HALT – one method to break the cycle of anger and rage

I read an interesting post on Catatonic Kid’s blog called, HALT: Bursting Anger’s Bubble. I thought it was interesting, but found myself spontaneously using the technique in my own life to cope with fluctuations in mood. Surprisingly, it worked!

The idea is that anger in very depressed people is not tempered in the same way as normal folks. The frontal cortex generally mediates the anger, whereas decreased blood flow to this area in folks with depression can lead to bouts of rage.

Anger shows up in different ways – external to other people and objects, but also turned inward, to the point that some people with anger and rage don’t even realize why. We’ve lost track of our emotions, and after another bout with rage, we feel guilty and become even more withdrawn and judgmental of ourselves.

Catatonic Kid explores the acronym H.A.L.T. in helping to identify changes in your mood that might lead to rage. HALT stands for Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired.

The acronym is more fully expanded in an article by Gudren Zomerland called H.A.L.T.: A Self-Care Tool. She does not claim to have created the tool, but has used it successfully in therapy for chemical dependency.

H.A.L.T. represents four “physical or emotional conditions, if not taken care of, leaves an individual vulnerable for relapse.” It is often used as part of the 12-step programs for addiction, and shorted definitions can be found all over the internet. However, the same method can also be used for other additions such as to food, and for emotional states such as shame and anger. These are in more detail:

Hunger – primarily for food, but also emotional hunger such as for companionship, comfort and understanding.

Anger – feeling anger is okay, but we don’t often know how to express it properly. Instead, we use it destructively against ourselves or others. Try to find the underlying cause of the anger – it is often “some form of perceived helplessness or powerlessness” and often related to trauma.

Lonely – being unable to reach out; isolating one’s self from community. Can be caused as a survival tool after abuse, or from depression.

Tired – we ignore being tired, when we should just take a nap or see a healthcare professional about sleep problems. Zomerland mentions a study that suggests tiredness is more often the cause of auto accidents than alcohol! Tired also comes from feeling overwhelmed – she suggests something as simple as getting out and getting some fresh air.

I only read the Catatonic Kid’s post at a high level because I was researching something else, but the acronym was so easy to remember that it kept popping up in my mind as I explored my own coping mechanisms.

As I got annoyed at something, I found myself thinking about the four items and trying to identify which was causing my negative feelings. Even if I couldn’t identify which, the actual process if introspection was enough at times to break the cycle.


Zomerland G. (2008). H.A.L.T.: A Self-Care Tool, accessed from http://www.chinnstreetcounseling.com/zomerland/zomerland_11.shtml



  Dr.Robert Heller wrote @

In my experience as a cognitive-behavioral psychologist anger is not that complicated.
Anger like most emotions is mediated by our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and expectations. Often time distorted thinking results in needless or excessive anger.

  emilylonelygirl wrote @

Dr. Heller,

You make a good point…PTSD and DID are full of distorted thinking, but what you share applies to more than just these diagnoses. And more than just with anger, but a host of other feelings – shame, low self worth, dissociation/withdrawing, frustration, rage, etc. I have a lot of distortions myself, and a chunk of my therapy has been trying to determine what triggered me and why the emotion becomes too extreme or comes at all. And then trying to figure out how to recognize it. There sure is a whole lot of thinking about it going on here!

Thanks for commenting.

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