These past few weeks, I’ve been looking for a new way to guide clients to prioritize sleep and exercise.

For years, I talked about physical self-care through the lens of Minimum Requirements for Self-Care. But because fatphobic dominant culture socializes most of us to approach our bodies from a punitive stance, words like requirements can trigger shame. And shame can trigger the very behaviors that harm our bodies. This week, though, a client finally shared the missing link! The HALT practice.

The HALT practice has its roots in the recovery movement, and its premise is simple: We’re more likely to make choices that don’t serve us when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. (HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.)

So, when we’re feeling these ways, we need to pause, get curious about what we need, and choose a response that’s more likely to meet our needs.

It’s true that we’re more likely to revert to—and become addicted to—behaviors that don’t serve us as a result of trauma. And, it’s true that often, we need to do deep inner work to heal from trauma.

And it’s also true that some of the most fruitful steps toward healing are not complicated.

One of the most important steps toward cultivating a loving relationship with ourselves and healing past wounds is taking action to care for ourselves in real time now.

When we get emotionally activated and choose reactions that don’t serve us, it’s often because we haven’t tended to the basics. It can become much easier to offer ourselves love and kindness, do deeper healing work, and discern next steps that meet our needs when we’re physically nourished.

So, here’s the practice:

Throughout your days, pay attention to what you feel, and if you feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, halt!

Then, rather than letting the struggling parts of yourself grab the wheel and unconsciously steer you somewhere you’d rather not go, get curious about what you need, and choose a next step to help yourself feel better.

From now on, when you notice you’re not feeling good, ask yourself whether you’ve been doing the things your body needs.

Have you been sleeping, moving your body, eating foods that nourish you, drinking enough water, and doing the other things that help you feel good? If not, what small steps are you able and willing to take to feel better this week? Commit to taking whichever steps feel doable this week. Then take those steps forward.

When we pay attention to ourselves and take practical steps to help ourselves feel better, we give ourselves the parenting we may have never received.

When many people think of reparenting, they think of the emotional aspects of parenting, like offering ourselves the love we missed out on as children. And that is certainly part of reparenting. But an equally important aspect is setting limits to care for our bodies.

Now, everyone parents differently, and I honor your parenting choices. And I imagine that there are certain limits you might place on children in your care. For example, would you give them a bedtime? Would you limit the amount of sweets they ate? Would you limit screen time? Or insist they go outside?

Of course, the children in your care might not like your limits, at least not some of the time. They might even tantrum against them, especially when tired. But as an adult, you know they need limits.

Similarly, when you place limits on yourself that help you feel better, part of you might rebel and argue and want to stay up late. But the adult part of you knows that self-care sometimes looks like saying no to yourself, and that’s the part we’re summoning here.

I invite you to pause now and ask yourself how you feel in your body. Do you feel hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sore? If so, what’s one next step you can take right now or at least within the next couple of days to feel better? Take that step.

And once you do, celebrate yourself for taking this step of self-love and healing.

May you feel nourished, energized, and accompanied.

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