How To Feel Better: HALT

I don’t remember the first time I heard the acronym HALT, but I do remember it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, Oh, that’s what’s going on when I make decisions that don’t serve me or my best life. When I take actions I later regret.

Because when I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired, I’m vulnerable to poor-decision making. Which then leads to less-than-ideal action.

Cultivate self-awareness 

A big one for me is that “H”. Hungry.

When I’m hungry I can’t think straight. I’m impatient and snippy. It seems so simple, but it took me years to figure out: Just eat.

I’ve had to cultivate self-awareness to I know I need to eat on a regular schedule to be my best. But self-awareness alone isn’t enough. I’ve then had to honor that part of me instead of ignoring or fighting it.

Put HALT in your self-care toolkit

HALT is a powerful tool to keep handy in your self-care toolkit because it helps you tend to your energy. It’s amazing how often we’re feeling irritated, stressed, anxious, unsettled or just “off”—and HALT provides both the diagnosis and the cure.

Hungry, angry, lonely, tired. So often we don’t even recognize when we’re in these states. Or if we do notice, our tendency is to ignore how we’re feeling or try to push through.

I know that’s my MO: Push through.

I’ve been working on a project for hours and can feel my attention to detail slipping, my inspiration waning. What do I do? Push through, willing myself to get more done.

What’s the alternative? Make it a habit to ask, What am I feeling right now? Oh, I’m tired. Maybe I should do something about that.

It’s an invitation to pause

Think about how on the mark the acronym is: HALT. As in stop. It’s an invitation to pause and check in with yourself.

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?

Don’t underestimate the simple yet powerful act of checking in and actively listening for the signals your body sends you.

Let’s say you come home from work and are short-tempered and testy with your spouse. He calls you on your irritable behavior and the exchange starts to escalate. Then it hits you: HALT. And you realize you’re really angry about the meeting you had with your boss right before you left the office.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing anger. But only if done in appropriate ways, which means being angry with the correct person, the correct amount, at the proper time, towards the proper end, and in the correct manner. Or in the words of Aristotle—

Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

Let’s take a closer look at HALT

When you’re not feeling yourself, use the HALT technique by asking:

Am I hungry? This one seems obvious—do you need to eat? And not just eat to stay alive, but eat well so you are truly nourished. Hunger can be about more than food though. Maybe you’re hungry in relation to an emotional need. Are you hungry for comfort? For understanding? For affection?

Am I angry? If the answer is yes, what are you really angry about? Who are you really angry with—another person, a situation, yourself? The danger of anger is it can send you into reaction mode. Instead, how can you respond by dealing with your anger in a constructive way?

Am I lonely? Are you feeling isolated? Are you not feeling nurtured in your relationships? We all need to feel connected and supported. We need to be part of a community. If you’re feeling lonely, how can you reach out and connect?

Am I tired? Are you over scheduled, overdoing and overwhelmed? We live in a culture that treats getting too little sleep and being overly busy like badges of honor. They’re not. We have a basic need to sleep and rest in order to recharge. It’s time to stop running on fumes.

Poor self-care and unchecked emotions are barriers to your best life. Next time you’re feeling out of sorts, HALT. It will help you understand why you’re feeling the way you are and point you in the right direction to feel better.

Will you HALT next time you’re feeling out of sorts?