Denial rarely solves anything but we need a break from this doom-laden topic
This Christmas, don’t mention the ‘C’ word. You know the one I mean. The omnipresent bug. The perpetual pestilence.
I first saw the idea of declaring Christmas a ‘C’-free zone suggested online, and it seems to be catching on. Many people have resolved to go from Christmas Day to New Year without talking about the ‘C’ word at all.
Some are introducing an adapted ‘swear jar’, where you have to pay a penalty in hard cash if you break the resolution.
Others have agreed that any culprits caught burbling on about you-know-what will have to pay in kind, by doing the dishes or emptying the bin or servicing Great Aunt Ethel’s Baileys requirements.
I think it’s an excellent plan. And I speak as one of the worst offenders. It’s going to be a real effort, but I’m determined.
Because we all need a break from this grimmest of topics.
You know what I mean. We have talked of little else for almost two years.
A bad habit of mine is listening to other people’s conversations. I don’t deliberately eavesdrop — I’m not quite that bad — but I keep an ear cocked for interesting exchanges when I’m out and about. As a writer, you can learn a lot that way.
But almost all I’ve overheard, for months and months on end, is talk of — yes, you’ve guessed it. Who caught it and when, who got vaccinated and who didn’t, droning on and on and on until you’d think that nothing else existed except the dreaded ‘C’.
I’m not normally keen on a ‘head in the sand’ approach to problems, whatever their magnitude, small or large.
Trying to avoid or block out difficulties, in the vain hope that they’ll go away, often tends to make them worse.
Denial rarely solves anything.
But neither does obsessive thinking, worrying round and round in circles, like a caged hamster running madly on its wheel.
And boy, are we obsessed with this one.
Brain imaging studies show how obsessive thinking can force our minds into these endless repetitive loops. Cognitive behavioural therapists explain how we lose all sense of proportion and become plagued by thoughts and images of personal disaster that may never occur. This makes us feel helpless and hopeless, and so the miserable cycle continues.
So we might not find it too easy to switch off over Christmas, especially if the worry — of whatever kind — is dug in deep.
But the benefits of banning the ‘C’ word, even for just a few days, are potentially great. There are so many more interesting things to talk about, both serious and delightfully silly, once you remove the bug from the conversation.
When our focus has narrowed to one single tortured point, it’s refreshing to look up, look around and remember that the world is so much more than a globe riddled with disease.
One of the best ways to reconnect with what really matters, and help restore a sense of healthy proportion, is to spend some time in beautiful natural places.
Whatever the downsides to living in Northern Ireland, a definite advantage is that unspoilt nature is never too far away.
Being by the sea, or up in the mountains, or walking through the woods can make an extraordinary difference to our spirits, especially if we do it often. Even sitting in the park for a while, resting your eyes on that green space, can lift or soothe your mood.
I can already hear the scoffers dismissing this as quasi-spiritual woo, the sort of mystical guff that tree-huggers and other beardy weirdos rave about.
But it’s true. Scientists have demonstrated that even a small amount of time in nature can have a positive impact on your health.
A wealth of data demonstrates that it can reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, lift depression, improve energy and even boost the immune system with an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells.
That last one is especially important. Stress inhibits immune function, making you more likely to fall ill. NK cells are a kind of white blood cell which attack unwanted cells, such as those infected with a virus, or tumour cells.
Immersing yourself in nature not only makes you feel better, it arms you against ill health.
If that’s not a reason for a festive walk in the forest, breathing in the fresh clear air, I don’t know what is. You might even find yourself embracing a tree.
But whatever you do, just don’t mention the ‘C’ word.