Published: Nov. 1, 2017

When stress levels spike, your relationships are first in line to feel the impacts. Stress can make you feel lonely, tired, overwhelmed and even irritable—it looks different for everyone. What’s important is knowing how to interrupt the effects of your stress levels before they spread to other areas of your life.

Woman with hands raised in exasperationThe HALT check-in

We’ve all been there: A friend says the wrong thing, or a roommate forgets to take out the trash, and after a long week we’re ready to snap. If it feels like this is about to happen, press pause. This is the moment for us to take a deep breath and check in with ourselves using the HALT method.

H – Are you hungry?

If this is the case, you need to address your immediate needs with healthy, nutrient-dense food to re-center your mind and give your body a boost. When you take care of this need and show yourself a little kindness, it becomes easier to look at the situation calmly and have a respectful, productive conversation.

A – Are you angry?

If so, you need to identify why and how to responsibly address it. Are you upset about taking out the trash, or is it really about something else? What can you do that won’t just feel good in the moment but will also help quell the anger and solve the problem? How can you respond in a way that leads to a positive change, with all parties feeling good about the interaction?

L – Are you lonely?

This doesn’t just mean alone; do you feel distant, isolated, withdrawn or otherwise disconnected? This might cue you in that it’s time to reach out, sit down and have a conversation about what you're going through with someone you trust. Even if you're upset with a friend in the moment, just sharing what’s stressing you out and what you've been dealing with can help you feel better about the situation and your friend.

T – Are you tired?

Not just physically—are you mentally overdrawn? Is it time to take a break, do a quick meditation, stretch, lie down or just close your eyes for a few minutes? We all know how grumpy an all-nighter can leave us, but even a few hours of missed sleep or a mentally exhausting day can have the same effect.

Returning to the conversation

A HALT check-in doesn't replace dealing with the problem in the relationship. If you're upset, you'll still need to talk to your friends, family, roommates and significant other about your stress levels and what you need from these relationships to get through.

That said, snapping and responding with words or actions we regret can contribute to our stress levels and make it more difficult to deal with things later on. Addressing your HALT needs first lets you have these productive conversations later on.

Moving forward

Make a habit of observing yourself for the signs of stress and the needs you identify when you bring attention to HALT. Once you can recognize what your triggers and responses are, as well as how each HALT category exacerbates these, you are better suited to be a resource for yourself.

If you find that stress levels and interpersonal relationships are feeling out of control, and you are interested in more techniques for managing these situations, check out the offerings available at Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS). All fee-paying students are eligible for free groups and workshops on topics like stress-management, mindfulness, productivity and more.