How To Respond When Someone Asks How You Are — And The Honest Answer Is, 'Not Great'

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depressed woman with hand covering her forehead

You know that moment when you’re depressed or angry or going through a break up or some other stress-provoking situation and that someone asks you that most dreaded of all questions ...

"How you are?"

And there you are, feeling awkward and thinking to yourself, "Well, how the hell do I answer that question?"

The honest answer to what seems like it should be a simple question is sometimes unclear because there are so many different ways you could answer, depending on what you feel you can handle at the moment, as well as on what you need most.

When you're dealing with depression, anxiety, or even just a rough week, one of your primary goals should making sure that you're doing and/or asking for what you need, rather than trying to please other people, whether they're pushing because they want so badly for you to let them help or they're really just being polite.

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If someone asks you how you are, no matter who they are or why they are asking, your answer should reflect what you truly need in the moment.

Here are 4 suggestions of things to say when you're depressed, anxious or generally down and someone asks, "How are you?"

1. "I’m fine."

Just because someone asks how you are, that doesn’t mean you need to spill your guts to them. Feeling anything other than fine is not something that you have to share with someone you don’t feel comfortable sharing it with.

When I’m depressed and my mother calls and asks how I am, I always say I’m fine. I just don’t want to get into it with her. I know that having a conversation with my mother about my depression will be all about her trying to talk me out of it. And that is never helpful.

In other words, it’s okay to not always be honest about how you’re feeling.

It is important, however, that if you’re not going to be honest, you are then willing to 'walk the walk' of feeling fine for as long as you’re with that person. Telling my mother that I am fine and then sulking around the house is just a lose-lose situation for both of us.

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2. "I’m really struggling."

Should you choose to be honest about your feelings, I would suggest being as simple and straightforward as you can. Telling someone that you’re really struggling, with or without offering a reason why, might be all you need to say.

For many of us, just having someone acknowledge how we feel in the moment can help us alleviate our bad feelings.

I think this is especially the case with our men. I know that if my man asks me how I am and I admit to him that I am feeling sad and he acknowledges it (without trying to fix it), I always feel just a little bit better. I also know that if I tell him I’m fine when I’m not, everything gets way worse — fast.

So, even if you don’t feel like getting into it, telling someone you’re struggling might be just what you need in the moment.

3. "I’m really struggling, and this is why ..."

Admitting that you’re struggling and taking it one step further by explaining why might be an answer that works for you. Just remember that by doing so, the other person might feel like you are inviting them to offer solutions.

When faced with somebody who is struggling, many people want to fix them right away and make them feel better. Most of us don't like to see others suffer, and we feel like if we can help someone, everyone will feel better.

So, be prepared to talk about what’s wrong if you share with someone what’s going on. That person might try and fail to help you, which might put you in the worst place. But, at the same time, they might just surprise you by saying exactly what you need to hear. It’s a bit of a risk, sharing deeply, but the rewards can be substantial.

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4. "I’m really struggling, and this is why ... and I appreciate you asking, but I need to take care of myself."

With this answer, you are sharing with the questioner how you’re feeling, but you are not inviting them to help you. You are acknowledging their caring gesture, which is important, while being clear with them that you don’t need — or want — them trying to fix you.

For many of us who are struggling with depression or anger or a breakup, we know when we are ready to start receiving help. At first, the feelings can be so deep that anything that anybody says to us seems inauthentic and not only doesn’t help, but makes things worse.

When you’re clear with someone that they can’t help you yet, you not only save yourself the agony of being forced to sit through something that might make you feel worse, but you also let your friend off the hook for trying to fix something that’s not yet fixable.

When I’m feeling depressed or sad or angry, I like staying away from people so I won't have to be confronted with questions about how I am until I am ready.

But life goes on, no matter how we’re feeling, and sometimes we need to interact with people.

When that is the case, do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

If you need help, ask for it. If you don’t want to help, keep your cards close to your chest. When you are ready you can ask.

The best way for you to start feeling better is to take care of yourself, to recognize your needs and not worry about the needs of others before you take care of your own.

If you can do that, you’ll be well on your way down the road to feeling better.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Cope With Your Depressed Feelings — When You Don't Feel Like Doing A Darn Thing!

Mitzi Bockmann is a NYC-based certified life coach and mental health advocate published on Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, PopSugar, MSN, and The Good Man Project.