Is Your Self-Care Ritual Actually Helping Or Hurting Your Mental State? Here's How To Tell

Taking time out of the day to enjoy your favorite self-care routine is an important part of restoring yourself back to baseline. Self-care is nothing to feel guilty about, and we should all try to adopt a regular practice into our schedules in order to avoid burnout. Whether you like to meditate quietly, walk your pup, or even just make hot tea — finding time to be still and relax during the day is so important. But what happens when your self-care ritual is becoming just another task you have to check off the list?

Being under a ton of stress can actually be bad for our mental and physical health. So in an effort to take back our sanity, many people come up with a relaxing ritual in order to recharge their battery during the week. However, if you have felt like your energy is still drained after your self-care practice is over, it may be time to rethink what you're doing to yourself. Here's how to tell if it's time to reassess your self-care ritual.

What is your intention?

The first question you should be asking yourself is why you started practicing this particular self-care ritual in the first place. Psychiatrist Dr. Pooja Lakshmin advises Self to look within and really evaluate your "why." What is the driving factor keeping you coming back to that particular practice? Often we find that the intention wasn't quite aligned with who we are at our core.

It's easy to watch people on social media as they practice various self-care rituals, and want to create that same scenario for our own self-care practice. But is this the best course of action? Often these pictures or videos are seriously staged to look relaxing, without the actual relaxing part even happening. When you can find the true intention behind why you chose that particular practice in the first place, it's easier to pick something that is best for you. If your ritual was created because of competition, jealousy, envy, spite, or one-upping someone else, you will definitely be hurting your mental health in the long run. Be sure to stay honest with yourself before you embark on a path that isn't right for you.

Does it make you feel guilty?

The wellness industry has placed too much pressure on creating that perfect self-care routine. Couple that with the pressure we put on ourselves to be the best employee, parent, partner, and friend, and we have a recipe for disaster. If you have to force yourself to find time to practice your self-care, then it's probably not helping your mental state at all. In fact, if you feel guilty for skipping the task, you may want to rethink what healthy looks like to you.

The good news is that by rethinking what self-care means, you can take off the pressure and get back to what's important. What does this look like? We have gotten in the habit of thinking that self-care should be a set amount of time doing a task that resembles a relaxing moment. Some examples include baths, meditation, journaling, and yoga. But it shouldn't be so cut and dried. Instead, think about your schedule and how much you have on your plate. Maybe your self-care ritual is skipping that yoga session you signed up for, and staying home to binge-watch your favorite Netflix show with your partner. Above all, your self-care ritual should not feel forced; rather, it's there to increase your happiness and help you avoid burnout.

Are you isolating yourself?

People have become quite creative when it comes to picking self-care practices that make them feel recharged. Whether you picked your favorite routine based on your zodiac sign element, or you finally found what works best after trial and error — most likely you picked an individual task. During the pandemic, we were forced into alone time, but that isn't the case anymore. As we are learning more and more, connection is key to mental health (yes, even for you introverts out there).

According to Psychology Today, people are getting a few things wrong about what self-care means. When we are stressed, we often want to hide away to recharge. However, psychology tells us that connection can nurture and support us in ways that isolation cannot. Try planning a coffee date with a friend or two, and use that self-care time to check in on each other's lives. Look within yourself after you leave your friends to find out if you feel recharged or drained. These inner feelings will help you gauge the impact connection has on your mental health. 

Does it help or hurt your mental health?

So, how do you know if your self-care ritual is actually helping or hurting your mental state? Again, this is where you have to look within to notice how you are feeling before and after your self-care time. You should never feel like you have less energy than before you started. Of course, self-care rituals involving exercise will feel tiring during and after, but we aren't talking about that kind of energy expenditure. Here, we are talking about the kind of energy where you feel mentally drained, fatigued, and depleted. You may also feel an increase in anxiety, sadness, or irritability after your practice, most likely because it was forced. 

Self-care should be something that is incorporated into your weekly, if not daily, routine. However, if you feel those self-care moments aren't cutting it, then don't be afraid to take a mental health day every once in a while. Mental health days are essentially revolving your entire day around self-care, with zero responsibilities to manage. While we aren't able to take mental health days every day, we can pencil into our lives time set aside for relaxation and recovery. Overall, your self-care ritual should make you feel refreshed, not stressed.

Different types of self-care

Before you run off to start planning your perfect self-care ritual, remember that it is not just one-dimensional. Verywell Mind tells us that there are actually several different forms of self-care we should be aware of: physical, social, mental, spiritual, emotional, recreational, and environmental. Reflecting on your current life, evaluate which of these areas you may be lacking in. Maybe you have noticed that your mental health has been depleted because you are so focused on nurturing your physical and social needs. Evaluating what areas need a little TLC can do wonders for living a balanced life.

Now that you know the different types of self-care, you can be more equipped to plan the best one for your current life situation. After assessing which areas of your life may be lacking in self-care, it's time to come up with ways to cultivate the parts of your life that feel drained. Make sure you plan ahead and schedule that time during the week so that it doesn't get put on the back burner. Remember to get back to your reason for needing self-care in the first place, and always create a ritual tailored to your needs, not someone else's.