My friend has the winter blues

Is it winter where you are?  This year, whole sections of the U.S. haven’t yet had much of a winter at all, but parts of Europe are experiencing more snow and ice that they’re ready for.

Winter is a season that some people relish: it’s time to go skating or skiing, to enjoy a wood fire, or to drink hot chocolate.  For other people, it’s a bleak, gray time when the nights are too long and the days are too short.  

 In recent years, we’ve learned more about seasonal affective disorder (with the appropriate acronym SAD).  SAD is related to our getting less sunlight at this time of year.  It lays some people low, and it keeps sales of special light therapy products high. 

Whether your friend actually experiences SAD or not, she may be feeling blue, as if February, the shortest month, will go on forever.  How can  you help?

First, take a moment to mention to her what you’ve observed: “Say, you seem a bit down these days.  How’s it going?”  She may have been reluctant to open up in the past, but now may be relieved to talk about her feelings. 

Perhaps she can pinpoint something:

“Valentine’s Day is coming and I don’t have anyone to spend it with”

“I hate winter because I hate trying to shovel all that snow”

“I ate too much over the holidays and I’ve put on some more weight”

Or perhaps it’s just:

“I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m feeling blue.”

Just acknowledging her feelings may help a lot.  You don’t have to say that you feel the same way (unless you do), or to predict that she’ll be feeling better soon, or to tell her to stop feeling sorry for herself.  We can’t know just how things feel to another person, but we can listen to a friend and emphasize with her pain.

Once you’ve heard more about what’s bothering her, you may want to ask her what she’d like to do to help herself.  Maybe you’ll hear:

“I’ll join some friends who are spending Valentine’s evening  going bowling”

“I’m going to pay somebody to shovel the snow, and not feel guilty about it”

“I’m going to join a gym and take an exercise class”

Then you can encourage her to take this action and let her know that you’ll be there to applaud her choice.

But if she says “I don’t really know what to do”, you might help her to brainstorm about possible steps to take, offer her a few ideas to consider, or suggest that she talk with a counselor or a support group about her feelings.

The winter blues can be mild or strong, they can be linked to a particular issue or just part of a general slump, but they can make anyone wish for summer.  The time you take to listen to your friend, help her consider ways to feel better, or encourage her to find additional assistance may help her feel that spring is just around the corner.   

This article is based on ideas from the How Can I Help? Book.  It is not an excerpt from the book.