Self-Care Practices with ICARE

Young Black Woman closes her eyes peacefully as she holds a cup of coffee

Practicing Self-Care with ICARE

Taking care of ourselves isn’t always easy. But sometimes, the biggest barrier to practicing self-care is simply that we lack the tools or guidance we need. Sometimes, we need a simple next step that won’t be draining, but rather empowering.

At Restoring the Soul, we support you caring for yourself, both in session and at home. Today, we’re sharing a self-care practice we created called ICARE.

What is ICARE?

ICARE is a concrete method to help you ground yourself and regulate your emotions at home. Each letter stands for a simple step that can be adjusted as needed. You can spend even just a couple minutes or less on each step—or sit for longer, if you want. The beauty of grounding and centering practices is that they’re designed to fit you! You are free to change them however you like, and you’ll still benefit from the practice.

Priest and theologian Ronald Rolheiser says, “Spirituality is about what we do with our unrest.” ICARE is about compassionately sitting with the unrest in your soul and breathing deeply through it.

I: Inquire

Look at what’s happening inside of you.

First, start the self-care practice by simply acknowledging that this moment is about turning your attention inward. In our day-to-day lives, so much comes at us from the external world. It can be easy to lose track of our inner worlds. Inquiry is about noticing what’s going on inside you.

If it’s comfortable, close your eyes. Maybe choose a simple prayer asking God for stillness and awareness, if that feels okay.

It might feel hard at first to turn your attention inward. But you don’t have to do anything else. This moment is about realizing that we are not simply at the mercy of chaos, dysregulation, and the difficult feelings inside of us. We can shape what happens within us.

C: Center

Locate a reference point within you.

This step is both a noun and a verb. Your center is a physical, emotional, and spiritual point within. Centering is the gentle journey to finding this point.

You’ve already turned your attention inward. Now, begin to slow and deepen your breathing if possible. Continue paying attention. Take two or three long, deep breaths. If it’s helpful, hold your breath at the top of the inhale for 2-4 seconds, then release. When you exhale, allow your body to feel heavy.

Imagine your breath descending from the top of your head down to the middle of your chest. Try to turn down the volume on the mental chatter and just focus on breathing. As the breath enters your chest, see if you can feel it settle within your center. Release, and relax where you can.

There’s no agenda here. If we are anxious, full of emotion, or dysregulated, breathing can feel next to impossible. Take your time, and don’t get discouraged if it feels like you can’t hit your stride. Just try again.

A: Accept without judgment

Notice what you’re feeling.

Next, begin to notice what sensations you’re experiencing in your body. Scan your body and ask what you are feeling in different areas. Start with your head, temples, jaw, neckline, and shoulders. Move down to your chest, torso, abdomen, and hips. Then travel all the way down through your thighs, knees, calves, and toes.

Whatever comes up, notice it without judgment. If you can, welcome whatever you’re feeling—even if it’s uncomfortable. You might be surprised by what you discover. Move slowly, breathe deeply, and be gentle with yourself.

R: Remain

Sit with what you’re feeling.

This step is about continuing to stay present as you settle into your body. As you experience different sensations, there are regulating practices that can help you bring your sensations, perceptions, and feelings back into a window of tolerance. Try one of the following:

  • Box breathing
    Breathe in and count to 4 slowly. At the top of your breath, hold it for 4 seconds. Try to avoid inhaling or exhaling. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. Repeat as many times as you need.
  • Resource tapping
    Sit in a chair and put your hands palm down on your thighs just above your knees. Pick an image of a memory or event that is peaceful, and engage as many senses as possible. As you hold the image in your mind, gently tap back and forth on your right and left knee, or just above. Do this for about 20-30 seconds. When you open your eyes, name five objects around you to bring you back to the present.Learn more with Laurel Parnell’s book, Tapping In: A Step-by-Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation.
  • Prayer breathing
    Choose a word that’s meaningful to you, like “Yahweh” or “kindness.” Breathe in the first part of the word, and exhale the second.

E: Empathize

Make space for lament and gratitude.

Finally, when you begin to notice feelings like grief and loss, or other emotional pain, be compassionate. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” When we see ourselves with compassion and kindness, we see ourselves as God sees us.

Ask yourself what are 1-3 things you’re feeling sadness, loss, or lament about? Remind yourself that these things will not consume, destroy, or define you. You can write down what you’re feeling in a journal, or even jot down notes in your phone or record a voice memo. When you’re ready to move on, try considering or writing down a few things that bring you joy and delight. As always, there’s no length requirement.

Seeing ourselves as lovingly as Jesus does is a rich and biblical practice. Even if it feels selfish or difficult to focus on yourself, when we pursue wholeness and groundedness, we are filled up to extend compassion to others.

A man sits on a couch and rests his chin on hands as he reflects and practices self-care

Caring for yourself takes time.

No matter how you experience this self-care practice, remember that trying is valuable. Breathing, centering yourself, and feeling safe and grounded in your body are muscles to build.

If you would like to learn more about how to practice ICARE, check out Restoring the Soul’s podcast episode 280, “Grounding and Centering: Soul Care With ICARE.” 

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