Recently, I have been fighting old feelings of sadness and depression.  I am noticed that I was not as energetic as I wanted to be.  When someone asked me, “How are you?” I wanted to say, “lousy, thank you.”  Then,  at that time, did I want to take the time to go into details of how I am really feeling and why?

That’s always the dilemma when mental health teeters, isn’t it?  How much do you want to disclose?  How much will the listener understand?  Will the listener really “get it”?  How safe is the listener

For me, I have several ways of answering the “How are you? question that feels healthier and has helped me pre-decide how to handle my emotions, thoughts and actions, especially at times when I am feeling more sadness and vulnerability.

Consider the source

Sad to say, but often that question is simply a greeting  of hello.  It’s not an inquiry into how you are doing.  One of my standard responses when someone says it to me as a greeting is, “Thanks for asking.  I appreciate the question.” Then I go on with the conversation.  It’s a diversion technique.  I use it when I feel like the person who is asking isn’t asking for how I am doing.

Show caring back

If you trust the person who is asking, you can express some of your emotion and share some caring back to them.  “I am glad you asked.  I’m not up to par today.  How are you doing today?”  It cracks the door open a little to see 1) if they are listening and 2) finding out what is going on in their life.

This strategy may not work if you’re really hanged dogged sad.  It takes some energy to pour back into another person.  It can be helpful to listen to someone else if you’re in a spot to serve in that way.

Ask for a listening ear

Depending on the time and place, ask for what you need.  When someone asks you how you are and you trust that person, ask if they have time to listen.  Talking about what is going on in your emotions and thoughts are a way to help get focused on what your next actions may be.   You may even want to ask for prayer.

For example, in talking to a friend recently, she revealed she was waking up sad every morning.  She said she had nothing to be sad about.  I encouraged her to check with a doctor to determine what might be going on with her brain chemistry.  I personally remember anxious thoughts over nothing because of a brain chemistry imbalance, not because I was weak.

In our discussion, it reminded me so much about the value of sharing what is out of kilter in our thinking and emotions.  By talking with each other, we can break the stigma.  It is an illness, just like diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

Notice your own reaction

If your own reaction becomes one of pasting a smile on your face to become fake, or you feel you are one person on the outside and another person on the inside, then notice that.   When some asks you, “How are you?”, and you feel like a phony,  that’s your red flag to find professional help to figure out how to get your insides and outsides to match.

Getting healthier is hard work, like climbing a mountain and building the path as you go.  It’s an arduous journey, yet oh so worth it.

The Take Away

I am determined that talking about mental health does not have to be a secret, shameful or unusual.  It is a devastating disease when it not addressed.

Please pay attention to your own emotions, thoughts and actions and to those around you.  Be especially sensitive if you or someone you love has recently experienced trauma, like the loss of a loved one.

For me, I realized my depressed feelings were surfacing because I had not had good self care- had not been eating right, resting, exercising and keeping a steady pace as well as getting enough sunlight.  How easy it is to fall back into old habits and how weird it is to have such a sensitive brain!

How do you answer the question, “How are you?”  And how sensitive are you to others when asking that question?  Notice your own reaction and others today.  Your mental health as well as those around you may be at stake.

Let me know if there is any way I can walk with you to a more well-nourished, self-compassionate life, through the journey of prayer and spiritual direction.

Nancy Booth is a life coach and spiritual director who loves God and wants you to see more of His fingerprints in your life. Check out My Sacred Moments site for more ways that you can see His fingerprints in your daily living and get 10 Ways to Find Sacred Moments.