In conversation with a friend this week, I was reminded of a former blog post where I shared HALT as a quick and easy technique for checking in with yourself when feelings of stress and anxiety surface.
As we head into the weekend, I want to succinctly recap on this concept and share this tool, which is always amongst the first I reach for when things start to feel like they are getting away from me.
What does HALT stand for?
It’s a technique, I have learnt, that is often shared with people in recovery, a model to turn to in recognition that negative behaviours are more likely to show up when we are in one of these risk states. An addict would be more likely to relapse while in a risk state, so being able to identify them and self-manage away from them is incredibly powerful. It makes perfect sense to me, I bring this tool out when I am having a wobble, those times when I can see overwhelm approaching, when I am feeling stressed or anxious. In these moments it is very easy for the inner critics to seize control, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to get you back into the comfort zones and for you to give up on the endeavour you are practicing. If I cannot find a logical reason for my feelings, then it becomes higher risk that I am going to get into an unhelpful narrative of “I can’t do this”, “everything is my fault”, “this isn’t working” … etcetera.
If I can identify that I am experiencing any one of these states, then I am able to step into action to help myself. It is also incredibly comforting to me, to be able to identify a reason for my feelings; it is not always possible, but for those times I can attribute say my fear, or my low mood to the fact I am for example, tired; then the little voice that likes to whisper every now and again that I am bonkers, is less likely to get a look in with me.
Check in with yourself:
Hungry: Hangry is a thing, fact! If you have skipped a meal, or just left a bit too long of a gap, it is going to have a chemical impact. Serotonin is found mostly in the digestive system and is a mood stabiliser – without it, or enough of it, you are more likely to feel anxious, irritable, sad and generally low. You need food to convert amino acids into it. I grew up in a diet culture era, I took from it that snacking is the devil. It is only in the last few years that I have learnt the snack is my saviour, it provides the bridge I need to get me to the next meal and has enormous positive impact not only on my mood management but also my weight management. Nuts are my friends. Find the food routine that works for you - but ensure it does include food... regularly!
Angry: We do not make good choices or decisions from a place of anger. If anger is present then perhaps taking a break and delaying a decision until you are feeling calmer, is a good call. There is a need to deal with anger though, denying its existence often means we are just bottling it up and adding to it, until the time it demands to be heard. Staying curious about the cause of your anger and accepting the emotion is key to moving through it. We are not failed humans because we get angry, it’s just an emotion with a bad rep. Give it some space.
Lonely: Humans are tribe animals; we have evolved from the basis that the group equals survival; and that includes all us raving introverts too. We don’t need to overcomplicate this – talking with another person, spending time with people physically and human touch – whether that is a hand squeeze, a hug or even a massage does lower cortisol (the stress hormone). And ever noticed when you are feeling fed up, how much a chin wag with a mate helps?
Tired: Can be a tough one, as it is not always completely in our gift. But we can do a lot to help ourselves. Establish a routine that works for you and then stick to it, staying up into the wee small hours watching crap on your phone, when you have a 6 or 7 am alarm, just isn’t going to cut it. There’s no magic advice – make some choices.
HALT is effectively a way of practicing mindfulness – it requires you to bring your awareness to yourself now, in the moment, and assess for yourself if any of these risk states are in play. And if you determine that they are, then you are at choice – you get to choose what you want to do next. So next time you notice your stress or anxiety levels on the rise, remember the tool HALT as a first check in.
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. William James
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