If you’ve yet to forgive your family for that Christmas argument, help is at hand.
Researchers have revealed the best way to kick a bad mood after a quarrel and it doesn’t involve sweeping disagreements under the rug.
According to psychologists at the University of Exeter, recalling the detail of shouting matches, including exactly who said what to whom and how, may not be destructive and prolong the tension.
Instead, it could help people keep incidents in perspective and stop the triggering of self-doubt and even depression.
The researchers’ advice is designed to help prevent upsetting events – including family squabbles at Christmas – becoming deep rifts with damaging psychological consequences.
Their analysis of a series of experiments found that dealing concretely with “moderately upsetting” events such as arguments – including reviewing precisely the context of the event, how it unfolded and thinking how things could have been dealt with in another way – can be the best way to keep them in proportion.
In contrast, dwelling on why events happened and what an incident means about you or other people and its potential consequences could lead to overgeneralising to other situations and tip into feelings of worthlessness and depression.
“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,” said lead researcher Professor Ed Watkins.
“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.”
After training to recall the details of an upsetting incident including the tone of a voice, the words used and how the event happened, people became more resilient and put the upsetting incident into context, stopping a downward spiral into low mood, he said.
For people experiencing depression, learning to focus on stressful incidents and to reimagine them in full technicolour asking themselves ‘what is unique about this situation?’ and ‘how did it happen?’ instead of ‘why did it happen to me?’ had an a “significant impact” on helping to alleviate mental ill health.
A clinical trial in patients with clinical depression found that daily training in spotting warning signs for stress and then reviewing stressful situations in a concrete way – by paying attention to the details of what could be seen, heard, felt, smelled and the sequence of what happened – over six weeks significantly reduced symptoms of depression.
“Often clinical depression can follow a difficult life event, such as losing a job, the end of a relationship, illness, or being trapped in a stressful situation. Furthermore, once people are depressed, the normal hassles and challenges of daily life can themselves lead into more rumination and get blown out of proportion, further fuelling the depression,” Professor Watkins said.
“So being more concrete by reducing the negative impact of daily hassles can help people to come out of depression.”