1. Don’t go back to sleep.
You wake up on the morning of your 28th birthday about two hours too early and in a hazy cloud of dread. It could be the remnants of any of the garden variety stress dreams that occupy your nights, but your teeth are all intact and this morning’s anxiety feels a bit more foreign, a bit less tethered to such a familiar and specific source. You’ve been asserting throughout the past week how 100% fine and even excited you are about turning 28 — “Honestly, I keep forgetting it’s even happening,” or “I’ve heard this year is a good one,” and “I feel like I’ve been 28 for months now” — but is it possible that you are actually, maybe, perhaps, just a LITTLE BIT freaking out about it? In a word, yes. Stay awake. You can power through this.
2. Call your parents.
OK, OK, OK, so you graduated high school 10 years ago and somehow you didn’t realize that until this very moment? Like, you knew it, but you didn’t really know it. And you’re trying to think of just one thing that happened since then, just one thing, but it is, in this moment, surprisingly difficult! BECAUSE ALL OF THE CLICHES ARE TRUE AND TIME IS FLYING PAST YOU AT AN INCONCEIVABLE AND EXPONENTIALLY INCREASING RATE AND YOU ARE BASICALLY A MILLION YEARS OLD?
Take a breath and call the people who know that 28 is, in fact, quite a few years younger than a million, and who can firmly but lovingly set you straight. Take comfort in the fact that to them, you will basically always be a child. And children have a wide world of opportunity ahead of them! Lucky you!
3. Remind yourself that there are probably a lot of very successful grown-ups with dirty clothes on their bedroom floors.
But the uniquely frustrating thing about this morning meltdown is that it is made up of equal, simultaneous anxieties: panic over lost youth and fear of inadequate maturity. In other words, you are, impossibly, both older than anyone who has ever lived and a toddler who has forgotten to do her laundry AGAIN. Resist it. When you make your way out of bed and shuffle through a makeshift path to the door, remember that it is sometimes necessary to prioritize your emotional well-being over the fulfillment of your daily obligations, and that that is why you chose to watch the final season of Friday Night Lights instead of cleaning your room, which is in fact evidence of your agency as an adult.
4. Go for a run.
Who knows? Maybe 28 is the year you get serious about fitness! It’s not an entirely outrageous idea. You are vital. Your body is strong. You can occasionally lift yourself up from a low chair without involuntarily grunting, and your knees have always made that cracking sound; don’t read too much into it.
5. Avoid thinking about what late twenties meant to your childhood self.
Your mind will try to wander into the dangerous territory of comparing your current situation to the future you imagined as a child. What you need to remember is that the metrics you’re using to measure your success in adulthood have shifted. In the sixth grade, when you had to write a letter to your future self, and you closed it with a frenzied, all-caps postscript demanding “DO YOU HAVE A GRAMMY YET?” you couldn’t have known that the more impressive feats needed far more unexpected (and, yes, sometimes boring) questions: Are you making rent? Do you go to the dentist every year? Have you figured out at least three signature karaoke songs?
6. Splurge on breakfast.
You don’t always spring for something so decadent as an egg sandwich (on a BAGEL!!!!) but today is your day, so you grab one on the way to work. And for the brief moment in which you’re eating, you’re out of your head and back down on Earth, thinking less about how long it took you to finish your undergraduate degree and more about how grateful you are to the first person who decided to mix cheese and bacon.
7. Reminisce, but to a point.
You’ll naturally get a little sentimental once the fears settle, and it’s fine to do some personal inventory as the morning progresses. Just be sure to relive enough to celebrate what those 28 years have given you (good friends, a supportive family, Beyoncé by Beyoncé), but not so much that you’ll convince yourself the best years have passed. Because, uh DUH, they haven’t. The On the Run tour hasn’t even started yet.
8. Call those friends who are in their thirties.
If none of this works, they’ll be more than happy to side-eye your angst into oblivion.