Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired: How to HALT and Reverse Before Getting to Work

Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired: How to HALT and Reverse Before Getting to WorkThis week we welcome back guest writer Cathlyn Melvin to talk about how to get back on track with your work when you’re having a tough time – and sometimes that means taking a break first!

It’s been a long day of classes and reading. You’re not finished with the cases that are due tomorrow, and it’s been awhile since you’ve been on call, so you just know you’re due for it.

You’re feeling burned out, and you’re having trouble concentrating, but you’ve just gotta push through, right?

Well, not really.

It might seem counterintuitive, but if you’re feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, the best thing to do, actually, is to take a break.

When your brain is flooded with hunger, anger, isolation, or exhaustion, your ability to concentrate decreases, as well as limiting your capacity for critical thinking and retention.

So before you force yourself to push through, HALT. Take up to 30 minutes to regroup and reverse those overwhelming emotions so that when you get started again, your mind is clearer and more ready to work.

Now, that doesn’t mean spending half an hour on TikTok. This means a real, honest-to-goodness, change-of-pace, mental-release kind of break.

If you’re worried you might take too long a break, set a timer. You can even place your timer next to your open casebook or your computer so you have to come back to your workspace in order to turn off the alarm.

If you’re hungry

Eat a snack. Not, like, a Little Debbie cake or a sugar-filled granola bar, but a good-for-you, filling, nutrient-rich snack. Oh, and drink some water, while you’re at it. Your snack should look like a miniature meal: a combination of fat, protein, and carbs. Something like:

  • A hard-boiled egg on avocado toast
  • Half a sandwich with meat, sliced veggies, and mayo
  • A slice or two of deli meat wrapped around a cheese stick and a couple of carrot or celery sticks

Close up your computer and your books while you eat. If you have the option to leave your study room entirely, do it! If you have a balcony or yard and it’s nice out, even better—eat outside for an extra energy boost.

If you’re angry

Moving heavy things (like weights or your own body) and prolonged physical contact (like a long, deep hug) can both complete the stress cycle and bring your hormone levels back to your baseline, according to Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (a sister duo comprised of a psychologist and—twist!—a musical conductor and educator).

If physical touch is one of your love languages, and you have a friend or willing roommate available, go get yourself a bear hug.

If exercise is your thing, pick up some dumbbells, do some push-ups, or go for a short run or brisk walk.

If you’re lonely

Make a list of go-to friends and family members who are reliably supportive. Call them. Video chat with them if it makes you feel better to see someone’s face. It might help to tell them you’re feeling lonely and let them know what you want from the conversation. I’m a better listener than a talker, for instance, so when I’m needing company, I appreciate a friend who can talk for awhile about her day, providing me a distraction as well as human connection.

If no one is available to talk, write a friend a letter. Penpals are a popular way for seniors in residence homes to feel more connected to others, but it works just as well for humans of any age. I’m a big fan of sending your letters via USPS, but even if you don’t send it, the act of letter-writing will help you feel that connection.

You can also explore on-demand therapy services like Better Help or Talkspace. With traditional therapy, you’d be waiting to connect with a therapist until your scheduled appointment, but these modern Uber-style therapy organizations can match you with someone in the moment, as you need them.

If you’re tired

Take a nap! Even 10 minutes of intentional restfulness can make a difference. Close your curtains or put on a sleep mask, lie down, and breathe. I’m a fan of the Calm app, which has a nap meditation that puts you to sleep by following a breath sequence and then wakes you up after 30 minutes.

If you’re just feeling a little mentally sluggish, a walk, other exercise, or a quick meditation can do the trick to rid you of that fuzzy-brain feeling.

A short and purposeful break can make an enormous difference in the efficiency and quality of your work. Next time you’re feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, remember to HALT. Take a few minutes to reverse those negative feelings so you can jump back into your work with renewed energy and a fresh mindset.


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About Cathlyn Melvin

Before beginning law school in Fall 2020, Cathlyn worked as an actor, educator, and writer in Chicago and around the US. Now freelancing her way through school, Cathlyn loves reading memoirs, editing essays, baking cheesecakes, and petting cats.

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