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HALT and Help Yourself
HALT and Help Yourself

HALT and Help Yourself

Addictions are not easily healed. And this post doesn’t purport to provide that kind of advice. Here I’m talking about those milder bad habits that we don’t like, but can’t seem to get rid of, like overeating, endless scrolling, buying things you don’t really want, or staying up too late — activities that waste our time, money, health and life.

A great first step in trying to kick non-physical addiction and unwanted habits is knowing why you indulge. What are the triggers?


We are most likely to indulge in these bad habits when we’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. There’s a great acronym, HALT, that helps us remember to watch out for those times.

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

OK, now we know some common triggers, what can we do about them?

Like any kind of self management tool, you can plan ahead and train yourself — have a plan for what to do in HALT situations.


Hunger can sneak up on us; one moment we’re fine, the next we’re yelling at some innocent person. But it can also be easy to prevent. Some people carry healthy snacks to keep themselves emotionally stable. Others create regular eating schedules, or eat multiple smaller meals through the day. It takes a bit of awareness and planning, but can easily become a healthy habit.


Remember when your mom used say “When you’re angry, count to 10 before you say anything”? She’s right, it’s good to pause and find the gap between the anger and your inner peace.

For some people, counting to 10 works. For others writing an angry email but not sending it is useful. Other people find benefit in big muscle activity like a long walk or a workout.

Of course, the best solution is facing and dealing with whatever is causing the anger. It’s terrific to get to a place where you’re not triggered at all, where you rarely get angry. But anger is a complex emotion, so while you’re on that journey, recognizing your response when triggered is a great first step.


This is one of the hardest ones, and despite what our socials look like, affects most of us. Loneliness when you’re alone can be tough; loneliness in a group is heartbreaking.

Most of us don’t have a strategy for loneliness, because we reject its existence. Loneliness is embarrassing, especially in western society. We see it as abnormal; something to be cured asap.

What can you do when you feel lonely? The best (and probably hardest) solution is simply sitting with it. Maybe journaling, maybe a bit of fresh air, or the opposite, meditation.

Trying to cheer yourself up doesn’t allow your brain and spirit to process the sadness. It’s like slapping a bandaid on a serious wound — might alleviate the symptoms for now, but won’t help in the long run.

Loneliness impels us to look at the reasons. Are your relationships healthy, or harmful to your spirit? If the latter, what will you do about that? Reassessing relationships can lead to difficult decisions, which are sometimes more than we’re willing to deal with.


In this age of screens and artificial light, tired is probably the most common of all problems. We stay up too late!

Granted, until you’re about 25 your brain wants to stay up till midnight or 2 am, and then sleep in till 8 or 9 am. Unfortunately, most schools and jobs don’t work that way. So our brain keeps us up late at night, then our alarm wakes us early the next morning. We are chronically sleep deprived. I see that in most of my students.

And many of us consume too much caffeine. Probably as a response of lacking sleep, but too much nonetheless.

Cutting caffeine out of my life made a remarkable difference in my mood as well as my sleeping habits. Anxiety went way down, so did irritability and snap judgments (which tend to be unwise).

More and more scientific research points to sleep deprivation as a major problem for our physical and mental health.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution; only getting more sleep. Students might be happy to learn that research points to frequent shorter review sessions, within 24 hours of the class, as much more effective than late-night cramming. And that people who stay up late to cram the night before exams tend to perform worse than those who got a good night’s sleep.

For non-students, we might be able to say no to some responsibilities, or use our daylight hours more effectively. Parents of small children don’t always have those options — I fully remember wanting to stay up after the kids went to bed, just for some much-needed calm adult time!

But building a healthy sleep practice can be a goal, and hopefully become a priority.

Practice makes permanent

Like I always say, don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one of these triggers and develop a strategy for it. Put it into practice for a few weeks or months. Then, when it has become a positive habit, choose a second trigger and develop a strategy. And so on.

Before long, you might notice a sharp decrease in your use of bad habits as a way of coping.

Good luck!