Updated: Jul 19, 2022
IN THIS BLOG POST (Click links to skip ahead)
Why Checking In Matters (And Doesn't Have to Be Hard)
Do you ever see a Facebook post that grabs you for some unknown reason? A few years ago, I did.
A friend had posted an article about the Persian phrase, "Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?" which translates to approximately "how is your heart doing right now?"
As I read on, I learned that this is a common way of greeting someone and checking in with how they are doing right now, in this very moment.
It's a greeting that acknowledges that our well-being and emotional states fluctuate throughout the day, that each time we see each other we see each other anew, that we might not be the same person we were a few hours ago, depending on news we've received, experiences we've had throughout the day, realizations that occurred to us.
I loved this so much.
How is your heart doing, right now?
I've thought of this phrase throughout the years since, and especially over the past few months where all of us, in our own idiosyncratic ways, are bearing unbelievable stress and burden because of the pandemic.
This week, when Megan Markle published her simple and touching piece in the NYTimes about her miscarriage - and so much more - she reminded me of this phrase. She encouraged us to ask each other something similar:
Are you OK?
What I love about Markle's phrase is its simplicity, and that if we really listen and quietly, patiently hold space for an honest answer, we don't need more than this small question to do some big work.
What I love about the Persian greeting is that it acknowledges that this "OKness" might change - will change - over the course of a day, a week. It's something we ask again and again.
During the pandemic, I have been on an emotional roller coaster for sure. Have you? Most of my friends have, as well.
Some hide it better than others; some white knuckle it through the lolling lifts and the terrifying plunges; some hold the stress in their bodies, some cry, some drink, some hide from the world for as long as the logistics of life allow.
For me, part of my friendship style is checking in. I am terrible at texting for the most part, but I am good about giving heartfelt check-ins on a regular basis - whether this is a voice note, and email, a phone call, a GIF - it depends on the temperment and situation of the friend.
During the pandemic in particular, I've tried to be even better about regularly checking on my friends, and asking these questions.
I remember in April, there was a bit of uproar - and, as someone obsessed with friendship, a fascinating conversation in my opinion - over a tweet by Tia Mowry.
She wrote, "“During this pandemic, you really see who your real friends are. Who’s checking up on you? Making sure are okay? Remember that when all this over."
There was a ton of backlash around this. We are all stressed, and dealing with our own issues, people argued. Feeling like our friendship, loyalty, and love will be judged by our ability to hold space for others when we're just trying to survive is unfair and unrealistic, people said. I found myself on the fence. I agreed with these arguments completely. Nobody should ever feel that when they are in crisis that they are responsible for the emotional well-being of friends, or that their response to an emergency through which they're also living will be the make or break defining moment of whether or not a friendship is "real." At the same time, I also understood the heart of what Mowry was trying to say. There is something really powerful about checking in on each other - and it doesn't have to be complicated.
It is healing, comforting, and so important for us to feel we haven't been overlooked, forgotten, or left to fend for ourselves. The power of checking in on each other isn't always in having someone listen to your answer. The power is in simply being remembered. The comfort of being on someone's mind.
The warmth and connection we feel knowing someone is sensitive to what is happening in our life. We feel less alone. We feel important to someone. These things on their own are healing.
I remember that after my father died during my junior year of high school, there was a huge flurry of activity for about two weeks. Flowers, preparations, teacher conferences, hugs in the hallway. Then, silence. I remember going to the fridge and eating a cookie from one of the seven platters we had brought home from the funeral; the leftovers were endless. I bit into it and stared at the green and pink layers, the jam in between, wondering at how strange it was that I was still eating the food meant to nourish us at the wake, that the food from this event persisted in our house, a physical reminder that something so surreal had actually happened, since if you looked around it was as though the world zipped up the hole his death had opened, sealed it up and plastered over it, and hung a picture over the seam to hide the evidence. Few of the adults in my family checked in on me after those initial weeks of public grieving. But the friends I saw everyday - my teenaged sisterhood - checked in on me, looked after me, and loved me through it. And thank God they did, because after the shock wore off, the real grief set in - and that's when I found that most folks had returned to their everyday lives, and I was no longer on the radar. When my mother died shortly after my 24th birthday, the same thing happened. It was a few months later, once the adrenaline had seeped out of my system, the teetering pile of folders and papers and contracts and bills and endless bits and pieces has been sorted. Then the grief set in.
Life had, of course, moved on. My coworkers expected me to perform, many friends expected me to go back to holding space for their problems, some seemed to forget entirely that my world had been turned upside down.
I didn't blame them for it - but the two friends who checked on me regularly, who asked how my heart was doing, who helped me feel remembered, cared for, like I wasn't going to drift out to sea unseen - they saved me life from falling apart, and I will be grateful to them for all of my days for those check-ins. This is why, for me, checking in is so important. Why no matter how much my own life might feel messy, sad, overwhelming, or uncomfortable, I try to remember to reach out to my friends at least once a week, to see if they're OK.
Checking in doesn't mean you have to have a big emotional conversation. It doesn't mean you have to do heavy lifting. It can be simple and short yet extremely powerful. You never know how much a simple note of love and checking in could change someone's hour, day, week - life, even.
Here are 5 ways that we can check in on each other that are as simple as a "how's it going," but deliver a greater dose of connection, healing, and love,without being complicated or heavy for you.
#1: How is today?
This is my personal go-to check in. I like this because it opens the door for whatever level of sharing my friend wants to enter into - they can keep it breezy, or share what's on their heart. It, for me, has the same spirit as "how is your heart today?" without feeling heavy for friends who are less emotionally expressive. I appreciate that this check-in is very immediate and acknowledges that their well-being can change from day to day.
A few ways I phrase this, depending on the person and situation:
How is today, friend?
How's today treating you?
How are you feeling this morning?
How is the day so far?
How are things looking this morning?
I do try to refrain from ever just asking "how are you?" because it usually leads to a rote and hollow answer. (Seriously - how often do you actually answer that question honestly?) I also try to keep it very present and focused, instead of big and broad. I do this by asking simply how things are right now, or at the start of the day. I like to think this also helps them feel that I'm there beside them, going through the day with them, here and present.
#2: What would be most helpful right now?
You know what's the worst? When you just want to vent, and your friend or partner offers you advice for fixing the situation. Or, when you want to be comforted, and your friend just offers a "man, that sucks" response. Or, when you want advice and are done feeling sad and are ready to set things straight, and your friend coddles in a mushy voice, "oh honey that's so hard, you must be really upset."
You know what also sucks? Being the friend who's trying to guess what kind of a response is wanted, and getting it wrong over and over.
After I ask "how is today?" I often will follow up with this question once my friend replies - because I want to make sure that this check-in doesn't become triggering or heavy for either of us. Being able to ask and tell each other in friendships what kind of response we are looking for is a HUGE key to making checking in on each other smooth, stress-free, and genuinely healing. My best friend and I have taken years to get to this point, and now very openly ask each other, "What do you need right now? Screaming into the void? My opinion and advice? Just to listen?" Usually the answer is "I just need to vent and be heard," but sometimes it's something else - and the only way we can get what we need, and the kind of check-in that will feel restorative, is by asking this question and answering honestly. Some options you might want to offer your friend are: Do you want . . .
To just vent?
My sharing what I notice?
Giving a few concrete options can be really helpful to start this conversation, and make it easy for you and your friend to articulate what it is you need from each other. This has probably been the #1 thing my BFF and I have done that has helped us become incredible support systems for each other.
#3: When you Want to Check-In, But Don't Want to Talk!
Sometimes I want to check in on a friend - they pop into my mind and I wonder how they're doing, and want them to know I'm over here caring about them - but I also don't have the bandwidth or time to get into a long conversation. This reminds me of the backlash against that Tia Mowry tweet: sometimes I'm in midst of my own stuff, and I don't have the emotional wherewithal to really hold space for a friend who might be struggling or need a lot. Or even a little. I might not even have a little to give at the moment. However, this doesn't mean I can't check in! This is my favorite way to let someone know they're remembered, loved, and important, even when I'm cooking dinner and writing an email simultaneously at 4pm while trying to get a bag together for daycare pickup and also clean my house and write down three ideas I just had. "Thinking of you" can feel a little flat, formal, or impersonal, so some of the ways I like to mix it up include:
Thinking of you and hope today is feeling a bit lighter (if I know they've been on the struggle bus)
Thinking of you and sending you lots of love today (if I know they are currently on Le Struggle Bus)
Just wanted to let you know you're on my mind today / and I miss you / and I hope you have a peaceful day / and I hope you give yourself a delicious frappuccino break. No need to write back xoxo. (if I don't have space for a conversation but want to let them know I'm thinking of them and share a little wish for their day that could be heartfelt or silly or reference an inside joke. I also let them know I don't expect a response.)
Send a GIF. Seriously. Sometimes I'll just send a little image of cats poking humans with their paws, or something that I know will make them laugh and let them know they're on my mind. Or, I'll send a link to a song I think they'll like - the 2020 version of a mix tape. Again - it doesn't have to be complicated, just loving.
#4: Remembering Specific Dates (get out your calendar!)
OK, so this one is a slightly more involved check-in, but it's not overly complicated and it's really meaningful! I can be extremely forgetful, so I try to put things my friends mention into my calendar as events with a little reminder for when I should text them about it (because, again, I'm actually horrible with texting and emails, despite this being a blog largely about texting and emailing people). We often check in on each other for big days like birthdays and holidays - but, there are so many milestones, anniversaries, and personal special dates that it feels really amazing to be checked in on, and that you might not have thought of yet.
Some of these things include:
Milestone doctors appointmentsfor their new babies,and monthly birthdays for newborns (especially the first six months)
Presentations they're giving at work
Surgeries or doctors' appointments for parents and grandparents
News that their partner is waiting on (exams, job interviews, etc.)
Anniversaries of someone close passing away
Siblings getting married, graduating, moving, or due dates
If they're pregnant, I will put dates in my calendar for when they will hit a new trimester so I can refer to it in a text These are things I do when I'm in a planful and organized mood, so that later when I'm in a wishy washy spacey in the clouds mood, my past self who had her ish together can help my current moony self be a good and thoughtful friend!
I'd like to note that many of these examples are for friends who are TTC, pregnant, or postpartum, because this is the life chapter I'm in. I will also say that if you have friends in this life chapter, it's a really beautiful thing to remember these special, silent milestones that most folks won't remember. If a friend shares their due date you can count backwards from there, or simply ask how many weeks along they are and put in reminders from there. For a new baby, putting a note in your calendar for when the little one turns 1-6 weeks, and again each month for the first six months, is really special. I know for me with my two babies, having friends remember this made me feel like we were in the world together,even when I felt alone on an island with my newborn and as though my world had stopped while everyone went along with business as usual.
#5: Tell Them (Why) You Love Them
Sometimes a check-in doesn't have to be a question. It can be a touchpoint where you share from the heart, fill your friend up with good feelings and care, and set them afloat on the bobbing waters of the day. If you're looking for simple ways to make a huge impact on your friend's day, we have an entire blog post with 7 free ways to let them know why you love them and why they're special. Those 7 Free Ways are:
#1: Share Admiration
#2: Listen Deeply & Reflect Back
#3: Be Proud
#4: Be On Blast
#5: Share a Wish
#6: Name Why They Matter (to you)
#7: Ask Great Questions
Here, I'll share two of them, including some little free downloads you can tag them in as an easy way to check in and share your love with them.
Often, our friends are super different from us. This can sometimes be a cause for conflict or disconnect. At times, it can create jealousy or competition. On the bright side? It's also one of the amazing things about friendship: it gives us direct access to things we're not yet good at, habits we want to learn, ways we'd like to be, the person we're working to become. If you'd like to let a friend know what you admire about them, and how this inspires you, we made it super easy! You can simply download this image, and upload it to Canva to put in your own text on top, or print it out to write a note by hand. It's also formatted to Instagram story dimensions, so you can share it on stories and tag friends' handles to share what you admire in them!
Just as it feels so good to hear what someone admires about you, it also feels amazing to hear why they're proud of you! And once we become adults, we hear this less and less frequently, don't we? This week, how your friend how you're grateful for their presence and person by sharing why you're proud of them. This is different from admiration in a few important ways. When we share what we're proud of, we're naming things such as:
A way I have seen you grow over the past few weeks/months/year
Something you did recently that I know was hard for you and you did it anyway
A way that you chose yourself, took care of yourself, stood up for yourself
The way you've been managing a difficult situation in a way that is uniquely yours
Something you created or accomplished recently that is awesome
A way you said no to something recently that wasn't in your best interest
The way I saw you put a new healthy habit into action
When we share something we are proud of, it's usually pointing to a way our friend has grown, is taking care of themselves, has accomplished something special (even if to the rest of the world it might not seem like a big deal!), or the ways their character shines through in the way they move through their life.
Want to share with a friend how you're proud of them, but not sure where to start? We created this simple little checklist to make it really easy to give loving feedback to your friend, without starting from scratch! This is also formatted for Instagram Stories, so you can post, fill it in, and tag friends there - or, upload it to Canva to edit and email, or print it and give it to a friend in person!
Alright friend - I hope these five tips help you feel inspired to check in with your friends in fresh and meaningful ways. We are always talking about ways to build better friendships, deepen our connections, and have amazing conversations over on Instagram, so pop on over there to continue the discussion - and happy connecting! xo Justine
IN SUMMARY . . .
Checking in doesn't need to be heavy, time consuming, or complicated. Remember that when you let someone know they're on your mind, this is enough to fill their cup.
If you don't have the bandwidth to hold space for a venting fest or a big conversation, but you still want to stay in touch in a meaningful way with friends, try to find a method of reaching out that works for you.
Asking how today is going - rather than "how are you?" can open up a conversation that is more honest and present.
Definitely try practicing with your friends asking what kind of response they want. This is probably the #1 thing that makes checking in really healing and helpful, instead of heavy. If this is new for you or emotional expression isn't as comfortable, try giving a few options to choose from.
Checking in without asking a question allows you to let a friend know they're on your mind, without opening the door for a big conversation.
Remembering important milestones and dates that might not be immediately apparent - for example, a baby's monthly "birthday," the anniversary of someone passing, or an important appointment for a parent or partner, rather than a national holiday or your friend's birthday - can make your friend feel really loved and seen. It takes a smidge of forethought but then you can just send a message when you get a calendar reminder!
Checking in doesn't always have to be a question. You can also simply share with your friend what you love about them, what you admire, and why you're proud of them. This is often unexpected and really makes them feel amazing.