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Have you ever found yourself losing your temper, but not knowing why? This happened to me the other day. I was at the mechanic, dealing with a car problem. The situation was frustrating—I wasn’t sure how much the problem was going to cost to fix, and the place was busy—I had to wait a long time before they could even look at my car.

Still, even though the situation was aggravating, it was something that I normally could have dealt with, without getting too upset. But that day, I found myself losing my cool! When I checked in with myself, I realized a couple of things. First, I was hungry—I hadn’t had a chance to eat lunch yet. Second, I was tired—I didn’t sleep well the previous night.

Sometimes we have things going on in our lives that make it difficult for us to deal effectively with stress. These things can make it hard for us to have a difficult conversation with a loved one, for example. If these things are going on in our life, it might be a good idea to take a break and deal with the stressful situation (or have the difficult conversation) at a later time.

To identify these situations, I like to use the acronym HALT:

  1. Hungry. If you are hungry, sometimes you can’t think straight. Your glucose levels are low, and it’s tough to have the energy to effectively deal with what is going on in your life. Instead, take a break. Get some food in your stomach, and then come back to deal with the stressful situation later.
  2. Angry. If you are emotionally activated, it’s tough to think through the situation clearly. Your emotions might be taking over and running the show, rather than your brain. Take some time and cool down. Maybe take a walk. When you are feeling more levelheaded, you are in better shape to tackle the problem.
  3. Lonely. Loneliness is another feeling that can take over and run the show. Experiencing intimacy is one of our deepest needs, and if you aren’t getting it, it’s hard to make an accurate appraisal of your situation. Press the pause button and connect with a family member or friend. You might find it helpful to blow off some steam, or get their take on your situation. Then come back to the issue once you are feeling less lonely.
  4. Tired. When we are exhausted, we don’t have our normal level of stamina, energy, or ability to self-regulate. We’re more likely to fly off the handle and say or do something we regret. If you are feeling tired, take a time out. Get some rest or take a nap, and then deal with the problem once you are well-rested.

Discussion: What do you think of the acronym HALT? Which part (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) affects you the most?

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