An invitation to pause

For me, it happens really quickly. There’s a threshold I hit, after which I just crash, and it seems like I can’t be productive or constructive. In the name of powering through, I used to try to keep working, studying, or having that difficult conversation, but I’d end up feeling so irritable and being so snippy, it usually ended poorly. Learning how to HALT changed that for me.

HALT is a self-care technique where you check in with yourself to see if you’re feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired - and then try to fix the problem in a deliberate, healthy way. As an English nerd, one of the things I love about HALT is how perfect the acronym is for the action; it’s an invitation to take a pause.

Often, we don’t realize that we’re acting cranky or that our crankiness stems from feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Even if we do recognize it, our tendency is typically to try to push through. Instead, try taking a moment to ask yourself how you’re feeling and what you can do to improve your mood.

Hungry

We've all lashed out only to realize after eating that we overreacted because we were hungry. When we’re hungry, everything else becomes tougher to deal with, and we make impulse decisions that usually make us feel worse later.

But not only do you want to make sure that you’re eating enough, make sure you’re eating well and that your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs to perform at its best. Don’t skip meals, and try to eat consistently throughout the day so that you don’t have big blood sugar spikes and dips.

Getting easily upset and acting irrationally due to hunger is so common that it has its own name: feeling hangry. And we've all been there.

Angry

There’s nothing wrong with being angry - it’s part of being human - but there are good ways and bad ways to handle your anger. Working yourself up by ranting about your boss or passive-aggressively stomping away from your partner won’t help, but neither will bottling up your emotions.

If you notice that your fuse is feeling particularly short, try using a creative outlet like painting or journalling, or do something more active to get rid of the energy anger brings with it by going for a run or cleaning your place.

And if you feel overwhelmed, mindfulness exercises can help make you feel in control of your emotions again. 

Lonely

You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. When we feel like others don’t understand us or have rejected us in some way, we might withdraw, exacerbating the problem. If you're feeling lonely, don't isolate yourself - try reaching out to someone you trust.

Even running errands or hanging out in a public place like a busy park or a restaurant can help make you feel more connected with others. And of course, giving back to your community or doing something nice for a friend are great ways to feel like you're a part of something bigger than yourself.

Tired

We’re all busy, and sometimes it feels like we’re trying to one-up each other in the busyness category, essentially bragging about how many essays and labs we have due or how many overtime hours we worked. But living in a perpetual state of exhaustion is not sustainable.

Build time into your schedule to sleep, rest, and recover. If you have trouble sleeping, try following a bedtime routine, limiting caffeine in the day, and turning off your screens well before bed.

Habitual HALTing

One problem with HALT is that you usually need it the most when you’re least likely to be rational, calm, and methodical about self-care. Try making HALT part of your daily routine instead so that it becomes a habit. Treat it like a vitamin you take every day to improve your health rather than as a painkiller you only take when you feel a crisis coming on.

A few ways to work HALT into your day:

  • Set alarms during your day for you to spend a minute taking a few deep breaths and checking in with yourself
  • ​Schedule buffer time before and after stressful events like difficult classes, meetings, appointments, etc. so that you don’t have to rush and you have time to decompress if needed
  • Plan out what you’ll eat, wear, and other small decisions the night before to help you fall asleep more easily and to relieve yourself of those decisions in the morning
  • ​Intentionally build social time into your day, especially if you live alone, by going to a recreational class, going to a cafe to read, or making plans with friends

Assessing how you feel only takes a minute and makes the everyday stress of life a lot easier to deal with. Don’t underestimate the easy yet impactful act of checking in with yourself.  

Feeling overwhelmed? 
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