It’s a classic question – one you likely hear all day long. We know it’s tempting to brush off a “How are you?” with a “Good, how are you?” rather than opening the floodgates with everything that’s going on. But sometimes, talking about what’s bothering you can bring you relief. Whether you feel like sharing or not, here are some tips to help you figure out what you want to say.
Gauge What You Want to Share, And With Who!
It should always be your personal preference as to how much you want to open up to the people around you. This can mean pushing the boundaries of the expected response. Ultimately, be sure you’re keeping things comfortable for yourself. Know them well? This is definitely an easier space to navigate – but be careful when it comes to co-workers or your mother-in-law.
Feel Out the Inquirer’s Interest
To feel safer about sharing, feel out how much the person asking really wants to hear. This can be as simple as responding with “Do you want a quick rundown or the full story?”
Ease Into Honesty
“If someone asks you how you are doing, you can practice being honest without providing all of the details,” suggests Bisma Anwar, LMHC, a therapist with therapy platform Talkspace. Instead, try “I’m only okay today, I have some personal things going on” or “I’m fabulous, I just got some amazing news!” This is a good way to answer truthfully without oversharing. It can also strengthen bonds with acquaintances without any added uncomfortable vulnerability.
Switch It Up
When you want to share a bit of negativity, you can follow it up with some good news to ease the blow. Maybe you’re excited about the release of a new season of your favorite TV series but are also missing a friend who lives far away. Sharing both the pros and cons of your well-being is a good option for getting some support without getting bogged down in sharing the details.
Suggest an Activity
Do you want to open up but need time to find the words? Psychologist Charmain Jackman Ph.D. tells patients that it’s okay to ask to take a walk or go for a car ride. Mixing in some activity can tone down the intensity and pressure of answering “How are you?” honestly.
Blame It on the Timing
When you really can’t share or don’t feel that the environment is safe, don’t let yourself be pressured. Instead, brush off the question by politely responding with “This isn’t the best time for me to talk” or “Can we please talk about something else?” You don’t owe anyone personal details, and it is never rude to protect yourself.
Return the Favor
Don’t forget to follow up on the other person’s well-being, too. “Remind yourself that this person made the effort to reach out to you, and you can show appreciation for that,” Anwar says. By giving them a chance to open up, you show that you care. This can strengthen bonds, and you never know what someone may be going through that they need your help or support with.
Don’t dread the “How are you?” that follows a casual greeting or life event. Use these tips to answer it comfortably, turn it into an opportunity to gain the support you desire, and deepen your relationships with others.