Skirting the Issue - Remember to jump in puddles

The world is a very depressing place at the moment. The credit crunch continues. The Euro-zone crisis deepens. The weather has turned colder and meteorologists are predicting another big freeze.

The cost of oil and electricity is rising, petrol is pricier - even with your 5p off coupon at Tesco or if you nip down over the border. Every week our shopping seems to getmore expensive, even though I’m pretty sure we are buying nothing different. The newspapers and news programmes on TV are filled with such doom and gloom that it’s no wonder people are walking around with sour bakes on them, mumbling into their scarves as they go.

It’s hard to be cheerful when all around are being brow beaten by the steady stream of depressing news stories and apocalyptic style warnings about how bad things are going to get.

A study this week has shown that stress is contagious. That didn’t particularly surprise me. If you surround someone with enough negativity it’s bound to have an impact. It can be very hard to grasp a feeling of “everything’s going to be okay” when you are constantly bombarded with the reasons it is not.

The study revealed that if you are surrounded by negative people you will subconsciously mimic their tone of voice, their stance and perhaps even their facial expressions.

Women, it seems, are particularly susceptible to catching a good dose of stress. It appears we are more likely to try and sympathise and empathise with someone having a hard time, and in doing this we are also likely to tell a similar stressed story about our own lives. This, according to the researchers, causes us to focus unnecessarily on our own woes even if they had not been annoying us beforehand and can lead to us feeling stressed and depressed ourselves.

I’ll be the first person to put my hand up and admit to being a glass is half empty kind of a gal. I’m not particularly proud of it; it’s not a trait I admire in myself. But my default settings tend to settle on the “we’re all doomed” side of things as opposed to looking for a light at the end of a tunnel. Therefore the increased negativity in the media just feeds my naturally pessimistic self. I fear - or should I say I know - I have become a grumpy old woman.

I also absolutely cannot help but take on the troubles of others should they share them with me. I’ve been known to walk around with a sad head on me feeling down if I’ve heard someone else’s sad story somehow feeling as if something is wrong in my own life.

Lately though I’ve been trying to snap myself out of it. Wrong as it may be for a journalist to admit it, but if a news item depresses me, I turn the page, flick the channel or click to another all together less depressing link (some frivolous celebrity gossip tends to suffice). Instead of watching documentaries or serious dramas in the evening. I’ll hunt out light-hearted comedies and chick flicks. Children’s movies (good ones, mind, like Tangled or The Smurfs) are particularly good for lifting the spirits. I’ll lose myself in a good book (chick lit of course) and I’ll distract myself with a drive or a walk or singing loudly at the top of my lungs.

These are all good distraction techniques. But one of the biggest and best distractions I have found lately is just adopting a “feck it all” attitude. Sometimes it helps to block out the noise of outside distractions and lose yourself in what really matters. Be it baking buns on the spur of the moment with your two year old, or making salt dough, or just going to the park, even if it is raining and all you’ll be able to do is splash about in puddles and get soaked.

It’s allowing yourself to feel the same feelings as that two year-old.

To embrace that innate positivity. To adopt her mannerisms and facial expressions. To empathise with her joy for jumping in puddles by jumping in them yourself.

It’s about teaching yourself to bake buns with the same joie de vivre as a toddler, taking time to feel the flour in your fingers, taste the cake mix and dab a bit of it on the end of your nose, just for the craic.

Perhaps if I try taking on board the positive, and shutting out the negative a bit more the world won’t be quite so depressing. And then, in turn, I won’t be one of the people who passes my stress on to others. It’s worth a try.

And finally...

I’m delighted to see the producers of the ‘X-Factor’ (no doubt after reading my column last week) decided to boot out that walking nit infestation that is Skanky Frankie Cocozza.

The fame hungry teen was booted out after reportedly boasting about drug use, breaking one of the show’s ‘Golden Rules’. Call me cynical but I would have thought other golden rules would have included being able to sing, being able to dance and not being an eejit. But it seems I was wrong. However, good riddance to the horrible wee eejit, one of the most appalling ‘role models’ to hit our screens in years.