Aid Worker: HALT!!!
HALT is a popular self-care tool in the treatment of alcoholism. It is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired, and was designed to remind people when they might be vulnerable to relapse. But really, HALT applies to anyone– no matter what your “ism”. In the case of International Aid Workers, an awareness of H.A.L.T might even help us avoid some of the more insidious and underlying “isms” that plague our work: cynicism, defeatism, and various other forms of addiction.
The question is, what happens when you have already hit “HALT” full throttle, and what do you do to get out of it?
When you’re HUNGRY
We don’t need to belabor the importance of good nutrition, except to say that this is an area where a lot of aid workers might be floundering. Either we live in places where shortages make good food hard to come by, or we are just too busy or ignorant of the benefits to make sure we make it a priority. Here’s the catch: eating right is even more important when you live in the field, as working in the developing world exposes us to all manner of diseases that our bodies need extra defense against. How many of us have spent more nights than we’d like to remember battling amoebas on the porcelain throne? Or recovering from typhoid, dysentery or some other ‘mystery’ bout with a belly disorder? How many of us abuse coffee, alcohol and cigarettes to stimulate us? Our physical resilience depends largely on what we eat, so nutrition is our first line of defense in keeping our immune systems strong.
But feeding yourself well goes well beyond what you put in your mouth. If you find yourself insatiably hungry, you might ask yourself what you are truly hungry for, because this is often an indicator of an emotional need that must be met. Could it be hunger for attention, comfort, understanding, or companionship? In this case, it’s wiser to turn toward friends, family or some other form of fellowship rather than the grocery store.
When you’re ANGRY
This is a good news/bad news story: it starts with realizing that anger is actually nothing more than a feeling, and we need not feel badly about our feelings! In fact, recognizing we are angry about something can give us just the right energy to change a bad situation for the better. The challenge here is to use that energy constructively, which can be difficult since many of us are more accustomed to letting anger get the better of us in the form of criticism, belittlement and even violence toward ourselves and others. Sometimes anger overcomes us to the extent that it feels like a loop-tape we are playing over and over in our head (in which case, it has morphed into resentment).
If Anger is energy, it needs to go somewhere, and it’s up to you to decide how to channel it effectively. Here are some ways Satori advisors recommend: physical exercise, creative projects and breath work. But they also warn us that anger will never truly be transformed until you address its underlying causes, so while you are going for that run, writing that novel, or stomping around the room, try to get to the bottom of what the cause is because anger is never a primary emotion. It usually masks something deeper, like fear or powerlessness. Once you see it for what it is it becomes a lot easier to identity a suitable resolution. If you can’t seem to do that on your own, please seek professional help.
When you’re LONELY
It’s easy to feel isolated when you are living in a foreign culture and having to find fresh friends and office allies with every move you make to a new posting. A certain amount of loneliness can be written off as an occupational hazard, but if you find that your feelings of isolation seep past the first few months of settling in, then there is something more serious at hand. Sometimes isolating ourselves is something we do to protect ourselves when we are tired of putting ourselves out there, or having to say good-bye again and again. But it’s a rabbit hole we are best advised to avoid, since without good friends, family or professional advisors to help us gain perspective, problems can grow exponentially. If you feel lonely, it’s time to reach out.
When you’re TIRED
Sleep deprivation is very common for many aid workers I know. What we don’t realize is that at its extreme, sleeplessness is every bit as dangerous as any other illness out there: it affects our judgment, our physical fitness, our emotional balance, and our interpersonal relations. The obvious solution here is to get more sleep, but if you find you are unable to do so even given the opportunity, you need to dig deeper into whether you might be suffering from overwhelm (and therefore need to cut down) or anxiety (and therefore need to seek treatment) or some other form of sleep disorder.
H.A.L.T and the POWER OF PAUSE
So what is the overriding answer to HALT? The secret is right there in the word! If you are feeling Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired it’s time to STOP, put all major moves (decisions, judgments and pronouncements) on hold while you give yourself a chance (as long as it takes!) to reflect and recover. This is what our Satori advisors call “the Power of Pause”, because although it appears nonsensical to do ‘nothing’, you would be amazed at the clarity that arises when you stay still enough to let it surface.
Our next program is 15-22 May 2011 in Bali, Indonesia. Get in touch soon and enquire about the early registration discount. We limit the program to 12 participants.