Most people, at some point in their lives, have used alcohol as a coping mechanism. We get our heart broken, so we decide to have a couple of drinks to help us “forget” about our pain. We have a horrendous day at work and the first thing we do when we get home is crack open a bottle of wine.
What do you do when alcohol is your only way of coping with your feelings? If you’re reaching for that bottle of wine or opening a can of beer every night because you can’t find any other way to manage your day to day stresses, then it’s time to find a new way to manage your thoughts and emotions.
There’s an easy to remember acronym you can use the next time you find yourself reaching for that bottle of wine, it’s: H.A.L.T.
H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired and it’s a simple tool you can use to become aware of both your physical and emotional needs. It may seem silly at first to ask yourself if you’re hungry, but if you’re not meeting your basic needs you’re vulnerable to reach for a “quick fix” to numb your pain, sadness or anger.
Let’s go through each H.A.L.T. “feeling,” and I’ll give you a few ideas of what you can do in the short-term as well as ways to create long-term habits to ensure your success.
We all know what it’s like to be hungry and when we’re hungry we don’t think clearly. Every small thing that normally doesn’t bother us becomes amplified when we’re physically depleted.
Short-term: If you recognize you’re hungry, you need to eat. No surprise there. Start carrying food with you wherever you go. Next time you go to the store, buy some protein bars, packaged nuts and fruit. After each grocery store run, take a moment to chop up some vegetables and put them in small bags. Before you leave the house, make sure you grab a few items so if you get stuck somewhere you have something to eat.
Long-term: If you’re in the habit of skipping meals and then eating everything in sight, you must make the commitment to treat yourself better. You may think you’re being an “efficient worker” by skipping lunch but the two or three tasks you manage to get done isn’t saving you time if it takes you twice as long to get one task completed at the end of day because you’re running on fumes.
Anger is a more complex feeling than hunger, and unlike hunger, it sometimes takes us a little while to recognize what we’re feeling is actually anger. Anger is an emotion most of us have never learned how to manage effectively. We either suppress our anger because we were taught not to “show it” or we learned anger is the only “safe” way to express ourselves.
Short-term: If you recognize you’re feeling angry, that’s great. What?! Yes, you heard me right; it’s OK to feel angry. Now that you’ve acknowledged it, in the present moment sit down and take 5 really deep breaths in and out. You can also find a way to release the tension either through exercise or by even running around your house. Clean something in your room or start to organize your sock drawer. You need to find some kind of physical release for the tension you’re feeling.
Long-term: There’s an underlying reason why you’re feeling angry, so after you’ve calmed down, grab a piece of paper and ask yourself, “Why am I feeling so angry?”
Allow yourself to process your feelings and really understand what’s making you so angry. It’s easy to get stuck in anger wanting to ruminate on your hurt but once you’ve identified source of your anger, it’s time to take action and start figuring out how to make amends or let go of your resentment.
While we tend to associate loneliness with being alone, we can feel lonely when we don’t experience enough human interaction and true connection. We absolutely need people in our lives to listen to us share our thoughts and feelings so we can process all of our highs and lows.
Short-term: Make a quick human connection. Call or text a friend who’s supportive and you know has your back. Sometimes we just need to vent a little.
Maybe you’re living in a new city and don’t have many friends, make a phone date with old friend. Reach out right now and ask if they have time this week to have a “phone” date to catch up. Just making the “phone date” will make you feel better.
Long-term: If you find yourself feeling lonely a lot, then it’s time to figure out how to make more friends or maybe friends you really trust and connect with. It’s one thing to have lots of friends; it’s another to have someone whom you trust will be there for you when things get rough.
If making friends is challenging for you then focus on finding meaningful hobbies and activities. By finding hobbies or interests you enjoy, you’ll instantly be surrounded by people that you at least have one thing in common.
We live in a world that doesn’t value sleep. We see our exhaustion as a weakness and we ignore our need to sleep because of our terrible case of FOMO. Just like with hunger, we need to recognize we’re human and need sleep to function.
Short-term: Just like with hunger, if you’re tired, you need to get some sleep and you can start tonight by going to bed just 15 minutes earlier. Try this for a week and if you’re still tired in the morning, then take another 15 minutes off your bedtime for one week, until you find your ideal “bedtime.”
Long-term: If you’re tired all the time, the best thing you can do is to over-haul your sleeping habits. Just like when we were kids, we need to learn how to “put ourselves to bed at night.” Have a ½ hour to 1 hour “wind down” time before bed which means no looking at screens of any kind and only doing things that will promote sleep.
You can also eliminate all caffeine after 2pm, make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends). Think warm – have a cup of hot decaf tea, take a bath, turn up the heat in your place and throw on a cozy sweatshirt.
Next time you get home from a long hard day at work, instead of automatically assuming that having a drink is the only way you can unwind and feel better, run through H.A.L.T. and see if it’s really alcohol that you’re craving. If you find it’s always the same feeling (such as, hungry or tired) then it may be time to find a long-term solution.