By Lisa Caplan

I’m going to borrow this popular acronym from the recovery world, because I find it very helpful for anyone who wants to have a balanced life. The acronym HALT reminds us to stop for a moment and check in with ourselves to see if we are feeling too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. These are basic needs which we must tend to daily. When we ignore these basic needs, we become unable to make healthy choices for ourselves, and can choose self-destructive behavior. Whether you live with a mental health disorder, are recovering from addiction, or want a healthy life, checking in with yourself daily can help you accomplish this.

On a daily basis I have clients come in and discuss that they don’t feel well, have relapsed, or are struggling with their anxiety, depression or other mental health disorder. The first question I ask them is, “How are you taking care of yourself?” What I often get in response is, “Huh.” If you go all day pumping yourself full of sugary drinks, you will feel terrible; if you don’t learn to decompress, your anger will get the best of you; when you isolate, you are left with a void in your life, not to mention with your own thoughts, which is never a good place to be for too long; if you deprive yourself of sleep, you will be unable to function. All of these basic needs can lead to a substance abuse relapse or mental health relapse, as well as just feeling terrible. Learning to check in with yourself throughout the day is a proactive way to stay healthy.

How do You Check in with Yourself? Simply start by noticing, as you go through your day, how you feel physically and emotionally. Pay attention to the time of day that you feel this way. Start to notice if there is a pattern. For example, at 2:00 each day, you may feel tired; and late in the afternoon, you may feel agitated, impatient or frustrated. Notice when you feel hungry or lonely. Awareness is the first step in making any changes to better care for yourself.

Let’s Break HALT Down:

Hunger can have different meanings. It can be straight forward and mean physical hunger for food. At 2:00 in the afternoon when you are aware that you are hungry, you have a choice. You can either eat a piece of cake or candy bar, or you can make an active decision to eat something healthy. What you chose to put in your body will determine how you will feel. Eating sugary foods might fill you up, but will shortly leave you feeling empty as well as possibly emotionally worse.

Hunger can also have an emotional meaning. It can mean feeling empty emotionally or not fulfilled. It can mean longing for love or a challenge. When checking in with yourself try to look at the full meaning of hunger and what changes you might need to make in your life.

Anger is a very healthy and normal emotion. It’s how you handle it that is important. You want to take a step back or HALT to evaluate what is causing your anger and what is the best way to handle the situation. Is it a situation, person, or yourself that is causing the anger? Ask yourself if you have control over what is causing your anger, and decide what changes you need to make. If you don’t have control, break the situation down to see what you can change. Continue to take care of yourself by eating healthy, exercising and spending time with supportive and healthy friends. When you are angry, also check in with yourself to see if you may also be hungry, lonely and tired. Look at your life holistically and not in parts.  Check in with all your pieces.

Loneliness can occur either when we are surrounded by a lot of people or when we are alone. We tend to isolate when we don’t feel emotionally well and we are vulnerable. Take time to ask yourself if you are isolating, and when was the last time you reached out to someone who cares and supports you. Spend time with friends who are healthy and want what is best for you, or find activities that help you meet people who have the same interests and values. Volunteer or get involved in any activity that interests you where you can meet people.

Tiredness can affect our mind, body, and spirit. We often forgo sleep to accomplish other things like work, household chores, etc. Not getting enough rest can compromise your immune system, ability to make good choices, and managing your life. Take a minute to check in with yourself to see if you are tired. Getting enough sleep is vital to your overall health. Taking a short nap and/or practicing mindfulness and meditation are great ways to recharge.

Put it all together:

It only takes a few minutes and it will become a habit in no time to check in with yourself to see if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired and decide what you can do about it. So many things are out of our control, but this is a simple and effective way to stay healthy by taking a moment to HALT.

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Director, (443) 703-3041,; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director, (443) 703-3042,  Toll Free line 1(888) 388-5459.

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, paddle boarding, sailing, rock climbing and training for triathlons.