Healthy Mind

Here’s How To Use the HALT Method To Figure Out Why You’re So Grumpy

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When you're feeling worked up, it’s always better to take a pause in order to figure out what your body needs before you say or do something you'll regret. (You're never too old for a nap or a snack—and that may be just what your body needs.) To do this efficiently, therapists often recommend the HALT method as an excellent way to tame emotions and create calmness by addressing basic human needs in order to prevent taking out your frustrations on someone else.

What Is the HALT Method?

HALT stands for:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

The HALT method is based around the premise that you’re more likely to make poor, highly emotional decisions when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. “The purpose is to help us identify these experiences when we are tempted to engage in a negative behavior and to instead address the underlying issue,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a social worker and addiction specialist at Diamond Rehab.

“HALT comes from the recovery community, however it can be applied to many scenarios beyond addiction. At its core, it is a mindfulness technique that promotes greater emotion regulation by building awareness around the root of urges,” says Glenn.

The HALT method addresses how states of being and human needs might be linked to making hasty decisions—with words, actions, and thoughts. People are less likely to think clearly or practically when in distress.

The Purpose of the HALT Method and How To Use It Effectively

“The purpose of the HALT tool is to help us feel better when we are not feeling great emotionally, and it’s often used when we're feeling upset or emotionally off-centered,” says physician and integrative medicine specialist Catherine Uram, MD.

Use the HALT method by asking yourself what seems “off” about your body and mindset. If you notice you are not feeling like your usual self, you can go through the HALT acronym, questioning whether you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired in any given moment.

“Asking these questions brings more self-awareness. You'll see what causes you to feel unlike yourself, which guides you toward having more emotional regulation and keeping a more centered, peaceful state of being," says Dr. Uram.

With more control over your emotions, you’re better able to prevent hostility toward others while fostering a better sense of perspective and rationality.

1. How To Use the HALT Method When Hungry

When hungry, you tend to make hasty, emotional decisions, rather than use logic, as your body cries out for food and your stomach grumbles. “This is because our blood glucose (blood sugar) can be lower than usual, affecting our physiology, how we think, feel and therefore make decisions,” says Dr. Uram.

The connection between hunger and lack of control over emotions is that when we don't have enough energy, and need to replete with food, we do not have enough energy to physiologically regulate emotions and how they’re handled. “This results in uncomfortable feelings that we sometimes do not want to investigate, which we label a ‘bad mood,’ when we’re actually getting upset because of hunger and that our body and mind do not have enough physical energy to function optimally,” says Dr. Uram.

“It is well-researched that human behavior changes when we are hungry, where hunger causes us to value the short term over the long term and leads to hastiness with decisions. Chemicals released in our brain also change when we are hungry, to chemicals which then heighten anger, in response,” says Glenn.

The best action plan is to identify hunger signals (rumbling stomachs, headaches, irritability, etc.), and then find food as soon as possible. “Oftentimes we must eat before taking any further action to alleviate discomfort, because sufficient calories and glucose are physically foundational for any mood improvements to occur,” says Glenn.

If hunger is the cause, it's best to eat something nutritious, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, or seeds, to bring physiology back to baseline, rather than bombarding your body with large meal. Foods high in sugar made provide a short-term fix before backfiring, leaving you feeling even moodier.

“An example of satiating this urge first would be if you discovered the cause of feeling not well emotionally was hunger, you could take a momentary break from whatever you are doing, eat a handful of nuts or dried fruits, rest and enjoy them as much as you can, while your body and brain come back to baseline, called homeostasis,” says Glenn.

Then eat a meal, or add on to your snack, with slow speed and mindfulness to help you think more clearly and to feel calmer. “As your body and brain are coming back into homeostasis, you will think more clearly and feel calmer, avoiding hasty remarks and snappiness and alleviating uncomfortable moods,” says Glenn.

2. How To Use the HALT Method When Angry

“We often act out when angry because anger conjures up a lot of physical and emotional reserves, which make it difficult to settle mentally, emotionally, and physically, and so instead our bodies respond with a fight-or-flight response,” says Dr. Uram.

Anger is a normal human emotion, but unless managed, it can lead to poor decision making in the moment. “Anger promotes impatience and stimulates chemicals in the brain, like adrenaline, and when we act out in anger, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing strong emotion and threat stimuli, also becomes involved,” says Glenn. The connection between the two can be tricky to navigate, and the amygdala’s involvement can be too strong at times and take over.

Use the HALT method by recognizing that you’re angry, and then choosing to use mindfulness to rest, with exercises that bring self-awareness, acknowledgement and a sense of calm. Glenn recommends deep breathing, sending energy into the feet, or touching fingertips together one-by-one as three simple techniques with potential to regulate anger quickly and with ease by bringing more attention to the present moment and anger.

Another way to use the HALT method to target anger is to work out, which will release stress. “Running, walking, or some other form of vigorous exercise can be helpful, because when we are angry, we have increased adrenaline and glucose, so intense exercise allows us to put it to good use physically, rather than keeping it all pent up inside, to then explode outwards,” says Dr. Uram.

3. How To Use the HALT Method When Lonely

People are wired to seek belonging, so when you’re feeling lonely, it may lead to depression and anxiety, as well as making decisions without connecting to yourself and your authenticity or power. “There are multiple ways to feel lonely—we can feel as though we haven't found our group, and we can also feel as though we are disconnected from ourselves,” says Glenn.

When you're feeling lonely, HALT helps you handle emotions better and avoid taking them out on others. “It gets you a little uncomfortable by urging you to use self-reflection to address the root of your loneliness and the ways in which you can improve your sense of community and attract love,” says Dr. Uram.

Use the HALT method by reaching out to someone with whom you feel you can be your authentic self. Meeting face-to-face, if possible, can reduce the loneliness you’re feeling. “Connection promotes nervous system co-regulation, which allows us to move from depressed/anxious back toward our baseline,” says Glenn.

“Practice self-connection, especially if the identified feelings of loneliness are centered on disconnection from the self, as it can be beneficial to engage in an activity that puts us back in touch,” says Glenn. You might try yoga and meditation, exercising, reading a book, painting, or another hobby you enjoy.

Going for a walk alone outdoors for some fresh air is another way to feel more connected to your surroundings and yourself. “Connection with ourselves allows for increased emotional identification and processing,” explains Glenn.

4. How To Use the HALT Method When Tired

Without physical energy, it’s hard to maintain enough mental energy and focus for clarity of thinking and good judgment. “Tiredness causes us to feel foggier and increases stress around making decisions, causing those decisions to be more rash,” says Glenn.

Use the HALT method by prioritizing tasks and checking off items accordingly, but also by prioritizing sleep. “Once we've paused and identified tiredness, prioritizing the tasks we need to complete and decisions we need to make can decrease stress levels,” says Glenn. “We are letting ourselves off the hook and acknowledging that we don't need to do everything right now,” Glenn continues. A break might signify sleep, a vacation, a walk outside, an episode of your favorite television show or even simply sitting in silence for a brief pause, just for yourself.

Tiredness is your body telling you that it needs rest. Pause current tasks, engage in something relaxing and enjoyable, or take a nap or go to bed, if you haven’t been sleeping well and need to catch up.

When Is the HALT Method Most Useful?

The HALT method is a beneficial tool for people with anger management issues or chronic stress, for couples who are struggling to connect intimately or communicate well, and for those recovering from addiction. It requires greater self-awareness and ability to pause before doing things hastily to reflect and center themselves first.

“In general, HALT requires us to pause before choosing our next action and this pause creates space in which we can identify core emotions and choose a less harmful route,” says Glenn. “This is helpful for anger and stress management, with couples, and in addiction recovery, as there’s possibility for intense emotions and negative urges, and that’s where HALT and use of mindfulness helps us slow down,” says Glenn.

It's important to remember that the HALT method is just one tool to manage stress, and that it is not a cure-all or a technique to be used in every scenario. It can be useful to talk to a professional who specialized in the area(s) in which you’re struggling to determine whether the HALT method is right for you.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year support for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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