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Five Ways To Beat (Or At Least Manage) The Holiday Blues

Dec. 12, 2008

For many, holiday films that present comical family dysfunction reflect more fact than fiction. The holiday season can often be a difficult time for many individuals and for a variety of reasons. Dr. Michael Frisch, professor of psychology at Baylor University, shares the latest research on managing depression and offers some practical tips and observations for enjoying the season.

Frisch, a professor, researcher, therapist, and positive psychology coach, operates the Meaningful Life Project which aims to enhance individuals' sense of meaning, fulfillment, and happiness based on scientific findings and research.

1. Recognize that the holiday blues are "grief reactions" or "anniversary grief reactions" for the losses in your life.

2. Identify your losses. These may include more than just lost loved ones but also friends who have moved or jobs lost.

3. Honor, explore, and discuss your losses with any loved ones and friends who share your loss. There's no need to run away from sadness or grief as these are normal human experiences and not a dangerous depression.

Frisch says, "In Quality of Life Therapy and Best Life Counseling, we tell people to always ask themselves:

• What would my lost loved one want me to be doing right now and in the future? Keep busy doing just that.

• Stay busy pursuing new life goals, serving others, and having some fun with a detailed schedule every day that you try to follow as closely as possible.

• Write letters to deceased loved ones that you read at the gravesite. Go through photos, videos, and gifts from your loved one. Visit "old haunts" that the two of you visited and jot down your memories of these places."

4. Experiment with some exercises or other activities that may help you cope with the season. Several free tips, exercises, interviews, and other resources are available from the Meaningful Life Project. The site offers numerous prescriptions for building a life of meaning, happiness, and fulfillment.

5. Get a physical exam from a primary care physician. In many cases. In several cases, a medical condition or medication side effect has been the cause of someone's depression or unhappiness. Additionally, a qualified mental health professional would, as part of their assessment, want to talk to a primary care physician about a recent physical exam.

Frisch recommends the combination of medication and therapy for the most serious cases of depression or anxiety. Both medication and therapy should be supported by scientific research. "

Find a therapist with supervised experience in a research-supported psychotherapy. "A therapist should have a great reputation in the community for treating the problem," he says. "They should also be able to prove their supervised experience to you with a certificate and actual research studies showing that their approach works."

Frisch cautions against nutrition supplements or therapists who claim years of experience and success without research proof for their approach. "This can be like taking a seaweed pill or primal scream therapy for pneumonia, instead of a proven antibiotic that starts to work immediately," says Frisch.