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Depression symptoms 'eased' by mentally reviewing quarrels

Replaying a family quarrel in your head can help to ease rather than prolong the tension, psychologists have suggested.

Going over the details of an argument and remembering exactly what happened rather than sweeping it under the carpet or letting bad feeling fester helps keep perspective, academics at the University of Exeter said.

The advice is released as families continue their festive celebrations, and comes ahead of a time when psychologists say they usually see an increase in referrals for depression.

Psychologists at the university found that people who recalled an emotional incident, including details of how and where it happened, were more able to deal with future similar stresses and the process stopped them becoming so upset about past issues.

Professor Ed Watkins, of the Mood Disorder Clinic at the university, said he found improvements in the mental health of people who learn to go over events in a constructive way.

He said: "Christmas and the New Year can be a tricky time for many people's mood whether it be due to the colder and darker weather, the often common family tensions and quarrels, which sometimes lead to the reopening of old grievances, finances being tight, or the triggering of unfavourable comparisons with how we want to be this year or against 'picture-perfect' ideals of a Merry Christmas.

"We often see this in an increase in referrals for treatment for depression in January and February. Staying with the details of what happens and keeping it in context can be one way to prevent these challenges of the festive season becoming something worse."

The research involved a six-week trial with patients suffering from clinical depression, during which they were trained to spot warning signs for stress, and then review stressful situations they had been in, focusing particularly on what could be seen, heard, felt, smelled and the sequence of what happened.

Results showed it reduced symptoms of depression, outperforming the usual treatment from the GP alone, the psychologists said.

Prof Watkins added: "We have found in the lab that when people train themselves to think about the specific sensory details, context and sequence of an emotional event, including how it unfolded, they were more emotionally resilient to an unexpected stressor than those who thought about the meaning and implications of emotional events.

"Similar studies showed that when people with depression are encouraged to focus on how an upsetting event happened and how it unfolded it improved their ability to solve problems such as arguing with their partner, and with repeated practice, this can in fact hasten recovery out of depression itself."

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