A Different Way to Ask “How are you?”

By Katheryn Pearlman

“How was your day?” “What did you learn at school today?” “How was work?” “What did you do today?”

These are the kinds of questions that people typically ask each other, whether between friends or family members. Asking these questions can be beneficial at times, but because they revolve around work or school, they make it hard to dive into someone’s emotions and mental state. Rather than sticking to these questions, we can try asking more specific questions that encourage people to talk more openly about mental health and emotions.

In my family, we ask each other questions such as “Where’s your mood from 1-10, 1 being bad and 10 being great?” We like to follow up as well: “Is there any reason you’re in a bad mood, and do you feel like talking about why?” “What makes your mood so great? I’d love to hear about why you feel so happy.”

Using these types of questions fields more dialogue around a person’s mental and emotional well-being. If someone answers that they’re in a bad mood, there’s room to follow up and explore these feelings more. On the other end, if someone is in a great mood, it gives them a chance to open up about how good they are feeling. The important thing in these types of conversations is to reassure each other that it’s okay to be upset or angry, as well as creating space to talk about positive emotions.

There are a few things we can all do to start these conversations and help others feel more open. The first is to listen attentively and patiently to the other person and express to them that you’ll be quiet while they share. This can help them feel more comfortable with opening up because they know that they won’t be interrupted or dismissed.

The second thing is to show sympathy and empathy. Showing empathy in conversations can look like having open body language, maintaining eye contact, being an active listener, asking open-ended or follow up questions, and trying to put yourself in their shoes. The key with being empathetic is to really try and understand how someone is feeling and to share in that with them. If someone is expressing that they had a bad day, you want to be able to step into those feelings. Even if you don’t understand their feelings exactly, you can still acknowledge that they’re going through a tough time. With sympathy, you can express that you are sorry they are feeling this and show compassion toward them. Using both sympathy and empathy can be helpful in conversations focused on mental health and emotions.

Lastly, you can also use physical affection to validate someone if it’s something they’re comfortable with. When someone is sharing negative emotions or thoughts, sometimes they just want a hug or to be comforted in a way that makes them feel safe.

Using these skills can help make room for more open conversations around mental health and well-being. Next time you catch yourself about to ask your friend or family member how their day was, you can try pushing yourself to ask them about their mood instead. Your question could be the one thing that helps someone open up!

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