Applying The H.A.L.T. Technique To Overcome Negative Behavior & Anxiety

We’ve all been there. We’ve all lashed out even though we are normally pretty patient. Discover how to identify common human conditions that can trigger negative behaviors.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
halt technique
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

In the search for well-being and mental health we often focus on the complicated work of healing relationships, accepting past traumas and correcting negative thought patterns. However, a large part of what triggers negative emotions and reactivity has to do with simple aspects of self-care and self-awareness that can be corrected rather quickly, or at least prepared and accounted for. The HALT technique is one way to identify these common but often missed triggers.

What Is The HALT Technique?

The H.A.L.T technique has its roots in the recovery community and is based on a simple premise:

Negative behaviors are most likely to occur when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

If you can identify one of these four conditions when you have the urge to indulge a negative behavior, you can work on addressing the condition rather then giving in to the urge. This concept applies to far more than just addiction. It is applicable to anyone seeking to improve their mental health, well-being or even to bolster their mindfulness practice.

Feeling Hungry

Everybody knows that you get more irritable when you’re hungry. However, there is a growing body of evidence that links hunger to increased incidence of depression and anxiety chronic enough to warrant a medical diagnosis.

This is a particular issue amongst populations that struggle with poverty and food security issues, so much of the relevant research is targeting these groups.

A particularly noteworthy study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, compared the prevalence of depression amongst two groups. Both groups were suffering from general poverty and food insecurity. However, the first group was receiving provision of benefits used to purchase food from a federal supplementary nutritional assistance program (SNAP participants) and the second group, though they qualified for it, were not.

The researchers suggest that “food insecurity affects multiple depressive symptoms, including depressive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.” Though their findings showed a high rate of depression amongst both groups, the group receiving nutritional assistance tended to suffer from depression of a lower magnitude. However, their findings also conclude that “SNAP participants had higher probabilities of depression at every level of household food security. The reseachers stress that further studies into the complex relations between household food security, SNAP participation, and depression is needed.

It’s clear that our diet has a strong link to our mental and emotional state. Overall, this study suggests that chronic hunger also leads to chronic depression.

Feeling Angry

Developing anger management techniques is, for many, a key component of positive mental health and well-being. A 2016 study focused on the effects of anger management on mental health outcomes in a population particularly susceptible to stress, the incarcerated.

It’s no surprise that access to anger management programs correlated with more positive mental health outcomes, particularly for a population with a higher incidence of anger management issues. However, anger issues have also been shown to correlate with worse treatment outcomes among those struggling with addiction.

Another study, this one conducted by a group from Yale University, found this trend particularly strong among adolescents. Adolescents with substance abuse issues who were classified as having a high degree of anger showed a higher severity of both substance abuse and psychiatric distress prior to treatment, as well as worse treatment outcomes after completing a standard rehabilitation program.

In short, an inability to manage and control your anger will tend to result in more reactivity, less self-control and more long-term anxiety.

Discover our large free collection of meditations for anger management that help to recognize triggers before they lead to a negative response or reaction. Also explore Tara Brach’s mindfulness approach of how to let go of anger.

Feeling Lonely

Social isolation has been shown to be strongly associated with anxiety, depression and poor self-care, as well as a whole range of physical health conditions. Oliver Hämmig, a professor at the University Of Zurich, recently published a research article that outlines these risks.

It has long been understood that social isolation leads to negative health outcomes among older populations. However, Hämmig found that this same effect exists irrespective of the age of study participants. In fact, according to Hammig:

“Social isolation may be less prevalent at younger ages, but is then even more strongly associated with poor health conditions and behaviors than at older ages.”

The conditions negatively effected by social isolation include, but are not limited to anxiety, depression, physical inactivity, poor diet, substance use, musculoskeletal problems and generally poor health.

Feeling Tired

In our increasingly stressful modern environments, fatigue has become one of the most common symptoms reported across all types of medical consultation. It is almost self-evident that mental health conditions are correlated with fatigue, but it wasn’t always clear if this fatigue was merely a symptom or if it had causal effects on its own.

However, a recent study published by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has found evidence that chronic fatigue, without previous indications of mental illness, can result in increased levels of psychological symptoms as well as an increased risk of future psychiatric illness. It would seem that neglecting your sleep is tantamount to neglecting your health.

Read more: Clinical psychologist Dr. Lillian Nejad explains strategies that can help when having trouble falling asleep because of anxiety and worry.

Using Meditation With The HALT Technique

The HALT technique and mindfulness meditation practice are a perfect complement to one another. For one thing, the HALT technique is essentially a form of mindfulness. It helps us to become more aware of our emotional states and their relation to our behaviors, which can aid us in our journey of self-inquiry and understanding, and help us to develop focus and discipline in our meditation practice.

Conversely, it has been shown that the regular practice of mindfulness decreases emotional reactivity to negative stimuli as has been shown in multiple neurological studies (including this one, outlined by the American Mindfulness Research Association.)

In other words, a regular mindfulness practice makes the sort of self-discipline and self-awareness required for the HALT technique both easier and more effective. Though many of us may not be in the midst of a current psychiatric or addiction crisis, the HALT technique offers a new way to explore the relationship between our physical state and our emotional reactions and guide us into a deeper understanding of our bodies and minds.

Read more: Connect with your body in the here and now and practice this mindful check-in whenever you feel triggered and want to hit the pause button.

It is well worth exploring the technique both as a way of promoting greater psychological well-being and as a way of taking your existing mindfulness practice off the cushion and into your daily life

Meditation. Free.