it’s a feeling, a mind-state.

While there remains a need for more in-depth studies, science hasn’t junked the phenomenon either. According to Peer J, ASMR is experienced by thousands of people. It causes euphoria, relaxation, and feelings of general wellness.

I took to the Internet for further investigation, and sure enough, I got more information than I could have imagined. YouTube was filled with ASMR videos—actually, it was a fully-formed community. Thousands of videos (viewed millions of times) offered up ASMR “triggers” created by ASMR artists, or ASMRtists; these videos showcased people whispering, or doing smalls tasks or talking with mindful movements and making deliberate, soft noises.

Related: Shop products to promote stress relief and mood support.

I have to admit this: At first, I was deeply put off by these videos; they seemed completely foreign and bizarre. A few of them were blatantly sexualized (though this was not the majority at all), and the rest were just overwhelming: forty-five minutes of watching someone whisper or tap? What sort of strange kink is this, I wondered?

Half of the videos were focused on role-playing videos, like one ASMRtist who pretended to be a hotel receptionist. She’d click her keyboard lightly, and tap her pen against paper, and whisper to the viewer, who was supposed to be “checking in to a hotel.” I’d never, ever seen anything like it.

Forty-five minutes of watching someone whisper or tap their fingers? What sort of strange kink is this, I wondered?

It was a community-created corner of the Internet and once I got over the confusion, I actually felt grateful to have found it. I found the videos soothing, sleep-inducing, and peaceful. Some of them are actually really funny or educational, so they’re sort of like stress-reducing tools that offer up other benefits, to boot.

Related: Shop yoga accessories to get your de-stress on.

It wasn’t just me. Thousands of commenters consistently thank the artists (many of whom make a living by creating YouTube ASMR content) for helping them sleep, easing their stress, reducing their symptoms of PTSD, or giving them (not x-rated) tingles at the end of the day.

81 percent of ASMR enthusiasts engage with it before bed, using headphones, and 80 percent of participants said it had a positive effect on their mood.

Suddenly, ASMR stopped being “that weird thing that happens to me sometimes” and started becoming a legitimate tool for stress relief. It wasn’t weird. It was real.

Now that my secret phenomenon had a name (and one that apparently even celebrities celebrated), I wanted to know if there was some real science behind it. What actually caused the tingles? After all, millions of people weren’t just making it up!

I found that some researchers, like in this piece published by IOSR Journal of Research & Method in Education, argued for the use of ASMR as a tool for stress relief, despite their own understanding that ASMR necessitates additional research. It was a start—and I dug for more.

The International Journal of School & Educational Psychology likened it to the notion of Frisson, which is a sensation somewhat like the shivering caused by emotional stimuli. And according to one study done by Peer J, 81 percent of ASMR enthusiasts engage with it before bed, using headphones, and 80 percent of participants said it had a positive effect on their mood, especially immediately after listening. Interestingly enough, people with depression benefited the most.

While I’ve tried to figure out the exact science behind the sensation, there are no hard answers. I know others are trying to figure it out, too. I recognize that there are loads of people who probably think ASMR enthusiasts or artists are freaks, but the budding conversation around the phenomenon comforts me a bit.

Until I understand it better, I’ll be over here, listening to people whisper into a binaural microphone, as I fall asleep happier and less anxious than I was before.

It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

Between our personal lives, jobs, commuting nightmares, and [insert issue here], stress is bound to crop up here and there. You know the signs: irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety, appetite changes—and the list goes on.

To help manage these effects, some people turn to meditation. Science speaks to its profound benefits—like decreasing inflammation, boosting attention span, and growing your actual brain matter (yes, you heard that correctly). On the flip side, there are a lot of people who bug at the mere thought of sitting still (or not using their iPhone to tune out) for minutes on end. Meditation sounds nice in theory, impossible in execution.

To those people, we say: You can do it. Yes, YOU! The centuries-old practice isn’t just for the Zen.

Understanding Meditation’s Purpose

Meditation has been associated with yoga, tai chi, the use of mantras, and plenty of other mindfulness activities. However, the history of meditation dates back to ancient Indian Vedic texts, which state that the true purpose of meditation is to connect to your deep inner Self (people, according to these texts, are made up of three parts: the physical body, the inner faculty or working consciousness, and the deep inner Self, or pure consciousness).

Unifying the three is said to bring about deep emotional, physical, and mental peace and clarity. Sound heavy? Don’t worry about going too deep. Just think about how freeing it’ll feel to have a few minutes to yourself, totally dedicated the idea of relieving your stress. Plus, experts believe that having meditation in your arsenal can help you better handle stressful situations as they arise in the long-term.

Begin By Breathing

It doesn’t have to lead to some sort of epiphany or grand moment, just sitting and focusing on your breathing is a good way start. Totally doable.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, you’ll want to sit up, with your back straight, in a relaxed posture. Breath naturally, giving all of your attention to the breath, from inhalation to exhalation. When you breathe in, follow the air into your lungs with your mind, and do the same when you breathe out.

According to Lodro Rinzler, Co-Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer of New York City-based MNDFL Meditation, you’ll want to pay close attention to this whole process: “Take a moment to feel the weight of your body on the earth. Gently lift upward through your spine. Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. When your mind wanders, come back to the physical sensation of the breath.”

If you prefer, you can also find a guided meditation on YouTube, or via an app (like Headspace or Calm).  

Create A Ritual

Start small with your meditation practice (think three-five minutes per day), and work up from there. Some people prefer to meditate early in the morning, while others might do so before bed. The beauty of meditation is that it’s flexible, although getting into a ritual (like a specific time or after a specific trigger point each day) will help you develop your daily mindfulness practice. Think about when you need to clear your mind, and how your meditation might impact the rest of your day.

Related: 12 Natural Ways To Kick Your Stress To The Curb

Don’t have tons of time? The organization Greater Good In Action lists many ways to build meditation into our busy lives. For one, you can walk and mindfully meditate at the same time.

A walking meditation simply involves being deeply focused on your experience of walking—deliberately noticing each foot rising and hitting the ground, while breathing. You could begin each day by mindfully walking for a few moments each day, or you could mindfully walk during your lunch breaks at work. (Sound dangerous? Don’t worry. You keep your eyes open!)

Set A Daily Intention

Many people like to set an intention each day during their meditative practice. According to Rinzler, this can be done after or while focusing on your breath: “Contemplate, ‘What quality do I want to cultivate today?’ Let whatever answers come up wash over you like a wave and keep returning to the question as the object of meditation. Notice if one answer feels particularly relevant to you. As you emerge from meditation, commit to focusing on that quality for just this one day.”

Related: Shop yoga mats and get your meditation on.

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

So you’re sitting there meditating, but you’re really thinking about dinner, or work, or that itch on your left foot. You’re definitely not alone. Meditation, as Rinzler says, is “very simple, but not always easy.”

If in your practice you find it hard to come back to your breath, remember that this is normal. According to Suze Yalof Schwartz, the CEO and founder of Unplug Meditation and app, and author of Unplug : A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers, distracting thoughts and mind chatter during meditation is common, for people of every level. It’s about paying attention to the moments of silence in between letting those restless thoughts pass. And more so, it’s about coming back to the practice again and again. Don’t be discouraged by what is only natural.

So why should you try it? People come to meditation for different reasons, says Schwartz: “They want more focus, to be present, to find calm, or because they’re depressed. Others want to find purpose.”

Does meditation sound like something that could be helpful in your life? Test it out with this one-minute meditation (you can take it longer, if you’d like), offered up by Schwartz, straight from her book:

meditation

Know Your Supergreens: A Cheat Sheet On What’s What

Sure, you eat your greens—but do you eat your supergreens? Supergreens are a type of green jam-packed with health-boosting benefits. You can toss some of them onto your plate (think dark and rich-flavored greens like kale or chard), but you can get others (specifically the algaes and grasses) in alternative forms, like powder.

So what sort of superpowers do supergreens come with? “Supergreens provide phytonutrients not typically found in the average diet, says Brian Tanzer, M.S., manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe. “Some of these phytochemicals provide powerful antioxidant benefits in addition to supporting overall health, energy, and vitality.”

Here, a guide to which supergreens are worth consuming—and why they’re so good for your health.

The Algaes

chlorella header

Chrlorella isn’t something you can just toss onto your plate, as it’s a single-cell green algae found in fresh water. That doesn’t sound particularly tasty, but we promise it’s chlorella_copy.jpgworth it. According to the journal Current Pharmaceutical, this diverse little algae contains plenty of micronutrients, proteins, omega-3 polyunsaturated acids, vitamins, minerals, and polysaccharides, helping to protect you against oxidative stress, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and other health issues. Oh, and it has the highest level of chlorophyll (disease-fighting plant pigment) of any plant out there.

Want to get your chlorella on? Try this pineapple chlorella smoothie using Green Foods’ Organic Chlorella Powder. Or, you can also supplement with a chlorella tablet daily.

spirulina

Spirulina is another trendy algae known for its nutritional power and gorgeous blue-green color. And its popularity goes way back. According to the journal Clinical and Translational Investigation, spirulina has been consumed by man since ancient times in Mexico and central Africa because of its high protein content. Today, though, studies show that spirulina offers plenty of powerful health-promoting qualities (on top of being spirulina_720an excellent source of nutrition).

Related: What Happened When I Drank Golden Milk For 30 Days Straight

According to Achives of Toxicology, it may prevention inflammation, boost the immune system, and fight oxidation. In fact, clinical trials show that spirulina may help prevent skeletal muscle damage due to exercise-induced oxidative stress. No wonder people drink it at the gym bar! To enjoy, mix up a teaspoon of Spirulina Powder in a glass of water or in a delicious concoction, like this blueberry smoothie.

The Grasses

wheat grass

You’ve probably been offered a shot of wheat grass at your local juicery—and you’d be wise to take it. Wheatgrass is a young (and edible!) grass from the wheat plant, sold mostly in powder or tablets form.

wheat grass picIt’s chock full of vitamins C and E, antioxidants, phenolic acid, flavonoids, and chlorophyll, making it a powerful supergreen. According to Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry, wheat grass’ devout followers are onto something: Studies have shown that it offers serious immune support and antioxidant properties. To reap its benefits, whip up a level scoop of Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Perfect Food 100% Wheat Grass into a glass of juice, a smoothie, or an eight-ounce cup of water.

barley.jpg

Looking for an excellent source of Capture.JPGdietary fiber? This is where barley comes into play. This potent grass has been shown to have positive effects on metabolism, bowel functions, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, according to a study done by the journal Nutrition. Use two teaspoons of Barley Grass Juice Powder in your favorite juice or water, or you can whip up a delicious meal with this barley berry smoothie.

The Newest Hot Supergreen

moringa

moringa picMoringa is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite new supergreen, and that’s because the moringa tree’s leaves contain protein, copperiron, phenolics, potassium, vitamins A and CB vitaminscalcium, and folic acid. Its health-promoting qualities are no joke, with studies pointing to its cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant-rich, cardiac and circulatory system-supporting benefits, among others, according to the journal Phytotherapy Research. Want to start adding moringa to the mix? It’s available in powdercapsule, or as a juice.

Related: Why Moringa Is About To Be Your New Favorite Supergreen

I Took A DNA Test To Get My Health & Fitness Profile

When I decided to take an ancestry test to help me build out my family tree, I learned about 23 & Me’s (one of the leading DNA services) Wellness Report, which offers up genetic health risks, wellness information, and carrier statuses for certain diseases.

I’ll be totally honest: The thought of uncovering my potential health risks absolutely drove me to despair. If you could have a crystal ball with which to see the future—only the future was possibly filled with disease, pain, and possible early death would you look? I figured, with most people in my family dying from cancer or heart disease, the outlook couldn’t be good. But then again, maybe they could have prevented or better fought against certain health issues with the knowledge afforded to me now.

I vacillated around the idea of finding out what sort of abnormalities were hiding in my DNA. I went to order the test. I clicked out. I went back in a few days later. And I clicked out yet again right before pulling out my credit card. I just couldn’t reconcile wielding that sort of power over my existence; I wanted to just live my life and do what I could to stay fit, healthy, and happy. And ignorant.

The thought of uncovering my potential health risks absolutely drove me to despair.

So, instead of buying the Wellness Report, I went ahead and got my ancestry done. Innocently enough, I found out I had more Neanderthal DNA than 98 percent of 23 & Me users. (Yes, I absolutely googled, “What does it mean to have more Neanderthal DNA?” Answer: Found in Europe and Asia, they had bigger brains and muscles. Score). I also learned that my family heritage was much more global than I thought; in fact, I was able to build out my maternal line back to the 1600s with this information.

Related: How Much Do Genetics Factor Into Getting Ripped Abs?

One day, though, a friend asked me if I’d uploaded my DNA results’ raw data (which is the un-interpreted data and which is also downloadable, for free, whenever you get an ancestry test with some of the brand-name services) to something called Promethease.

Promethease. “Sounds daunting,” I said. “What is it?”

“It offers you a DNA-based report on your health,” my friend said. “I used it because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 50, and I wanted to know if it’s a high risk for me.”

I was taken aback by her attitude; was she not scared of knowing her own fate? Or, was she taking advantage of something that people, for thousands of years, couldn’t have even dreamed up?

How Do DNA Health Tests Work?

Ready for a science lesson? (You won’t be tested on this later, promise).

Promethease is basically a huge database that builds a personalized DNA report based on your DNA genotypes (part of your DNA that determines characteristics). The information based on those genotypes is linked to scientific findings at SNPedia, another database of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

According to 23 & Me, “SNPs can generate biological variation between people by causing differences in the recipes for proteins that are written in genes. Those differences can in turn influence a variety of traits such as appearance, disease susceptibility or response to drugs.”

So, where do SNPs come from?

23 & Me explains: “Cells sometimes make mistakes during the copying process, kind of like typos. These typos lead to variations in the DNA sequence at particular locations.” And those locations are called SNPs (or “snips”).

Whether you use Promethease or another DNA wellness service, these SNPs are the driving force.

Getting My Report

After my Neanderthal percentage novelty disappeared, I thought about getting the health test. I rationalized it like this: I could be afraid of the unknown or I could seize what little control I have over it and use it to my benefit. It seems, if we have knowledge, we should apply it, right?

I decided to take the plunge so that I could tell my doctor about anything I saw that screamed, “Death imminent!”

My report from Promethease cost $5, which, if you think about it, is a small price to pay to have some power over the mystery of the human body.

I could be afraid of the unknown or I could seize what little control I have over it and use it to my benefit.

The great thing about companies like Promethease (others include DNAFit, Genomic Express, LiveWello among others) is that they allow people to take health into their own hands. And besides masochists like myself, biomedical researchers and healthcare practitioners also use Promethease, which means that uploading your data adds to important research efforts.

Related: What It’s Like To Have Arthritis In Your 20s

I was thrown by the results of my report.

Once I connected my 23 & Me data to the Promethease site, it took about 10 minutes to receive my report. And sure enough, it appeared accurate. I could see some of the health issues I’ve been diagnosed with, like Ankylosing Spondylitis, on the report, and I could also see some of the stuff I hadn’t known about.

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I have to admit that it took a few minutes for my heart to stop beating; it’s like opening Pandora’s Box for the first time. I came away with information around which cancers and diseases I’m at risk for, which drugs I can’t metabolize, and—very helpfully—how I might best lose weight. A lot of it synced up to what I’d seen family members be diagnosed with.

My report also made fitness suggestions: It said that I’m part of a population of people who can only lose weight through vigorous workout regimes (not necessarily through diet only). I’m predisposed to obesity, it said (true) and low-fat diets work best in my favor (thanks for that; no wonder cutting carbs hasn’t worked).

Related: Shop products to support your health goals.

Wild card: My DNA suggested that I have a ‘lack of empathy.” At first, I thought, how could this be? Isn’t empathy learned? However, its explanation is pretty scientific: “You have a SNP in the oxytocin receptor which may make you less empathetic than most people. When under stress you may have more difficulty recognizing the emotional state of others which impacts loneliness, parenting, and socializing skills.” I found that level of information absolutely fascinating (if not a bit scary to admit publicly).

It took a few minutes for my heart to stop beating; it’s like opening Pandora’s Box for the first time.

Because the report was able to pinpoint my exact autoimmune disorder, hair color (dark), ethnicity (Eurasian), and skin color (light), it seemed that at least some of the information was worth considering and talking to my doctor about.

However, it should be noted that not everything will be accurate, and that misinterpretation of the data can (and does) happen. The information is complex, so you should always talk to a doctor as well.

In the end, I’m armed with a lot of knowledge: I know which drugs I may react badly to, I can better tailor my diet to my fitness goals, and I know that I need to keep an eye on certain health risks.

And while I feel empowered, I also feel scared of what may come. For this reason, I don’t explicitly suggest or suggest against anyone downloading or buying a report; it’s a personal thing and the decision isn’t one you should take lightly.

I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

I’ve gotten pretty lucky with my skin. I haven’t had much acne in my life, and at 31, I’ve got no signs of wrinkles. But my skin is remarkably dull, like that of a tired ghost. It’s ruddy, uneven, and it tends to look dry, even when it’s moisturized.

Thanks to an unhealthy addiction to Sephora and a ridiculously Olympic skin regimen, I’m able to work with the flaws I’ve got, but I’m always on the hunt for that “glow” you read about on magazine covers. Oral collagen supplementation has been shown to prove efficacious in improving the hallmark signs of skin aging, according to a study by the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, so I was more than willing to take it for a test drive.

When I got my hands on Reserveage’s Collagen Replenish Powder, I was immediately in love with the packaging. The pretty coral color, the leafy design, and the “Hyaluronic Acid & Vitamin C” boost sold me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for smart packaging.

The powder includes something Reserveage calls Deluxe Peptide Plus, which provides nutrients for the skin. And it boasts a 20 percent reduction in eye wrinkles within eight weeks. I’ll take that, any day.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

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Let’s get something out of the way, though, shall we? This stuff certainly doesn’t pretend to smell good. The jar itself says “odorless” (which is not entirely true; it’s got a faint scent of dried milk). So you’re not going to be drinking in the flavor or scent of flowers or anything. But we can get past this!

I mixed the powder into drinks for a morning beverage, which instantly solved the issue. No, not my precious coffee; I’d whip it into protein shakes or fruit smoothies, and you’d never know it was there.

I admit that I saw no change in the first few weeks. After week one I started checking my skin in the mirror. Plumper? No. Firmer? Nope. What was this collagen even doing, I wondered? Same for week two.

But by week three I did notice a significant shift. The skin under my eyes got considerably brighter and my cheeks seemed softer, smoother. Where my skin tends to “sag,” at all, is near my jowl. I noticed that it became a little less noticeable (cue my mother’s voice: “You DO NOT have jowls! I have jowls!”). Still, it really looked better.

Before

All in all, I felt like the product did its job well. It’s quick and easy to mix up into a beverage, and its inexpensive (less than $20) price point makes it alluring, considering so many collagen products on the market are quite pricey.

And, you’re skipping out on all the other sometimes wacky ingredients that come in a jar of skin lotion. My skin definitely has a bit of a glow to it now, and having to drink collagen every day gave me an excuse to make a healthy smoothie each morning. Final verdict: I’m staying on the collagen train.

Related: Shop collagen to promote healthier-looking skin. 

6 Healthy Habits I Wish I’d Learned When I Was Younger

When my alarm goes off each morning, an elaborate ritual begins. If you were to watch my routine, you’d think I was incredibly detail-oriented, and then you’d think it is taking way too long for me to get out the door.

First, it’s the face wash (which I’ve finally figured out isn’t just, you know, hand soap). That’s followed by a serum, a moisturizer, and an SPF (50, thanks —I’m translucent; my Mediterranean genes betrayed me). Next comes the stretching (and cracking), the apple cider vinegar concoction (yes, it does work), the handful of vits I remember to take, and the occasional YouTube kickboxing workout. All said and done, I behave like a pretty legitimate grown-up. Thing is, this whole song and dance only recently started.

At 18, I was more concerned with how dark I could tan (peer pressure from the local tanning salon, circa 2005), or how much I could party before going to class the next day. I 100 percent never wore SPF or moisturizer, and any workout I did was definitely negated by an I-deserve-it carb explosion. The worst thing I did? Ordered a Venti latte (made from—this is not a lie—half and half) at least once a week. Half. And. Half.

I just wasn’t concerned with basic self-care techniques. I’d stay up all night during college and it followed me to when I started working in the “real world.” Who cares, I thought? I’d lived on four hours of sleep since I was 15; why not keep it going?

Related: I Quit Drinking Alcohol For A Month—Here’s How It Went

Turns out there were plenty of reasons not to, actually.

I didn’t realize how these behaviors would affect me now, at age 30. I’d run full steam ahead on bad eating habits, way too much wine (“at least it’s not tequila…”), and I had a distaste for working out. If I was stressed, I ate. If I was tired, I ate. If I was busy, I’d snack on empty calories. And when I woke up for work, I’d brush my teeth and run out the door.

Then I’d wonder why I felt sluggish all the time. My skin was always broken out. I was constantly dealing with shoulder cramps. And I was gaining weight. I made no time for me—no time to just be alive, to take care of myself, to listen to my body.

Just saying the words “listen to my body” makes me cringe (I’m not one for self-care-isms), but the reality is that I didn’t listen to my body. I actively turned away from care habits because I was “busy” or “I didn’t need them.”

But when I was 25 I was diagnosed with arthritis and I realized I needed to wake up. My actual body was falling apart, and the extra weight on my joints was a problem. I needed to start stretching, to start working out, to start eating well. I needed to quit the amount of sugary alcohol I was drinking and I needed to start taking care of my skin. I needed energy. I was tired-looking and worn out. I became a zombie with a robust social calendar and a refrigerator full of garbage.

Related: What It’s Like To Have Arthritis In Your Twenties

I fought this reality with a stubbornness that ought to be applauded (really, I win at being stubborn), but I eventually succumbed to the necessity of self-care and now I’m better for it.

So what did I do?

I started eating better.

This was the hardest change. I became more cognizant of calories and portions, which is tough when what you want to do is eat all the cheese and all the bread. I began making salads and cooking veggie dishes and turning to whole foods. I stopped eating chocolate cereal and bagels at midnight (I live in NYC—I can order anything I want at any hour), and I started checking the side of the box for nutrition facts. It’s incredibly easy to eat double your daily caloric need every day, I realized. I mean, it’s simple. If I was more aware earlier, I could have avoided the weight gain, the stomach issues, and the bad habits I fight to kick these days.

I started being kind to my skin.

This may seem trivial and vain, but it’s not. We have to live in our bodies all of our lives, so why not nurture them? I’m not the hugest fan of dry, cracked skin—and I certainly don’t want to age prematurely, so why shouldn’t I do what it takes to care for myself? I try to use products that come from mostly natural sources, and I make sure I cover my face and skin in SPF when I’m in the sun. Cancer is the pits, and I’m not going to risk it because I’m lazy.

Related: Keep your skin in tip-top shape with these bath & beauty products

I learned to love water.

I used to think lots of coffee and milk was the key to hydration. Somehow, I was wrong; I constantly felt terrible. Water is so epically underrated that it’s no surprise people have to remind others to drink it. First, with a meal it helps to keep you full (so you don’t go back for several servings you don’t need). And then it helps hydrate your skin, and it flushes toxins from your system. A huge glass of water first thing in the morning has changed my life for the better. Pro-tip: Set a reminder to take your vitamins with your first glass of water. Turns out, vitamins actually work. (I was apparently the last person to figure this out.)

I started going to bed before midnight.

I love staying up late and am most productive during the witching hours. But once I decided to stop fighting sleep, I felt like a human being—radiant, energetic, happy, engaged, responsible. What is lost from those magical evening hours is gained ten-fold the next day. Had I done this earlier on, I don’t think I would have had so many rough days and so little energy.

Related: Shop weight-management products to help you reach your goals.

I took time to hang out alone.

I used to cram my schedule with engagements: work, post-work work, post-work networking, weekend work, late-night social events, parties, meet-ups. It was like I was always on, always scheduled. Sitting on the couch in silence became a foreign thing to me; I was lost, and I didn’t even know it. Once I began understanding the difference between productivity and success (success doesn’t simply come from work; it comes from balance), I felt so much more alive. I could see more clearly, and I could see what I’d been missing all along: my self.

I stopped caring about the rules.

Everyone always says that they have all the answers. And sometimes I say I have all the answers. But I’ve learned that self-care and personal happiness are unique for everyone. Do what works best for you (but I really am telling you that water, working out, and vegetables are good for you). I wish I had known this earlier; I would have spared myself a lot of cranky, tired, overstimulated years.