Are Your Self-Care Rituals Making You Unhappy? This Doctor Thinks So

Photo: Michela Ravasio

If you’re feeling sad or blue, or suffering from mild to moderate depression, dysthymia, seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, bipolar II, or anxiety, Dr. Ellen Vora has the tips & tools you need to help manage your symptoms and feel vibrantly healthy. Check out her newest mbg class, Managing Depression: A Mind, Body & Spirit Approach, to learn how you can start healing your depression today.
  

I'm a holistic psychiatrist, so when patients walk through my door, they're usually already A+ students when it comes to yoga, meditation, eating clean, taking Epsom salt baths, and surrounding themselves with essential oils and salt lamps. Who am I to call any of these lovely practices and rituals into question? I do many of them myself!

And yet, I've often wondered if there are times when we do so much self-care that, ironically, it starts to get in the way of our ability to take care of ourselves and can actually contribute to burnout.

Being overly busy is a huge issue—and self-care is part of the problem.

I think the central issue leading to burnout is that we keep ourselves too busy. There are the obvious sources of busyness, like long commutes, draining work hours, and supersaturated social and extracurricular calendars. But then there are also the more insidious sources of busyness, like work following us home on our computers, keeping track of our innumerable and ever-changing logins and passwords, and having to keep up with messages coming at us across multiple platforms (work email, personal email, text, WhatsApp, Slack, Snapchat, voicemail, Instagram messages—I think you get the idea here).

Oftentimes, I think introducing more self-care rituals and practices is just adding fuel to the fire. Trying to find ways to squeeze in meditation, journaling, luxurious baths, yoga, and a lengthy morning green tea ritual in which we recite positive affirmations can be overwhelming—and it's contributing to the original problem. Sometimes I think we're better off just doing nothing for a while. Nothing-ing may make us feel lazy, but my self-care recommendation for you in 2018 is to cut out many of the rituals and just rest in silence.

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You don't need to spend a bunch of money to take care of yourself.

Many smart and enterprising people have recognized that, with millions of people experiencing depression and burnout, there’s a market here. And while they still might have your best interests in mind and are creating helpful tools, they have also figured out that consumers have a tendency to try to shop our way out of our deep unmet needs. Trying to purchase peace and serenity is no exception. While the salt lamps and aromatherapy diffusers and fancy bath salts are all lovely (and don't get me wrong, I, too, have purchased all of these things), self-care does not require props. There is no essential piece of gear that will rejuvenate you. Taking a break to stare out the window doesn't cost you a thing, and it can be as relaxing as any more formal act of self-care when done with intention.

Self-care can require a lot of effort, when really what we need is to pause.

I think our active approach to self-care has something to do with our overall tendency to want to do rather than let or be. So many of us want to muscle and grunt our way out of our problems rather than surrendering to a process that is ultimately out of our control. We want to force and white-knuckle ourselves into wellness, but I think the original sickness we're trying to heal from is also a case of white-knuckling and trying to force, control, and excel all at once. The real antidote is not filling our day with active forms of self-care—forcing ourselves to sign up for that yoga class even though we only have one free hour in the day—but finding the capacity to surrender and allow.

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Self-care practices can make us obsess about what we want to change.

One final and subtle issue with self-care is that it can keep us overly focused on the act of healing. Sometimes pointing so many spotlights at the fact that we're hurting and wanting to heal ends up digging the groove deeper. There are times when it's better to just go about your day without drawing so much of your attention to the fact that you need to heal. In fact, it can be revolutionary to see the ways you're actually healthy instead! Recognize the ways you're already intact and thriving, and allow yourself a day when you're not trying to fix what's wrong.

Want more wisdom from Dr. Ellen Vora? Here are 9 things she recommends to her patients before psychiatric medications.

Also, establishing a regular meditation practice can drastically improve your health, and so can choosing the right foods. Ready to learn more about the power of food? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

Ellen Vora, M.D.

Holistic Psychiatrist
Ellen Vora, M.D., is a holistic psychiatrist practicing in NYC. She graduated from Columbia University medical school, received her B.A. in English from Yale University, is boarded in psychiatry and integrative and holistic medicine, and she's also a licensed medical acupuncturist and certified yoga teacher. Dr. Vora takes a functional medicine approach to mental health–considering the whole person and addressing the problem at the root, rather than reflexively prescribing medication to suppress symptoms. She specializes in depression, anxiety, insomnia, adult ADHD, bipolar and digestive issues. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Vora also writes, blogs, contributes to two healthcare startups, and does corporate wellness presentations.
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Ellen Vora, M.D.

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