Relationships

How To Respond When Somebody Checks In On You

“The full answer or the Cliff’s notes?”

A girl responds to her friend checking in on her.
Portra/E+/Getty Images

It’s so tempting to just say “Fine!” when somebody asks how you are. After all, they don’t really want a rundown of everything that’s stressing you out in alphabetical order, do they? It’s so much easier to be polite and pretend everything’s all right (even though, obviously, it’s not). Whether you’re being asked how you’re doing over text, or running into the question at a cocktail party, responding to “How are you, really?” in a way that sounds real and honest — but doesn’t share more than you’d like — is a puzzle of Knives Out-like proportions.

The best way to respond to “Just checking on you” depends on what feels worth it to you to share. If there’s been a lot going on in your life and you could stand to let someone in on it, it’s worth thinking on your response for a little bit (or preparing it in advance) instead of going with that knee-jerk, all-good-nothing-to-see-here reaction, Bisma Anwar, LMHC, a therapist with therapy platform Talkspace, tells Bustle. It may also help to assess how close you feel to the person checking on you, and how comfortable you are sharing ~personal news~ with them. Even if you’re desperate to vent about how annoyed you are that your work passion project was cancelled by the boss, the first back-to-the-office happy hour may not be the right time for you to talk about it.

Here are 11 ideas to direct the conversation when somebody’s checking in on you.

“The Full Answer Or The Cliff’s Notes?”

“You can ask the other person if they’d just like a quick check-in answer or if they would really like to know the nitty gritty,” Heidi McBain LMFT, a family therapist, tells Bustle. It’s a) a funny response that’ll disarm the asker, and b) gives you a second to get your thoughts together. This way you can stop being anxious that you’re overwhelming them with info about moving in with your partner.

“Here’s A Bit Of News”

“If someone asks you how you are doing, you can practice being honest without providing all of the details,” Anwar says. What things matter to you most right now, and what do you feel most inclined to talk about with this person? If your gran is asking, for instance, it may not be the right time to share how stressed you are about your sex life. (Or it might!)

“Some Good, Some Bad!”

Alternate the bad news with some of the good news you’ve experienced lately (if any), so it’s not such a slog. E.g., you got your COVID vaccine, but you’re totally burned out at work and it’s possible that your apartment is haunted.

“How Long Do You Have?”

“You can also ask how long they have and if they have time for the little details, or if they'd like the abridged version,” McBain says. This is an extension of the Cliff’s Notes idea, but it’s also a way of respecting their time; if they only have five minutes, you might want to suggest a coffee catch-up so that they can hear all your experiences in full.

“At Work, XYZ Is Happening”

Sharing little bits of information slowly, over time, can help you get more comfortable and trusting, Anwar says. “You don’t have to tell them more than you're willing to share.” Start with the things you feel easiest talking about, and progress to harder topics as you feel more at ease in their presence.

“I Feel Like XYZ Today”

If you don’t know where to begin, start small: with your own feelings, on this particular day. I feel” statements make your emotions the focus, rather than your beliefs about what the other person might think or want to hear. From there, it can be easier to feel like you’re letting the other person in, even if you’re still keeping some stuff to yourself.

“It’s Not A Great Time For Me Right Now”

If they’re getting in your business and you don’t want to share, that’s your choice. “Trust your instinct,” Charmain Jackman Ph.D., a psychologist, tells Bustle. “If you do not trust someone who is asking you to share or you are feeling that they may have ulterior motives for getting you to open up, politely state that it is not a good time for you.”

“How About We Take A Walk?”

Sometimes it’s easier to talk while doing something else. “Let them know that you want to talk, but you need them to be patient with you as you figure out how to open up,” Jackman says. “Sometimes taking a walk or car ride can reduce the intensity of a one-on-one conversation.”

“And How Are You?”

“Remind yourself that this person made the effort to reach out to you and you can show appreciation for that,” Anwar says. “Ask them how they are doing as well, so you don’t feel like the conversation is only focused on you.” It’s not just to bond, but also to make sure you’re not the only one doing the emotional heavy lifting.

“Can We Take A Rain Check?”

Maybe you’d love to share everything that’s going on but now isn’t ideal; you’re still processing, or feel exhausted, or would rather think about anything else right now. If that’s the case, postpone the check-in to a point that works for you.

“And On That Topic, Did You See XYZ?”

Sometimes check-ins can start well, but veer into territory that feels like too much. “It is really important to maintain your boundaries and to do what is comfortable for you,” Jackman says. “If you start to feel uncomfortable with their questions, go ahead and steer the conversation in a different direction,” Anwar adds. After all, they’re asking about how you’re doing, not trying to make you feel even worse.

Experts:

Bisma Anwar LMHC

Charmain Jackman Ph.D.

Heidi McBain LMFT