HALTS: For Coping with Panic Attacks

coping with panic attacksI use a variety of methods for coping with panic attacks.  Here is a simple and effective tool I use, adapted from 12 Step Recovery programs.  It is called HALT, but I add an S to the end, making it HALTS.

HALTS is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Sick.  These are all feelings and conditions that increase the likelihood that you will have a panic attack.

You can use HALTS to help get a perspective on how you’re  feeling.  This helps to assess whether you am at risk for having an anxiety attack.  Now I will go over each of the risky emotions.

Hungry

When I am Hungry because I went without food for too long, I know what happens to me emotionally. I can get very irritable when my blood sugar drops, especially during a stressful situation.  But even more important, I have noticed that my hands often shake and I feel dizzy or lightheaded.

These symptoms are similar to those I experience during a panic attack.  Merely having similar symptoms is enough to bring on a panic episode—particularly if I am in one of my trigger situations (such as being the center of attention at a social gathering).

I have come to learn that it is essential for me not to get hungry to the point where I am experiencing anxiety provoking symptoms.  Simply put, I need to get 3 squares plus snacks.  When I neglect my nutrition, I am at risk for anxiety.

I’m pretty lazy and don’t take the time to cook, so this is what I do: I always keep a stash of peanut butter crackers and cereal bars in my glove compartment and in my pantry. As well, I like to have a banana or apple available in my kitchen.  That way, I am able to eat on the run while still giving myself nutrition.

For me, it’s important not to drink caffeine and not to pig out on junk food. These things both make me feel worse.

Angry

When I am very Angry, I am always in a bad place emotionally.  Anger is mood altering and affects me physically as well. I need to chill out and be in  a better space before I venture out to a neighborhood Pampered Chef party or anything anxiety provoking.

Lonely

When I feel lonely, my social anxiety disorder is triggered and I feel very vulnerable.  What helps me is getting out of my isolation.  I reach out to dear friends or family members who listen to me without judgment.  I avoid gossipy and negative people when I’m feeling bad, as they often make me feel worse.

Going out grocery shopping or to the public library, or taking my dog for a walk around town also helps.  Sometimes, just being out and about in public has a calming effect on me and helps me feel more connected.

The best thing I can do for loneliness is to volunteer.  Giving of myself to others is the surefire antidote to this yucky feeling.  I don’t have a lot of time for volunteering, but I try to get in a few hours per month.  It is like magic. When I come home after working at my local  food pantry, I am both humbled and happy.  It is the most wonderful feeling.

Tired

When I am Tired, I don’t think clearly.  This fuzzy brain feeling can easily turn to anxiety and lead to an actual panic attack.  I need to get my rest, to the very best of my ability.  If I am sleep deprived, I need to be very gentle with myself and not expect too much.

During my recent Klonopin withdrawal, I was severely sleep deprived for nearly two weeks.  I made a concerted effort not to have many things on my social calendar during that time.  Even getting my hair highlighted at the beauty parlor was a challenge.  When I am rested, I don’t mind and even enjoy getting my hair done.coping with panic attacks

Sick

If I am bogged down with a cold or fever, I need to just stay in and rest until I feel better.  Being sick can definitely make me feel lightheaded or nauseous. A fever can give me heart palpitations.  With sickness already stressing my body, I will push it further by going into a panic provoking situation.

In closing, HALTS is an effective tool that I use for coping with anxiety attacks. The trick is to be aware of my physical and emotional well being.

If I am Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Sick, I need to be very gentle with myself.  Then I can make a decision whether to proceed into an anxiety- triggering situation.  If I decide not to go, I know that I am not actively avoiding my anxiety recovery, but focusing on self care, my primary responsibility.

Why don’t you give HALTS a try? Let me know what you think.

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

ps.- Thankfully, those HALTS situations eventually pass, and you can get back to the business of working on overcoming your anxiety and panic attacks. Panic Away has helped me a great deal. You can learn more about the program here.. 

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8 Responses to HALTS: For Coping with Panic Attacks

  1. jamie says:

    Hi There, My name is Jamie (female) and i’ve been struggling with anxiety since i can remember, i am 53. lately it has become so much worse mainly if i go 3 hours without eating and my blood sugar is normal. i’m trying so hard to find some relief and i see a psych Dr. on wed. to see what he thinks. i really love your theories and ideas and am going to impliment them till wed. and maybe even after. i like the peanut butter and bar idea but i’m going to keep peanut butter and some good whole grain crackers in my car along with some nutrition bars and water so if i start to feel anxiety coming on due to hunger i at least have something to hold me over till i can get a good meal in me. thanks so much for sharing this. it is so simple yet direct. wishing you blesssings….Jamie

    • JillG says:

      Jamie, that’s a great idea. I bet your doctor will agree that this will help you. Very glad you made the doctor appointment. Why do you think your anxiety is so bad lately? Are you under more stress than usual? Hugs and blessings to you too,
      Jill

  2. Michelle says:

    Ok first of all his is super long but i really need to tell you this jill.   
    Oh my goodness.. You have no ideA how much this website is helping me… And with the HALTS system, these things most definately trigger my pAnic attacks.  I am 15 and ive been having panic attacks since i was 8 years old.. Ive ruled it out to then because my first panic attack experience was right after i had surgery on my ears.  I had had surgery on them before, but i had moved to the area recently, and so i had it at a new hospital, and honestly, the nurses were so scary. Haha, anyways, i honestly never started talking to people about what i thought were “major issues” until like last december… And now almost every time theres a major. Or even minor event in my life, my panic attacks would spring up again.. And for me its been like every other year… Except for the first initial few ones that i had in 2nd grade… In third grade i had them because my mom was going back to college to be a teacher..  And she had been a stay at home mom until that point, so i missed her… In 5th grade when i got them it was because i was struggling to find who my friends were, and it  was pretty stressful for me, and i felt lonely… In 6th grade, i was just starting middle school, and that can be a pretty scary thing to cope with…. And then this year in ninth grade my panic attacks started showing up, first of all because of all the stress of literallly having hours of homework everysingle night…. And i believe that wore me down, and i actually got sick. (sinus infection).. And the attacks went on.. Also turns out that for the past year before, my mom had a slight state of menopausal depression.. So she wasnt really around to support me too much during that time.. So anxiety sort of runs in  the family, but i got it worse, because she didnt freak out about as many things as i do…. Now this might really not make any sense to you, but thanks to God, your website, and a couple of other sites, i have traced out why i am like this, all on my own…And it makes me very happy.. Im hoping that since ive realized this.. I can Actually stop my anxiety problems some day!  Now i still get scared sometimes, but thanks to your many pages on here, you have really helped me out!!! Thanks againnnn
    Michelle

    • JillG says:

      Michelle,
      You’ve really been able to trace your anxiety back to it’s very beginning. I am so impressed with you young lady! Now you know what you need to do right? You have to be extra good to yourself when you’re in a trigger situation and if you do get anxious, use healthy coping skills, things like diaphragmatic breathing, positive affirmations and visualizations, etc. And I hope you share with your mom all the things you said here. If she could arrange for you to see a cognitive behavioral therapist – even for a few sessions – it would help you tremendously. Here are some anxiety tips and help that you can use as well.

      Good luck to you honey and big hugs from me :)
      Jill

  3. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much! Ive told my mom some of this stuff.. But for a long time ive never wanted to because i was afraid of her thinking i was crazy. But now that i know im not, i probably will tell her more about this.. It will mmake me feel even more better, b/c writing all of that yesterday has made me feel calmer today already! I will try the breathing techniques and many other of the tips you hqve given on here to help me out with my anxiety. Thank you so much again!
    Michelle

    • JillG says:

      You are welcome sweetie! So glad you are talking to your mom about this- you don’t have to tell her *everything*, but she needs to know you are having a hard time. She loves you and can get you some help, but you have to let her :)

      • Michelle says:

        Hi Jill!
        Im the same michelle tha posted the above comments all the way back in July, and boy oh boy your tips still stick with me every day.  
        I thought that my panic attacks would start up a lot again after school started back in the fall. Well, i was wrong. Im really a ton better than last year. And telling my mom my anxiety levels for the day and all that really have helped out. And yes, i still do have my bad days, but now that my mom knows completely whats going on, she helps me through it instead of me turning into more of a bundle of worry and letting it eat me up inside.  Along with praying and trusting in the Lord again, i really have came a long away. 

        Finally, I still love this page that tells about the things that trigger the likeliehood of having a panic attack, or at least felt panicky since i first read this page.  Tiredness is the main one. That happened to me this morning And then i was like okay, focus, youre just tired and everythings alright. Then i prayed and miraculously i made it through today without any panic attacks. 
        Again, id like to thank you so much for All of the advice on your site here, i dont know what i would have done without it!!!!! 

        Michelle. 

        • JillG says:

          Good girl Michelle! You have really learned how to help yourself and are sticking to it – and see your anxiety is better! You are learning to see that “youre just tired and everythings alright.” That is wonderful! :)
          ((Hugs)),
          Jill

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