Selena Gomez recently turned 25—but in her mind, age ain't nothing but a number.

"I kind of wish numbers didn't exist sometimes, because I feel like I'm 15 some days, and then other days I wake up and I'm 40," the "Fetish" singer tells InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown in the September issue, on stands Aug. 11. "It's so weird, how one year can change everything. Last year I canceled my tour and went away for 90 days, and it was the best thing that I ever could've done. I had no phone, nothing, and I was scared. But it was amazing, and I learned a lot. Everything I cared about, I stopped caring about. I came out, and it felt like, 'OK, I can only go forward.' And there are still days. I go to therapy. I believe in that and talking about where you are. But I'm in a really, really healthy place."

Indeed, a year ago, Gomez canceled the Revival World Tour and took 90 days off to be "proactive" about treating the side effects of lupus, which can include anxiety, depression and panic attacks. After seeking treatment, she returned to the red carpet in November. "I was in the countryside and never did my hair; I took part in equine therapy, which is so beautiful. And it was hard, obviously. But I knew what my heart was saying, and I thought, 'OK, I think this has helped me become stronger for other people,'" she recalls. "When I came out, I was asked to go to the American Music Awards, and everyone around me was like, 'Do whatever makes you comfortable.' I didn't want my fans to have a negative view of taking care of yourself, so I just went in head-on, and I'll tell you, the first time stepping on that carpet was so overwhelming. I felt like my back was sweating."

Selena Gomez, InStyle

Phil Poynter/InStyle

After she returned to the spotlight, Gomez became outspoken about feeling as if she had to present an image of perfection on social media. Today, she's uninterested in selling lies to her fans, as she cares about their wellbeing as much as her own. "Because of social media, because of all the pressure that girls have, it's so difficult," she says. "It's good to be connected, to see things, and to get a sense of what your friends are up to. But it also allows people to think they need to look or be a certain way."

"I remember when I had my Disney show, I was just running around and not caring and making kids laugh. I was all over the place. And now it feels more zoomed-in—you have ugly people trying to get negative things from you, and the energy makes you feel bad about yourself. You can't help it. It's very hard to find out who you are during all that mess and pressure," she says. "I had a choice to let it drive me crazy and tear me down or just allow myself to have real conversations with people. So I came to a place where it's like, 'I have this platform, and I can still do what I love and connect to people who feel like they grew up with me.' I won't share things that I don't want to."

And it's not as if she's immune to criticism. "Of course I care, but I care less and less, and that's so freeing," she tells InStyle. "My livelihood can't depend on 'Am I liked?' When I was on Disney, it was like, 'Oh, they didn't like it?' It hurts your feelings."

But social media isn't all bad, of course. "On Instagram my fans throw back all these old videos, and I get so emotional because I'm like, 'Wow, my life is so different now.' Not to say that's bad, but it's just crazy. It really is," she says. "It can all be a bit overwhelming, but I try and balance it out with what makes me happy. If I'm part of a really good project, I can lean into it all."

Gomez is proud of her accomplishments, but that doesn't mean she would do it all over again. "I think it's really dysfunctional to be in the industry at a young age where you're figuring out who you are," says Gomez, one of Disney Channel's most popular stars. "I don't recommend it."

With a new album on the way, the "Bad Liar" singer finally seems to be at peace professionally. The same can also be said of her personal life, as she has been dating The Weeknd since late last year. "I don't depend on one area of my life to make me happy. It's really important for me to love and nourish my friends and family and to make sure that I never get influenced by a guy. I've wanted to be in a strong head space for years, and I really wasn't. Before, I was so young and easily influenced, and I'd feel insecure. You want someone to add to your life, not to complete you, if that makes sense," Gomez tells the magazine. "I'm lucky because he's more of a best friend than anything else."

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