DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why you SHOULD plan a holiday – now!

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Why you SHOULD plan a holiday — now!

  • Studies show having something to look forward to helps to get through each day
  • Dr Max says planning a trip with friends helped him during the first lockdown
  • NHS psychiatrist suggests organising a fantasy holiday, theatre trip or dinner  

Going anywhere nice on holiday this year? It’s usually the opening gambit for a hairdresser, not a doctor, isn’t it? But it’s exactly the question that doctors should be asking their patients, because it might encourage them to have hope that better times are coming.

We all need something to look forward to right now, whether it’s a holiday, a theatre trip, dinner with friends — anything, really, so long as it’s something you enjoy doing with the people you love. I’m convinced having plans is the key to getting us through this bleak lockdown.

During the first lockdown, organising a trip with friends really helped me. We set up a WhatsApp group and planned a short break to the Cotswolds.

The group chat helped me feel connected to my friends when I couldn’t see them, and planning all the details together — from the type of house we wanted to book, to the menu for the first night — meant I’ve never looked forward to a weekend away so much!

Dr Max Pemberton said he’s convinced having plans is the key to getting us through the national lockdown (file image)

My mum, who is on her own, is managing the isolation of this lockdown by updating the list of things she wants to do. Get her hair cut, go to a gallery, go back to her book club; she’s planned everything down to the minute.

Of course, she can’t put dates in her diary yet — we don’t even know how long this lockdown will last, let alone what we will and won’t be able to do once it’s lifted.

But this is one of those times when the journey is more important than the destination. Even if the plans don’t work out exactly as we’re hoping, the joy and excitement is in the planning.

It might seem frivolous, but it really isn’t. Looking forward mentally projects ourselves into the future, albeit temporarily, where things are better and today’s stresses are a distant memory.

Studies of how people cope in psychological situations far worse than lockdown — hostages, people in war-torn countries and people undergoing chemotherapy — have shown that the key to getting through each day is finding something to look forward to.

And although lockdown isn’t anywhere near as serious as these things, we can learn from these situations (and, of course, lockdown is still very difficult for many people).

We know that having something to look forward to is extraordinarily powerful. Fascinating studies have shown a clear and significant dip in deaths among Jewish people around the Sabbath, for example, as they are looking forward to the celebration and are determined to hold on until then.

At the heart of looking forward to something is hope — that although things are tough now, they will get better.

Dr Max (pictured) said doctors are often cautious about raising their patient’s hopes, however hope is associated with better long-term outcomes for health 

Hope is something to hold on to, like a talisman. I’m a great believer in its power — in fact, studies have shown how if people have hope they can endure hardships that would see them crumble without it.

Hope is vital in many aspects of our lives and has fascinated psychologists for years. Research has shown, for example, that people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes were more likely to comply with treatment regimens if they were hopeful.

While doctors are often cautious about raising their patient’s hopes, for fear that they will be proved wrong and this will erode trust, giving patients hope is associated with better long-term outcomes for their health. Psychologists have argued, therefore, that a doctor’s job is really to try and engender some hope that things can improve and that this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with it working in a similar way to a placebo. Without hope, the world is unimaginably bleak and unforgiving.

Each of us can practise a bit of positive psychology on ourselves, nurture our sense of hope, by having something to look forward to. So don’t delay. Start planning that fantasy holiday. Set up a WhatsApp group with your friends or family. Hit the web and start researching now.

At the very least it will give you something to talk to your hairdresser about when they finally reopen.

Don’t let rich jump jab queue

A private member’s travel service is offering Covid-19 vaccinations to the super-wealthy.

It’s charging £40,000 for a trip to the UAE or India to receive the jabs. Ugh, how grotesque.

At present the vaccine isn’t available privately in the UK and I’m delighted about this. The Prime Minister must resist any attempts to change this so the rich can’t jump the queue ahead of the poor.

The pandemic has thrown the health inequalities that exist in this country into sharp relief. I feel proud that, at least for the time being, all of us, rich or poor, have to wait patiently in the queue.

Dr Max suspects sucking your thumb as a child helps long-term development as it teaches them they can calm themselves (file image)

  • Did you suck your thumb as a child? I confess I did until I was about six, to the horror of my parents who did everything they could to dissuade me. TV doctor Chris van Tulleken asked about thumb sucking on Twitter as he was wondering whether to try to stop his three-year-old daughter. I was surprised by how many were in my parents’ camp. I understand concerns it may result in a deformed upper jaw, but this is rare and fixed with orthodontic treatment which most children go through anyway. I think there is worse a child can do and most grow out of it. I suspect it serves as a form of self-soothing, so I wonder if it helps their long-term development as it teaches them they can calm themselves, rather than relying on parents. I think most efforts are futile — a GP told me my thumb would dissolve and I cried until my mum confessed it was a lie. Eventually my parents gave up and then one day a friend saw me do it and laughed. I stopped after that.

Dr Max prescribes…A planet-proof diet

Enough by Dr Cassandra Coburn

We all want to do our bit to help the planet, but it’s easy to feel daunted by how to go about it. Is organic really better for the environment? And should I give up meat? Dr Coburn looks at the science behind the impact of what we eat. I read this over Christmas and loved it because I felt empowered about the choices I made with what I ate after reading it — something important in the current environment when it’s easy to feel out of control.

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