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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Mac Millan

Do you need to HALT?


We’ve all been there. At some point in your life (and maybe it’s even your current situation), you’ve found yourself overwhelmed and at your wit's end by everything that’s been piled onto your plate. Whether it’s family responsibilities or work obligations (maybe it’s both), you likely feel there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything done while wearing the many hats that have been given to you. You may find that by the time you get to the end of the day, you’ve got no energy for the self-care everyone keeps lecturing you about. Yet, self-care is exactly what’s needed to help bring you back to your full, functioning self!


Many times, when we are in this state of overwhelm, we tend to switch to autopilot. This may help in just “getting it done,” but it also contributes to us further neglecting ourselves, which results in more overwhelm and burnout. It’s a vicious cycle and one that many of us get stuck in time and time again. If left unchecked, it can have a drastic and negative impact on both our professional and personal lives. 


Luckily, there are many effective methods out there to help with moments of emotional neglect and distress. The method I will be reviewing here is one that I have used many times and have found it very helpful. It’s called the HALTS method.


When we recognize that we are in a state of overwhelm, this method requires us to pause (halt) and to figure out what’s at the root of our distress, are we Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Stressed? (HALTS). Using this acronym provides a way for us to gain control over our uncomfortable emotions and create inner harmony with ourselves by tending to our basic needs in the moment. This will then help us “recalibrate” ourselves and prevent us from taking those emotions out on our employees, co-workers, and loved ones. 


Interestingly, I did not learn about HALTS through my own therapy sessions. I came across it while watching an episode of Law & Order (it was either SVU or Organized Crime, I can’t remember). In this particular episode, one of the main protagonists (and a personal favorite), Eliot Stabler, is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he uses the HALTS method when he recognizes the symptoms of emotional distress. I myself had been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in 2016 and found this method particularly interesting and decided to do my own research on it. What I found was that it originated in the addiction and recovery community but has since branched out and can be utilized for many different circumstances that do not fall under addiction. It also started as “HALT,” but some have added the “S” at the end to make it “HALTS.” 


Licensed Master Social Worker and Addiction Specialist Kassondra Glenn states that “the purpose of [HALTS] is to help us identify these experiences when we are tempted to engage in negative behavior and to instead address the underlying issue.” This method essentially brings us into the present moment and promotes self-awareness and mindfulness, which can help us return to a healthier and more balanced emotional state. 


To use the HALTS method, simply allow yourself to pause (or halt) when you notice that you aren’t feeling right or that something is “off.” Then, ask yourself where this might be coming from: Am I feeling hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed? If you answered yes to any of those emotional states, make the decision to stop what you’re doing and meet your basic needs. 


Hungry

If you’re hungry, find something to eat (preferably nutritious) as soon as possible and commit to a habit of keeping snacks and water on hand to prevent those bouts of “hanger.”


Angry

If you’re angry, allow yourself a moment to walk away. Take a breath, take a literal walk, get some space and fresh air, splash some cold water on your face. Don’t return to what you’re doing until the anger has passed and you’ve had time to clear your head. If you’re dealing with a time-sensitive issue, set a timer and give yourself at least five minutes to cool down. The work will still be there, and you will be more effective and successful by giving yourself a few minutes of breathing room rather than plowing through while fuming. 


Lonely

If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to someone you feel safe being your full and genuine self with. Make a phone call, send a text or email, and make plans to meet in person if possible. If you find yourself without a group or community, you may need to do some work outside your comfort zone. That’s ok! Take it slow, and look around your area for open social groups that host activities that are of interest to you, such as yoga or dance groups, or call a local soup kitchen and see if they’re in need of volunteers. If that seems too intimidating, just being in a public space can be helpful. Take a walk in a park or mall, read a book in a library or coffee shop- just be around people. Typically, loneliness is an indicator that we’re in need of connection, and sometimes, that may also mean connecting with ourselves. Give yourself time to indulge in the hobbies you enjoy and the things that give you purpose. Finish that painting you’ve been meaning to get to, write that poem, watch that film, and spend time with yourself- your emotional heart will thank you for it. 


Tired

If you’re feeling tired, get some sleep as soon as possible. Take a nap if you need to, and commit to getting back on track with a healthy sleep routine. This may mean not scheduling anything after a certain time in the day, as well as eliminating screen time an hour or two before you plan on going to bed. Remember, if you’re tired, it’s your body’s way of saying you need to rest, so listen to yourself and try to get at least 7 hours of sleep if you can. 


Stressed

Lastly, if you’re feeling stressed, allow yourself to take a break and do something that helps you relax. Go for a walk, nap, meditate, do a short yoga flow, and maybe even schedule a manicure during your lunch break instead of working through it. If you need to, make “downtime” a scheduled part of your day and respect it as an appointment with yourself. No one needs to know why you’re unavailable every Thursday from 11 am- 1 pm. Prioritize unplugging as much as you prioritize the “hustle.” You and your work will benefit from it. 


It’s important to keep in mind that the HALTS method is not a cure-all for mental health, and it is only one of many different tools that help to keep us in check. However, you may still find that your sense of emotional overwhelm goes beyond this and is more than you can handle in a healthy and productive way. This is ok; go easy on yourself and consider seeking the help of a professional therapist or counselor. It’s ok to not be ok, many of us are right there with you.


If you find yourself in an emotional emergency, help is available. Call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org for free and confidential support. 

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