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How Are You?

How Are You?



The holiday season is approaching, for many people this is a fun, joyful, and exciting time. For many others, it’s a stressful, uncomfortable, and overwhelming time. For some, it’s a combination of both. Please know that during this time of year, many people are just not ok. If that person is you, it’s ok not only to not be ok, but to talk about it if needed.

I wanted to write this blog at this time as many people I work with have shared feelings of simply not being ok this time of year. Others have shared feelings of not knowing how to be there for others they care about who are struggling, how to support those who are just not ok. Hopefully some aspects of this post can help with both circumstances to allow grace both for yourself if you are struggling, or for others in your life who may be struggling during this time of year.

In general, when someone asks, “how are you?” do you answer this question honestly? Do you take a moment to truly consider how you are actually doing in this moment? Or, do you resort to the standard, “fine” “doing ok” “hanging in there” despite what you are actually feeling internally? While it’s important to protect ourselves and have boundaries, it’s also important to normalize and share the experience of our struggles, our emotional pain, and our challenges. The truth is, sometimes we really are just ok, sometimes we’re better than ok, we’re great, however, other times we are struggling, experiencing significant pain, and feeling the weight of our challenges. In these moments, it really is ok to speak your truth to the question, “how are you?” — especially with those you trust. 

Leaning into emotional vulnerability can be really difficult. We live in a performance and productivity driven society, and we don’t always make time for our own feelings, much less the feelings of others. We often work in groups and encounter people daily, and yet we have a projected mask that keeps our inner experience well concealed deep within ourselves. Being vulnerable is about being honest, both with ourselves, as well as with others. When you can lean into the reality of the truth to the question “how are you?” with a pause, and an ability to check in and be open with how you are truly feeling in that moment, you are leaning into the experience of being vulnerable. When you consider what you are experiencing internally, and express it out loud to another person, you allow them the opportunity to lean into holding space for your emotions, your honesty, and your vulnerability. 

During this season, it’s ok to be honest, to honor your boundaries, and to be prepared for others to potentially hold space for you. In an effort to be more open and vulnerable, you may also encounter experiences of others who are uncomfortable with your vulnerability. If that describes you, someone who struggles with how to be present with someone else’s discomfort, know that there is another side of vulnerability as well. This other side is about how to fully show up and be there for someone when they offer their inner feelings and experiences to you. 

Does it cause discomfort for you when someone tells you that they aren’t doing so great? Do you often jump into problem solving mode when someone tells you about a challenge they are enduring, even if they haven’t asked for your advice? Do you remain quiet, brush past it, and change the subject? Do you resort to any other kind of avoidance when someone tells you about their emotional pain or struggles due to your own discomfort? 

These are challenging interpersonal experiences and typically we are not given great models or taught lessons about how to have healthy, open, vulnerable, and honest communication. It’s tough to know how to express ourselves, or how to be there for someone else who is expressing emotional pain in a vulnerable way. It can also be difficult to share our pain because we don’t want to emotionally dump onto others, or be a burden. For others it may not feel safe or comfortable to not seem ok. Many people feel like they have to show up as always fine and project that they are fine—even if they in fact internally are not.

The key with leaning into vulnerability and speaking your truth is to practice with someone you trust. You want to have positive experiences sharing and practicing becoming more emotionally open, honest, and vulnerable. Consider someone you believe would be willing to listen to you, to be there for you, and offer space for your honesty and openness. Consider someone you trust to hold this space for you—even if it feels uncomfortable—and begin there. Imagine what it would be like for this person to ask you the standard, “how are you?” and you taking a moment to pause, and consider the question honestly within yourself. Then imagine going into a sense of vulnerable openness, sharing honestly what you are actually feeling and experiencing in that moment. Does this stir anxiety, worry, or any other feelings of discomfort for you? If so, that is completely normal. Being vulnerable is hard, but holding everything in, and not creating authentic connections is ultimately even harder in the long run. Accessing support when you are struggling with anything challenging is tremendously valuable.

Once you begin to become more open with someone you trust, notice the impact, notice how it feels to be honest, to confront the anxiety or worry or any other discomfort that comes up for you. When asked this seemingly simple question, “how are you?” practice saying something such as one the following:

  • “Thank you for asking, I actually have been struggling with _________ (name your struggle).” 

  • “Things feel really challenging for me right now, can I talk with you about it?”

  • “I’ve been feeling ______________ (down, low, anxious…) recently, I could really use a friend right now.”

  • “I appreciate your kindness in asking, I’m actually going through a really difficult time.”

  • “I’m feeling lost and unsure of what to do with these feelings, thank you for asking, it means a lot to me.”

What does it bring up for you to imagine saying one of these vulnerable statements to someone when you are struggling? Usually, after the initial fear or discomfort of being vulnerable, it makes us feel heard, more connected, lighter, and helps to release some of the suppressed stress and discomfort. While it can be hard to do, it’s worth moving through the discomfort and allowing yourself to practice being vulnerable and open.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of this vulnerability, consider how you might show up for someone else in pain, someone you care about, expressing to you that they are struggling. Most of us struggle with sharing due to perfectionism or people pleasing tendencies, however, we also usually struggle with how to respond when someone is actually open and vulnerable with us. Here are some examples for how to show up, hold space, and be there for someone in pain. If someone says something to you similar to one of the above statements, you might respond by saying:

  • “That sounds really challenging, (or difficult, hard, painful…) if you want to talk about, I’m here to listen.” 

  • “I’m so sorry you are feeling this way, I’m here for you in any way that would be supportive for you.”

  • “Let me know if you need for me to listen, or if you would like some supportive advice”

  • “I’m so glad you shared this with me, how can I help?”

  • “I’m here for you, I hope you know that you are not alone.”

Imagine how it would feel for you to say one of the above statements to someone, even if, or especially if, it feels out of your comfort zone. Offering support can help someone more than you may even know.

Sometimes people hesitate to ask how someone is doing when they know that person is struggling because they are afraid the person may not want to talk about it. They worry they will bring it up and it will be too painful for that person. The reality is, that person may not want to talk about it, and that’s totally ok. However, acknowledging the other person’s pain, and being willing to listen if they do want to talk is tremendously powerful. Everyone wants to feel like they matter to others, that they are cared for, and when you ask someone how they are, and can show up for them in moments of their pain, you are creating an opening for deep and meaningful connections. It’s even ok to express your own vulnerability and say what you are honestly feeling and experiencing. You can say something as simple as, “I don’t even know what to say but I want you to know that I am here for you.” Vulnerability is hard, but it is worth the effort.

One of the most valuable ways to support someone once you’ve been there for them is to follow up. If you know someone is struggling, reach out, be present, and offer your support and kindness. Compassion literally means to suffer together. Being compassionate does not mean taking on the suffering of others, but to acknowledge, be present with, and offer space for the suffering to be understood and heard. Your presence for someone can be tremendously powerful. We all go through challenges, it’s simply a part of the human experience. Allowing yourself to be honest with your struggles, and allowing others to be honest with you about their struggles can be a valuable conduit to healing. Remember to take care of yourself this season, and maybe practice being more vulnerable and open and let yourself be honest about how you are feeling — how you are actually feeling.