I turned 27 a couple weeks ago, and it’s incredible how much things have changed since my last birthday.

My 26th birthday was the worst birthday ever.

Why?

Because my life was a complete mess.

I spent the majority of my 26th birthday sobbing into my pillow.  My mom and I had had a fight after she suggested that I start shopping at a plus-size store.  My frustration with my weight (I was the heaviest I’d ever been) reminded me of how frustrated I was with every aspect of my life.

I was underemployed and working at a job I hated.  The pay was awful, the benefits were terrible, and my boss was a nightmare.  I had been looking for a new job but I wasn’t having much luck – I had received a few rejections from companies I had been really excited about.  I was terrified that I would be trapped in a low-paying job that I hated forever.

My financial situation was a disaster.  My husband and I were living with my parents but hoping to move out as soon as possible.  We had no idea how we would do that with six figures of student loan debt and low salaries.  50% of my income at the time was going toward making my minimum student loan payments.

We were continuing to make bad financial choices.  We had blown a huge chunk of my savings on our wedding, and what we had left was nowhere near enough for a home.  We had no idea what to do.  I felt lost, trapped, and hopeless.

The past year had also been incredibly stressful.  Several of my family members had suffered from severe mental health issues, physical health problems, and addiction.  Three people close to me had lost their jobs unexpectedly and faced serious financial difficulties as a result.  I had helped two of them out financially even though I couldn’t afford it.

It was one terrible thing after another.

It’s crazy how much has changed in a year.

Now, at 27, my life is drastically different.

I lost 35 pounds by adopting a whole food, plant-based diet and exercising daily.

I have an interesting, challenging job that I truly enjoy.  The pay and benefits are better, my boss is one of the best managers I’ve ever had, and the job has some pretty neat perks – like a free gym membership and two office dogs.  I recently found out that my role is expanding and I’ll be able to take on additional responsibilities.

Having a job that pays better is helping with my financial situation, and my husband and I now have a plan to pay our loans off in three years instead of 10.  We are still living with my parents, but now that we have a plan, there is a move out date in sight.  This gives us hope.

Does your life feel like a mess?  It doesn’t have to be.  Here are the steps I took to turn my life around.

Create a plan.

My biggest source of stress over the past few years has been my student loan debt.  When I had no idea how I was going to pay it all off, I felt lost and helpless.  Now that my husband and I have a plan to pay our debt off in three years, I don’t worry about money as much.  We live extremely frugally and we live with my parents – neither of these things are easy, but it will be well worth it in three years when we will finally have financial freedom.

Have some faith and be patient.

This one was the most difficult for me.  I’m a worrier by nature, and my mind always goes to the worst-case scenario (like “I will never find a good job” and “I will be living with my parents forever”).  I’m also incredibly impatient, and the slowness of the job search process always frustrates me.  It will take some time, but it will happen.  Things will get better.

Take care of yourself.

It’s hard to feel happy when you’re not taking care of yourself.  Eat healthy (it IS possible on a tight budget), exercise regularly (here are some tips for exercising if you hate working out), and do whatever it is that makes you happy and relaxed – like yoga, listening to music, chatting with a friend, reading a book, watching a movie, taking a bubble batch, etc.

It’s also hard to feel happy if you’re surrounded by people who make you feel like crap.  Why are you still friends with someone who treats you like garbage?  If someone is constantly making you feel terrible about yourself, they don’t belong in your life.

It’s tough when someone actually is a good friend/person but they’re a magnet for drama and problems.  Of course you want to help someone you care about, but don’t get too wrapped up in someone else’s problems.  If you’re ALWAYS talking about them and their problems, you’re dealing with a one-sided relationship.  Friendships should be a two-way street.

Seek professional help if needed.

According to research by the Yellowbrick program, only 9% of people who are in debt report NO mental health issues.  Nearly 1 out of 3 people with high debt report severe anxiety.

Despite the fact that my life is much better now than it was a year ago, my anxiety is through the roof.  At first, I thought my anxiety had come out of nowhere, but I realized that it has been slowly building for the past two years.  I attributed my feelings as a normal reaction to high amounts of stress, but really, it was more than that.

When my anxiety came back in full force a couple months ago, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I should have paid attention to the warning signs and I should have sought professional help a year ago, rather than finally seeking help a couple of months ago when my anxiety spiraled out of control.

If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or other symptoms of mental illness, please seek professional help.

You are not alone, and you are worthy of help.

I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but things will get better.

I spent the majority of my 26th birthday sobbing into my pillow. My mom and I had had a fight. Here is how I turned things around when my life was a mess...
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