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Practising the Pause

In this video, we explore factors which we can identify and modify to allow us to access that place where we respond, rather than react - using HALT.
MUSIC PLAYING Halt. H-A-L-T. This mnemonic is well established in addictions recovery, and is useful for assessing your personal state when dealing with stressful or demanding situations. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired, and reminds us in those situations to pause and consider our thoughts and emotions as well as to take self-caring actions. I think that we can build on this to incorporate other elements. Hungry, angry, anxious, unhappy, uncertain, lonely, late, tired, thirsty. Let’s look at each one in more detail, thinking of each problem and potential solutions, practices and exercises as we go. Starting with hunger and thirst. They fit together physiologically and practically. When you’re very busy, you may miss regular meals and nutrition.
This can lead to low blood sugar, hypoglycaemia, which stimulates adrenaline production through your fight or flight response. Adrenaline pushes up blood sugar and adrenaline causes tachycardia, which makes you on edge. It heightens awareness and makes your brain cells more active. As a result, you become anxious, irritable, and restless. Your cells aren’t working properly. Regular and healthy eating can prevent this. But if you find yourself in the throes of hunger, it is helpful to recognise what we call “hirritation,” or being “hangry.” This is when my emergency banana comes in really handy, or chocolate in extreme cases. You can choose your own portable rapid response carbohydrate source.
Also, keeping well hydrated will help to reduce the fight or flight response and improve comfort. Thinking now about the As. If you’ve been provoked and you’re angry or anxious, your adrenaline levels rise, again, increasing irritability. That common mechanism for keeping us alive, the fight or flight response, can actually make things worse if it continues to build and build. That’s when you’re at risk of amygdala hijacking or overwhelm. It affects the things in the centre of this diagram. Your decisions, your speech, your actions. And I don’t mean it makes you unable to speak. It affects the things you say so that you may say things that you regret later. So how can you deal with this?
Get yourself some food and water and apply one of the exercises, 3-step breathing space or soles of the feet. Moving now to the Us. There are multiple reasons why we may feel unhappy, or uncertain, or fearful. It may be related to work, or to what’s going on at home, or to other aspects of our lives. Previously, and certainly in our healthcare system, people were encouraged to leave their emotions at the door. But that’s not really feasible. We’re human beings. Acknowledging and accepting this is helpful. It’s quite easy to feel lonely and isolated, even when there are a lot of people around. That is certainly my lived experience.
If you’re busy trying to do your thing and you’ve got a list of stuff to do, and you’re getting calls and messages, and other things are being fired in your direction, isolation can envelop you. Connection with others can help to alleviate that feeling of anxious apartness, as well as help with unhappiness and uncertainty. We can use our ‘treating myself like a good friend’ and self-compassion break exercises.
Lateness refers to time pressures: deadlines, rushing, that feeling of never being on time, of not having a moment to stop. If we can raise awareness that we are in the midst of this, we can apply the pause, using one of our practical tools such as soles of the feet or 3-step breathing practice. Finally, tiredness. As you’re working, you may become drained physically, mentally, and emotionally, particularly as you engage in stressful and emotionally charged conditions day after day, week after week. If you’re constantly tired, your fight or flight mechanism is working away chronically to keep you going.
So, thinking about all these different components of what might happen to you when you’re working, you’ve got a long shift, you don’t get proper breaks, you don’t get enough food or fluid, you’re rushing from one job to the next. You can take practical steps to improve things. And to do that, you need self-awareness and a self-caring approach. The key here is care. It’s about caring for ourselves because if we care for ourselves, we can then care for others better. It’s that idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. And it’s also about constantly looking out for the others around you.

Our behaviours and decision making are affected by our overall equilibrium, which is influenced by the balance between our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states. This also applies to our ability to care, to be present, to be kind and to be compassionate.

As you saw in Dorothy’s Mindful Self-compassion video (step 1.11), the words of concentration camp prisoner Viktor Frankl can help us here:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
In this video, we’ll explore a number of factors which we can identify and modify to allow us to access that place where we respond, rather than react – using the HALT mnemonic (and the slightly contrived, but hopefully useful, HAAUULLTT).
You might also find it helpful to think back to the four dimensions life table we discussed in week 1, and consider how the HALT mnemonics interact with it. As Viktor Frankl put it:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
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