Keke Palmer says that she used to work herself 'to the point of exhaustion': 'It became a habit to hustle hard'

Keke Palmer has a long list of accomplishments but what the 28-year-old is most proud of is learning to put herself first.

While the actress and singer seems to have a healthy balance in her life today, she told Women's Health that this wasn't always the case. From her early days trying to make it into Hollywood, she shared that she often worked "to the point of exhaustion" and developed a work ethic too extreme for a young girl.

Palmer appears on the magazine's September 2022 cover. (Photo: Djeneba Aduayom for Women’s Health)
Palmer appears on the magazine's September 2022 cover. (Photo: Djeneba Aduayom for Women’s Health)

"You can't work for Disney or Nickelodeon and not be professional. They don't care if you're 5 years old!" she told the publication of her days filming True Jackson, VP. But it was starring on television, in films and launching a music career simultaneously that really had her moving a mile a minute.

"I would go from long days on-set learning how to play football to touring and performing music at army bases on the weekends," she said of working on the film The Longshots and releasing her debut album So Cool at the age of 14. "It became a habit to hustle hard."

At the time, Palmer didn't notice the toll it had all taken on her body or her mental health. As time passed, however, she eventually felt like she had "hit the wall" and had to make lifestyle changes to fix it.

Palmer shared that she started therapy at 17 years old and later began practicing yoga. Still, it took some time for her to realize just what she was trying to achieve by participating in more physical movement.

"It was like, 'I want my body to look good because one day I want to do action movies,'” she said. “It was a superficial start, which I think is fine. The entry point doesn’t always have to be so serious."

She added, "I realized I’m not supposed to be competing with my classmates. I’m supposed to be getting into my own zone. I discovered that mind, body, and soul appreciation don’t have to result in a six-pack."

After changing her perspective on the practice, Palmer faced various realizations about how she should be taking care of herself. She also considered how much effort she was pouring into her work.

"It hit me that I have to practice loving myself the same way I practice acting," she said. "I’ve learned over the years that to keep my sanity, and to physically keep this machine running, I have to pour into myself as often as I can."

To do so, she also had to learn how to say "no" to work opportunities and other things that weren't serving her.

"I realized it’s hard to say no because we don’t trust. We don’t trust that if we say no the opportunity will come again. Or we don’t trust that if we say no we’ve made the right choice. Or we’re scared that if we say no we’re going to offend somebody. But I realized that saying yes to too many things was stressing me out the most," she said. "I’ve learned not to be afraid to re arrange things and to accept that I’m not going to be able to do it all without hurting myself."

In response to a recent job offer, Palmer made it a point to prioritize herself.

"A couple of years ago, I would have been like, 'Well, your career’s over if you don’t do this,'" she said. "But this time I was like, 'Physically, this is not possible. I would have to dishonor myself in such a cruel way [to make it happen] that I simply have to say no.'"

And while her attempts to keep herself grounded and sane aren't perfect, Palmer is thrilled by her progress.

"It’s been two years since I embarked on this whole ‘saying no’ thing, and I must say, I’m getting really good at it now," she said. "That’s the grace and the silver lining. Everything I’ve been through has taught me how to love myself more."

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