Published: Oct. 30, 2018 By

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

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

A – Are we angry?

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

L – Are we lonely?

This doesn’t just mean alone; do we feel distant, isolated, withdrawn or otherwise disconnected?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

T – Are we tired?

Not just physically—but mentally overdrawn? Is it time to take a break, do a quick meditation, stretch, lie down or just close our 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 we're upset, we'll still need to talk to our friends, family, roommates and significant other about our stress levels and what we 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 our HALT needs first lets us have these productive conversations later on.

Moving forward

Make a habit of observing your signs of stress and acknowledging your needs in the moment with the HALT method. Once you can recognize what your triggers and responses are, as well as how each HALT category affects 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 SliverCloud Health. SilverCloud is an online tool that provides personalized programs to help build skills around stress management, anxiety and depression.

All fee-paying students are eligible for free groups and workshops at Counseling and Psychiatric Services on topics like stress-management, mindfulness, productivity and more.

Healthy Buffs is a weekly series with tips and information on a variety of health topics important to college students. Learn more at colorado.edu/health.