Multiple times each day, we ask and are asked, “How are you?” It is as common as saying hello. We even ask total strangers how they are doing when we call customer service or when someone is helping us in a store.
Rarely, however, do we answer this question honestly, even when asked by our closest friends and family members.
It can feel too personal or awkward to open up about our struggles, so we often simply hope others will pick up on our clues and hints at trouble.
There are certain phrases that we all tend to use when we are really not okay. If we could all learn to listen for these phrases and be more attuned to one another, we might actually be able to help someone who is struggling.
Here are some of the most common phrases to look out for
I’ve been really tired lately
Not only do I hear this phrase used frequently, I use it often myself. So what does it really mean? It means I am stressed to the max and/or worried and anxious, to the point that I either don’t have time to sleep or just can’t sleep.
As a result, I am a total mess during the day, and cannot accomplish the things I need to do. It doesn’t just mean I had one bad night of sleep because the dog kept me up.
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed
This phrase offers a glimpse into another person’s reality, one in which they feel that have too much on their plate, both emotionally and on their to-do list.
For example, in my house, I was recently feeling overwhelmed when both of my kids were dealing with serious physical injuries at the same time, my stress led to fighting with my partner, I had a family of five staying with me for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving. I also had to cook and prepare for serving the holiday meal to 14 people, and did this all while also meeting work deadlines.
I’m doing okay. What other choice do I have?
These are the words of someone who is going through the motions of doing what they must, but is completely checked out. They might feel like they are trapped in a bad job, bad marriage, or having problems with their children that they don’t perceive to have an end in sight.
They feel defeated and they’re just barely hanging on. Because, the question has an obvious answer. The other choice is to not be okay, to have turmoil in your life, or worse, choose to take your own life.
This statement is usually followed by laughter, as if to say that it’s actually funny that I’m actually surviving. The truth is, when you say this, you don’t really feel like you’re living; you literally feel like you’re just merely surviving.
You eat, you drink, you sleep, you make sure your kids are fed and clothed and get to school. That’s about all you’re able to do in survival mode. You are certainly not emotionally well or available to nurture others or relationships when you feel this way.
I’m a little stressed, but I’m okay
When someone admits that they are a little stressed, it is code for “I am so stressed out that it is ridiculous”. Nobody just casually offers up that they’re a little bit stressed. Most of us are always at least a little bit stressed.
We usually are able to cope with and handle a small to moderate amount of stress without it becoming problematic. But when the stress gets too much, that’s when we will actually tell others that we are feeling just a wee bit stressed.
So, why do we use secret code instead of just being honest? Probably because it takes a lot of strength and courage to allow oneself to be vulnerable.
When we are feeling our worst is when we lack the very strength we would need.
Also, most of us don’t really wish to burden others with our own problems. So, we drop a hint or two for our troubles, and figure they will inquire further if they’re actually interested.
When you know what phrases to listen for, you can be better equipped to decipher what is really going on with your friends or loved ones. You don’t need to pry, but you could definitely reply with an inquiry, such as, “Wow. That doesn’t sound so good. What’s going on?” or “Is there anything I can do to help with that?”
If someone doesn’t want to open up, it doesn’t mean they’re not in pain or that they don’t like or trust you. It simply means they don’t want to talk about it. Find ways to help anyway. If you know a friend is having a hard time, take her out for some fun or bring a meal for her family so she doesn’t have to cook. Call her more frequently just to check up on her.
Believe me, these small gestures rarely go unnoticed. Knowing what to look for and helping others when they’re struggling is one of the most loving acts of kindness you can do.
Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at lorifresontherapy.com or call/text 818-514-LMFT