Think about the last few times someone asked “How are you?”. What’d you say? The answer most people are going to give here is some version of “I’m good”. Now ask yourself – was that always true?
Chances are, the answer is no.
The answer you give when someone asks how you’re doing is usually an automatic, standard response. Why? Because more often than not, we’re not really asking. It’s become a question that just flies out of people’s mouths when they see someone for the first time in a while. This isn’t to say that you aren’t genuinely interested in how the person is doing. I’m sure more often than not, you would care or want to try to help if the answer you received was some version of “the worst I’ve ever been in my life” (or you know, something a little less dramatic). But let’s not lie to each other. There are definitely times when you ask “How are you?” that you’d be genuinely annoyed if in response, the person launched into a long explanation of exactly why things were or were not so great. Very often, we’re expecting a quick answer so we can move on.
It’s just a part of our social norms. Don’t worry, you’re not a bad person for falling under the “I don’t actually want to hear how your boss is the worst for the next five minutes” category. We’re all there sometimes. But the other side of always giving that automatic answer of “I’m good!”? It’s very easy to have no idea what the real one actually is.
So how ARE you?
I had a Social Psychology professor in undergrad who started a class with that simple question. He asked us how we were all doing, and in unison, everyone gave the standard “Good” answer. But instead of moving on, he said, “No. How are you REALLY?”. Everyone paused. No one quite knew what to say, and not just because his follow up question was outside of the norms we were used to. Most people took pause because they genuinely didn’t know. Everyone pretty much agreed that this was the first time, at least that day, that any of us were actually considering a real answer to that question.
When was the last time you thought about it?
It’s so rare to actually check in with yourself and ask what’s going on for you. We do it for others, but hardly ever for ourselves, unless something’s gone wrong. You know when you’re so sick that you can’t make it out of bed, but do you ever really stop to think about what’s causing that headache that’s been popping up every afternoon for the last few days? Usually the answer is no, unless it’s limiting you in some way. It’s like we have two modes: functioning and non-functioning. Functioning basically equals good, and non-functioning is bad. But is that the standard we have to live by? Spoiler, the answer is no. Things don’t have to be good just because nothing terrible is happening. Sometimes you fall in the middle, and it’s beneficial to know that.
Check in with yourself.
Start in the morning. When you wake up, ask yourself “How am I?” and then really think about the answer. Do you feel anxiety? Tired? Excited? Optimistic? What emotions are you experiencing? What’s your body feeling like? Genuinely ask yourself the question, “How are you?”.
If you know, you can do something about it.
It’s better to solve problems before they’re a crisis, right? Good. Glad we agree. It’s better to know that you’ve been feeling tired for the last couple of days before you’re so sleep deprived that you get sick. It’s better to know that you’ve been feeling more anxious than usual before something sets you off into a full blown anxiety attack. How do you know? You ask.