The Importance of Self-Care Rituals

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You have probably heard of self-care before. It would be hard not to, considering it has become a real buzzword in the world of well-being in the modern day. Recent reports on major and growing trends in the wellness industry have proclaimed self-care to be among its biggest hits, and something that is only set to boom further in a post-pandemic world

Many people tend to associate self-care primarily with physical acts of pampering and indulgence. In large part, this is likely due to the fact that many companies tend to use it to market their products. Think about it: have you ever seen a face cream that promises to turn your standard evening routine of post face-washing moisturization into one that’s more spa-like, to truly wind down your day? Perhaps it’s a new gadget that allows you to transform your morning cuppa from something that involves hurriedly stirring instant-coffee granules into the first mug you can grab, to one that requires more patience in exchange for the chance to savour the aromas as much as the experience itself. Maybe it’s a bath bomb or potion that promises to sooth away all of your worries as you slip into a caring stream of aromatherapy-infused bubbles, to signify the end of a long, hard working week. 

And yes, incorporating the use of these products into your day-to-day can actually help bring you some of the benefits of self-care – but here’s the thing: it’s not actually about these specific products per se, but rather, the rituals surrounding their use.

The truth is, self-care is less about the components of a physical product, tool, or even place, and more about your state of mind. It’s about your intention, your mindset, and your relationship with yourself in that moment. And rituals are a huge part of that. After all, what is a ritual if not a series of actions that are treated as sacred, to fulfill a set of needs in a manner that is delibrate and dignified, almost ceremonial? 

The word “ritual” can sometimes get a bad rap. Where some people may associate it with a candle-strewn cult sacrifice or a ghost-summoning in a horror film for example, self-care rituals are about taking quiet time to find peace and joy within yourself. Sure, they may still be some candles involved, but these rituals are the kind that are simply put in place to ensure that no matter how busy your life is at the moment, you’ll still be able to find time to look after yourself

Authentic self-care rituals can be as simple as taking regular breaks at work, enjoying a relaxing bubble bath, doing a meditation, spending at least ten minutes outside each day to soak in some nature, or going to your favourite yoga or workout class. It can involve turning down the invitation to a party you don’t really want to go to, spending hours cooking an extravagant and nourishing meal for yourself on the weekend just because you can and want to, finding time to read a novel you’ve always wanted to, or giving yourself the permission to learn how to knit or play the guitar, simply because it makes you happy. Treating these acts as rituals simply helps us ensure that we prioritize them, as a means of honoring our needs, exhibiting some self-love, and maintaining our inner peace. 

Self-care is like a battery recharge that can help you to restore your energy, refresh your mind, and relax your body. It doesn't have to be luxurious, and anything that makes you feel good and brings you health is already a form of self-care. Your self-care rituals may not look the same as everyone else’s, and that’s ok: the things that fulfil your needs are going to be as unique as you are. By designing your own self-care strategy, you will be able to deal more effectively with stress, and life’s various challenges. No matter your age or lifestyle, the practice of taking care of yourself in a meaningful and lasting way is something we can all benefit from. Read on to learn more about what self-care really means, the different forms it can take, and how to develop habits around it can nurture your mind, body, and soul.

What Is Self-Care? 

Self-care, or self-care rituals, are ongoing actions that an individual takes to meet their own physical and psychological needs. By practicing self-care, one can relieve negative emotions and frustrations caused by stress. It can also help you restore your inner peace, build more mental resilience, and enable you to cope more effectively with the challenges of everyday life, from work stress and relationship issues to unhelpful thinking patterns and self-doubt. 

Although media and advertisements often associate self-care with certain products and services, self-care does not necessarily have to be materialistic, nor do you always have to pay to show off your “self-care efforts”. In fact, self-care rituals are highly personalized and customizable ー meaning that what works for your friends might not work for you. Any actions that can make you feel healthier or more healed and whole on a mental, physical, or spiritual level can be considered a form of self-care. And they all start with an intention. After all, authentic self-care means that you don’t practice it for sake of a trend, but because you want to take care of yourself.

The Two Types of Self-Care

Self-care comes in different forms, and each type stems from the motivation behind the action. In general, self-care can be grouped into one of these categories:

  • Proactive Self-Care: This is when an individual practices self-care due to the pursuit of well-being. It is something that a person regularly does to ensure that they can provide for and anticipate their own needs. Examples of this include sticking to a self-care routine, setting a bedtime goal, consciously choosing healthy foods over junk foods, hitting the gym on a regular basis, or scheduling a time for regular meditation. In other words, it is the kind of self-care that one typically practices as a habit ー even when they don't feel particularly afflicted by anything ー as a strategy that can help prevent the onset of stress, anxiety, or discord.
  • Reactive Self-Care: This is the self-care an individual does to regain their equilibrium and balance. It can involve activities that a person does after they have experienced or are affected by stress. Examples of this include going to sleep earlier the night after burning the midnight oil at work, treating yourself to a favourite meal or activity after you’ve had an emotionally taxing day, or deep-cleaning your house then not doing much more than relaxing for an entire weekend after a particularly busy period. 
Proactive vs. Reactive Self-Care

By strategically deciding which types of self-care can be helpful for your current situation, you can build a strong “self-care web” that can help you protect yourself from stress. For instance, if you don’t feel stressed at the moment, you might want to consider which proactive self-care rituals can help you maintain your wellness the next time stress knocks on your door. If you do feel overwhelmed at the moment, reactive self-care can be an excellent way to recharge your inner peace. Both types of self-care are equally important for your health, and designing and a comprehensive self-care plan for yourself that incorporates them can maximize your ability to cope with stress. 

6 Self-Care Rituals To Practice

Practicing self-care can not only restore your energy, but it can also heal your mind, body, and soul. Here are some simple self-care rituals you may want to add to your routine:

Self-Care Rituals
  1. Begin A Regular Meditation Practice - Having a packed work schedule filled with non-stop meetings can be emotionally draining. If you find yourself constantly checking your email inbox, looking for new meeting updates from your manager, or emailing potential clients even outside of work hours, it might be a sign that your work is starting to affect your personal life. Thankfully, meditation and mindfulness can help you forget about the chaos, giving you a moment of silence to recharge your inner peace. As human beings, sometimes we can feel mentally drained by the content we consume each day, regardless of whether it’s positive or not ー this is normal, especially when we’re exposed to constant stressful information from the news and other media. Carving out a time each day in which to meditate can help to wash some of that away. If you’re not sure where the best timeframe is, start by taking a look at your existing schedule: is there another daily activity that you can tie it to? It doesn’t need to be a long activity – there are many different types of meditation out there, and you can choose something that’s as short as it needs to be. The key here is to start by making the meditation fit your schedule, rather than upending your entire schedule to incorporate a more complex option. If you’re not sure what’s feasible yet in terms of times and places, then try as many options as you can before settling on some favorites: perhaps the morning is better for you than the evening, or maybe it’s even spending a few minutes sitting in the car before or after getting home from work.
  2. Nourish Yourself By Eating The Rainbow - French fries, chicken nuggets, and burgers might be tasty for many, but sticking to a diet that’s primarily composed of fast food or junk foods can take a toll on your health. Overcoming these temptations in favor of healthier options can not only improve your health physically, but also mentally and cognitively. One of the most creative ways to establish healthy eating habits is going for a multicolored diet: trying to make sure that each meal you consume features a diverse range of colors on your plate. For instance, you can pick red from tomatoes, green from lettuce, orange from carrots, or even black from chia seeds. Consuming more colorful foods can bring more vibrancy and nutrition to your meals ー and eating the rainbow can not only boost your mood, it can also boost your soul.  
  3. Practice Gratitude With A Daily Journal - It can be easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking, but practicing gratitude can help control any negative, unhelpful thoughts that can throw your life off-balance. Reminding yourself of what you’re grateful for can also allow you to develop more positive thinking. Although this can include material items, it should also include non-materialistic things. In many ways, gratitude is the antidote for the dangers of comparison: spending too much time and energy comparing what others have and what we don’t can be toxic, and damage our psyche. By focusing only on yourself, and the things that you feel fortunate to already have, it becomes easier to eliminate the negativity that can accompany these thoughts. One great way of doing this is by starting a gratitude journal in which you jot down your thoughts. It’s ok if you write down the same things each day, or if your list is composed of extremely simple things, like a roof over your head, your ability to meet basic physical capabilities, or that you are alive and breathing and made it through another day. Perhaps it’s that you learned something new, a stranger smiled in your direction, or something happened that taught you how to be stronger. Whatever it is, these things can help to cultivate a healthy attitude that can create a path that leads you to be the best version of yourself.
  4. Get Enough Sleep By Committing To A Routine - Having a good night's sleep can not only make you more energized the next day, it can also boost your ability to focus, make swift decisions, and work more efficiently and productively. The time that we sleep is also when our bodies and minds have the opportunity to repair themselves and heal. Cultivating healthy sleep habits is an important way to stay on top of it: establish a fixed routine that you can follow before going to bed, and if there’s something in your pre-bedtime patterns that is disrupting your sleep, ask yourself if you can do away with it or move it to another time in your day instead. Is your circadian rhythm operating at its best, and if not, is there something you can do to bring it back to a healthier place? You can even incorporate the use of gadgets, if need be: set a bedtime alarm on your phone that tells you when you need to start switching off and winding down, and if your smartphone has a ‘night mode’ setting, make use of it to help reduce the amount of blue light that you’re exposing yourself to and potentially harming your sleep quality with.
  5. Incorporate Movement Into Your Day - Anyone who has ever experienced a “runner’s high” will be familiar with the relaxed and euphoric state that can accompany intensive exercise, caused by the happy hormones like endorphins that exercise can release. These chemicals can not only rewire your brain to boost your mood, but they can also naturally relieve your stress. Even if you’re new to fitness and don’t know where to start, don’t worry: this is your chance to discover what you like! Give yourself some time to sign up for beginner classes in various different sports, from yoga to swimming, cycling, boxing or HIIT, and see if any of them resonate with you. Perhaps sporting group activities are more your style, like volleyball games on the beach, or kicking around a football in the park. Or maybe you just really enjoy going to the gym to lift some iron. Once you find the one that brings you joy, stick with it. If none of them are a good fit, don’t fret: there are plenty of options out there, and movement doesn’t always have to involve a classic sport. Rollerblading, hiking, interpretive dance, paddleboarding, ice skating, horseback riding, trampolining, rock climbing, or even walking the dog all count: as long as it gets you moving. If it’s not a lack of motivation that’s your issue, but rather that you are time-poor, try to be creative about other ways to work movement into your day. Park a little further than usual at work, or go for a walk around the block after lunch. Maybe pace around the office every time you get a phone call, to help get your steps in. When you’re at home, remember that housework like mopping, gardening, washing the dishes, and vacuuming still require some physical effort: as long as the activity helps ensure that you move your body, the chance to get the blood flowing a little is already a chance to boost your health.
  6. Prioritize Yourself By Setting Boundaries - Perhaps you've found yourself saying "yes" to something you actually wanted to say "no" to too often, simply because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings. While agreeing to things that you genuinely agree with is acceptable, constantly agreeing to things that you don't actually want to ー for example, an invitation to a party you’d be uncomfortable going to, or a request to work a bunch of unpaid overtime ー can end up causing you to lose control of your life. Rather than people-pleasing to fulfill others' wishes and expectations for you, try to shift your focus back to yourself. Learn to set boundaries that allow you to prioritize yourself, your time, and your decisions. This doesn't make you a selfish person, either: it just means that you’re respecting your own needs. In fact, by being responsible for maintaining the joy and equilibrium in your mind, body, and soul, you’ll actually be able to show up for others better too, by coming to them from a happier and more genuine place. Setting boundaries can be easier said than done, and you may even get push-back from others from it, especially at first. But doing so is a form of self-respect. Start by taking a little more time to think about your answer before you say yes or no to decisions that you’re not absolutely sure of. Listen to what your gut and heart tell you before you commit to an answer. By heeding what you really want, you are also honoring yourself.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Wellness Industry 2022: Pandemic Boosts Self-Care Product Sales; In Pursuit of Wellness: The Self-Care Imperative; A Self-Care Framework for Social Workers: Building a Strong Foundation for Practice; Eating the Rainbow — Is It Useful and Should You Try It?; The Stress of Social Comparison; All About the Chinese Body Clock; How to Hack Your Hormones for a Better Mood; What Are Endorphins?

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