How are you really? When someone goes for a session with a counsellor or therapist and is asked what has brought them there, what do you think is one of the most common responses?

Guesses to this question usually include stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties or feeling overwhelmed. However none of those is the most common answer I hear. 

By far the most frequent response is “I don’t know” - and the reason for that is because quite simply people don’t. 

Think about it for a second. When is the last time that you properly had the opportunity to think about how are actually are? 

Yes, we get asked the question very frequently. The phrase ‘Hi…how are you?’ trips off our tongue all the time. But asked in this way, the ‘how are you?’ part it is just a polite extension of ‘hello’. It doesn’t really mean anything. 

In turn we get used to saying ‘fine’ because that is the easiest and quickest way to answer the question. 

To some extent this is understandable. Of course we don’t want to share all our problems all the time with every person we meet. That would make our days very long indeed. But the flip side to this is that more and more people are finding that they don’t ever really answer that question. Even worse, they don’t have the chance to even think about it. 

I gave a wellbeing talk to a group of NHS staff yesterday and when I arrived the atmosphere was smiley and welcoming. Then I asked people to think about the question “how are you” and write down their honest answers on a piece of paper anonymously. Answers included worried, sad, confused, frustrated, unappreciated, crying, sleepness nights, nervous and exhausted.  

This was not a surprising set of responses either. It is the pattern I am seeing repeated from one group to another. 

Many people nowadays feel that they have to keep going, carry on regardless and strive towards ‘resilience’ of one kind or another. 

There is little space in an often hectic routine to stop and think about how things actually are and how they are actually feeling. We seem to be more used to taking our car in for its annual MOT than actually taking the time to think about how we are doing ourselves. 

With that in mind, can I suggest three things? Firstly, make it a habit to regularly ask yourself how you are doing. Check in with yourself and really make an effort to listen to the honest answer.  Secondly, find someone with whom you can talk - someone who genuinely cares about you – and tell each other how you are doing. You will be amazed at how having to say something out loud can often bring much-needed clarity to our own thoughts and feelings. 

And lastly, never forget that most people keep their troubles well hidden. We might think they are fine when we are greeted with a smile and an ‘I’m fine thanks’ – but that very rarely tells the whole story. Always remember that you never know what someone is going through unless they decide to share this with you. 

Remember also that a lot of the time they probably will not clear about this themselves. 

Asking both ourselves and those around us how they really are can be the first step towards taking care of ourselves just a tiny bit better.