By Professor Nicholas Harvey; Director; Professor of Rheumatology and Clinical Epidemiology, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, University of Southampton

Whilst Christmas may be the season of cheer and goodwill to all humankind, it is also often the season of frantic over-commitment and subsequent yuletide exhaustion. I suspect that this results in part from the perception that not much is going on towards the end of the year, so December is a great time to hold a meeting… In any case, it was a great relief to get to the last week before Christmas, in which I had finally managed to block time to focus on grant and paper writing. Whilst I viewed this with great positivity, I acknowledge that it represents not so much work-life balance as work-work redistribution!

In contrast, the fortnight leading up to Christmas also brought into focus the huge value of activities away from work. I, and my two daughters contributed to a packed schedule of services, carol singing and other events, as members of the choir at St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury city centre. The busy schedule covered venues across the city and surrounding area, including a standing-room-only Service of 9 Lessons and Carols, visits to several of the city’s sheltered residences, and a post-Christmas Service of Evensong in Salisbury Cathedral.

The value of singing per se for mental health is well appreciated (although possibly five events over a weekend may be excessive), and here also brings added value from friendship and community, all far removed from the work environment. As with my clarinet playing in the Romsey Chamber Orchestra, these musical undertakings, tackling often difficult music to a high standard, require intense concentration, into which the myriad of work-related considerations have little chance to intrude.

My Blog title, Eggs and Baskets, may be more appropriate for a different season, but rather than an Easter theme, I use this metaphor (and torture it slightly in so doing) in relation to life-eggs not all being in one life-basket. In difficult clinical academic times, with post-Covid pressures, financial constraints and NHS turmoil, general weariness appears a recurring theme. Whilst rest is essential, engagement in diverting non-work activities provides an important, and renewing, alternative to a relentless focus on the day job.

For me, in the context of leading a multi-million pound MRC grant application, coordinating colleagues from five universities across several disciplines, as an added extra to an already overloaded schedule, my Christmas musical activities certainly provided a valuable route to maintenance of sanity and perspective!

Eggs and Baskets

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