Lucy Hale Opens Up About Going Through a 'Dark Time' After 'Pretty Little Liars' Ended in 2017

"It made me realize, 'Oh God, I actually don't know what I like about myself,'" the actress tells PEOPLE

Lucy Hale
Lucy Hale.

Lucy Hale is getting candid about life after Pretty Little Liars.

When the actress' seven-year tenure playing Aria Montgomery on the hit Freeform teen drama came to an end in 2017, Hale admits that reality hit her hard.

"It was such a crazy experience to be a part of something that was massive on a global scale," Hale tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, on newsstands Friday. "The show changed our lives overnight. We were so young, so busy and over­ worked. But you're up on this mountain, and you're like, 'Every­ thing is so great! People love us!'"

"When you step outside of that, you're like, 'That's not normal,'" she continues. "After the show ended, it was a dark time in my life. It made me realize, 'Oh God, I actually don't know what I like about myself.'"

Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell, Lucy Hale, Troian Bellisario and Sasha Pieterse on Pretty Little Liars. Freeform/Eric McCandless

After taking a step back and looking inward, Hale, 32, says that in time she started recognizing the "small" things she valued about herself outside of her career, including that she's a good friend and loving dog parent to her two maltipoos, Ethel (named after the I Love Lucy character) and Elvis.

"I just really had to hang out with myself," she says. "I'm at a point now where I love what I do, but I also like who I am outside of that. That, to me, is a big accomplishment because I didn't know if I'd ever be able to say that about myself."

Currently shooting the film The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in Boston, Hale — who also stars in the AMC+ series Ragdoll and in the upcoming rom-com The Hating Game out Friday — says it's the simple things that make her happiest these days.

"I love waking up with my dogs and drinking my coffee and watching the sunrise from my home in Los Angeles," she says. "I used to think one day I'd have these big hobbies, but it's more just quiet moments with myself. I don't know if it's because work constantly pulls me in a million different directions, but I love solitude. It's not unusual for me to not do anything social for months at a time."

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Whenever she's had a stressful day, Hale says she'll do a workout to blow off some steam.

"I listen to what my body needs, and so I mix it up," she says. "I love Pilates and yoga, and I do strength training twice a week. I live across from a hiking trail, and I try to go every day for some quiet time."

She'll also put her phone on "do not disturb" whenever she feels it's necessary.

"It's hard when you're online, and you're on your phone, and you see all these beautiful people, and you think you're supposed to look like that," she says. "I think that one really sad thing about the internet is it can rip away how you feel about yourself, and it's just such a shame. I limit my time on my phone these days to keep me in higher spirits."

Through everything, Hale says she's learned the importance of putting her mental health first.

"You know what I love about Adele? She recently said in an interview, 'I lost all this weight, and I'm really sorry that that triggered a lot of things in other people, but that's not my job to make everyone happy.' I thought that was so accurate," says Hale. "In our industry, I do feel a responsibility to be open and honest, but I also have to take care of my mental health."

"Feeling like I have to please so many people made me hate myself," she continues. "I can't live my life wondering what people think of me. I hope people like me, of course. And I hope people relate to what I'm saying, but if they don't, that's not my problem. Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you'll ever have in your life."

For all the details on what Lucy Hale's life is really like, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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