Tim is a controller for medical devices company and year-end is typically hectic and stressful. This year, he is also going to travel with his partner to visit with her side of the family. Traveling with their four kids is always chaotic and his patience is tested by her opinionated family. In general, traveling at the holidays is taxing for him and her. For Tim in particular, he misses working out, he eats more junk food than normal, he slacks on his daily mediations, and he skips talking on the phone to his brother while they watch sports.
Tim’s deviation from the practices that maintain his P.A.T.H. (People, Activities, Techniques, and Health) will diminish his resilience to stress and contribute to irritability. By removing these under-appreciated pillars for self-care, Tim risks creating toxic exhaust for his partner and their kids. He can prevent this by acknowledging the importance of this self-care P.A.T.H. and taking measures to preserve them or compensate for their absence.
In the context of resiliency, particularly with respect to behavioral modification or substance use, the maintenance of a self-care P.A.T.H. can determine success or failure. P.A.T.H. (different than the “path” in “Path2”), is an acronym for People, Activities, Techniques, and Health for self-care and resiliency to stressors.
People represents the family, friends, and key relationships that deliver the emotional nutrients critical for self-care. These are the relationships that offer support, understanding, and balance. For some people, it might be friends, or co-workers, or groups; for Tim, it’s the time with his brother, when he can talk and connect over the phone while enjoying an activity together (albeit, simply over the phone).
Activities represent the physical and mental activities that stimulate and engage parts of the body and nervous system that process catabolic energy and produce anabolic energy. Catabolic energy (the energy that drains us) can be processed by activities that require getting out of our heads and into our bodies. Anabolic energy (the energy that expands and rejuvenates us), on the other hand, can be produced from emotional, mental, and physical activities. For Tim, working out provides a means to sweat out stress, which creates capacity to handle more stress.
Techniques represent the tools and practices that regulate mindset and lubricate mental and emotional elasticity. These techniques are often deliberate habits intended to calibrate perspective and create awareness of the present moment, such as journaling, somatic check-ins, or meditation. Daily tools and routine practices can enable a person to be less affected by overwhelm and agitation. For Tim, his daily meditation quiets his mind and allows him to be present and unaffected by inner complaining and chattering.
Health represents care directed to our bodies through diet, nutrition, sleep, and illness prevention. While plenty of studies indicate how certain diets affect mood and energy, resiliency is more a function of consistency than quality. Wide fluctuations in sugar, alcohol, calories, and a host of other dietary aspects can quickly deteriorate resiliency and impact mood and perspective. When we tinker with the fuel we put in our body, the performance of our body and mind will be different than what we normally experience. For Tim, the excess junk food leads to steep spikes and valleys in his mood.
Holiday plans destabilize the pillars of Tim’s P.A.T.H. and this, in turn, invites a cranky and unflattering version of Tim to his partner, her family, and his kids. Knowing this in advance, Tim can take measures to prioritize certain pillars of P.A.T.H. during the holidays to ensure that his best version is present and available to the people he cares about. Depending on the availability of options, he could make accommodations to maintain whichever pillars are possible. At first blush, prioritizing such things might seem selfish, but self-care to offer the best version of himself to others is actually an acknowledgement of how important the other people are to him.
If the holiday season looks like it might deliver a hip-check to the pillars of your P.A.T.H., here are few preventative steps you can take to mitigate the impact and make sure your best version shows up for friends and family:
- People: Know who is a regular in your support system that you can maintain contact with during the holiday bustle, or who can listen to you if you need to be vulnerable or vent.
- Activities: Note which activities help flush and refresh your energy and make arrangements to have those activities available to you during the holiday disruptions.
- Techniques: Prioritize and set aside time and capacity to practice tools and techniques that increase the probability of success for each day.
- Health: Understand your “health budget” in advance regarding your diet and sleep so you can make sure you don’t overdo it, and listen to your body and mood for what you need (your wish list).