H.A.L.T.: The Dangers of Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, & Tiredness in Recovery
The key to maintaining a life in recovery is a combination of self-care and self-awareness. By taking care of ourselves and recognizing certain signs, we can prevent relapse. One of the tools some people use is H.A.L.T. This handy acronym reminds us to take a moment and ask ourselves if we are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. The dangers of hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are real, but fortunately, they are also easy to address and serve as a warning system before things reach a breaking point.
Hunger can be a physical or an emotional need. We hunger for food, but we also hunger for more intangible things like love, attention, and understanding. While we should make sure our emotional needs are met, physical hunger is a more common and immediate condition. We may all know that fulfilling our nutritional needs is important, but in our all too busy lives, it is very easy to postpone or skip an essential snack or meal. Even if we do remember to fuel our bodies, we do not always make the best choices. Hunger is often accompanied by low energy, bad moods, unclear thinking, and a decreased ability to cope. It is easy to see how those could be triggers for someone to turn to alcohol or another drug of choice.
As with anything, prevention is the ideal. Checking in with oneself regularly and asking, “Am I hungry? When’s the last time I ate, & what did I eat?” can head off hunger before it fully manifests. Even if you do not manage to avoid hunger altogether, once it kicks in, it is simple enough to satisfy that need. In those moments when you are feeling drained, irritable, and overwhelmed, the first question you should ask yourself is if you are hungry. Thankfully, quashing physical hunger is a pretty quick fix. If it is between meals most people can grab something quick, easy, and nutritious, such as fruit or yogurt. If it is time for a full meal, then you should make sure your lunch or dinner includes some protein and vegetables to get back on track. Emotional hunger is also a trigger, but everyone’s emotional needs are different. Satisfying your desire for human connection is a theme in all aspects of H.ALT. Taking care of your physical self, however, is just as important.
Anger, when expressed properly, is a healthy emotion. We all become angry at times, but most of us do not manage our negative emotions well. Some people say depression is anger turned inwards, and when anger is directed towards other people, it can bring you to a similarly bad place. Both depression and aggression can lead to extremely destructive behaviors that can undermine your recovery. So, how do we handle anger? The first is to acknowledge it and understand it. Recognize you feel angry and determine why. After all, you could just be hungry or there could be a complicated situation which is affecting your emotions. The next step is to diffuse that anger. We can do this in a number of ways. Some people respond best to transferring their aggression to physical activity. Exercising, punching a pillow, even cleaning can help expend that negative energy. For others, prayer, meditation, or creative projects can dissipate their anger and even replace it with calmness and understanding. Others just need to talk it out with someone else such as a sponsor, friend, or mental health professional. Regardless of how you expel your anger, it is essential that you acknowledge it and reflect upon its causes. Once you have done that, you are two-thirds of the way to releasing your anger in constructive and not destructive ways.
Similarly, we all experience loneliness, sometimes even when we are surrounded by people. For those in recovery, this is a particularly perilous place to be. When we feel alone, we easily can become depressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. Prior to treatment, those negative emotions are often suppressed by abusing drugs or alcohol. That is what makes the high from substance abuse so seductive. Once in recovery, however, you have learned that those chemicals were merely masking your feelings and did not solve anything.
When we feel lonely, it is important to turn to our support systems and connect with others. Sometimes combatting loneliness is as simple as calling a good friend, attending a 12 step meeting, or being out in the world by taking a walk or running errands. The key is to connect with others and the world around us. That could be accomplished by talking to just one person or immersing yourself in a community of people. Just as with anger, however, loneliness must be acknowledged and reflected upon before you can address it in positive and meaningful ways.
Tiredness takes a toll on our bodies, mind, and spirit. While it can be a product of depression or difficult circumstances, satisfying the physical need for sleep and rejuvenation is critical. When we are running on empty, our ability to think and our capacity to cope are severely compromised. It is amazing how different things can look after a nap or a good night’s sleep. Sometimes you may just need a short break to recharge and thwart those tired feelings. Either way, you should not ignore your tiredness. It makes getting through the day and maintaining sobriety that much harder.
H.A.L.T. can serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to take care of our basic needs every day. For an addict, that is even more important because neglecting your wellbeing can lead to relapse. So, take a moment each day to stop and check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” Honestly answering those four questions takes only a minute. Addressing them may take a little longer. Yet, it makes everything, including maintaining your recovery, so much easier, and the benefits can last a lifetime.