3 Powerful Words For Coping With Stress in Addiction Recovery

Coping with stress in addiction recovery, or secondhand drinking | drugging recovery, for that matter, can be key to avoiding relapse. Here are three powerful words - BREATHE, HAALT, THINK – that might be just what you need to give yourself a time out – that split second – to reel in your thoughts for a reality check before your react.

And why is that so important?

BREATHE, HAALT, THINK - 3 powerful words to help you cope with stress during early addiction recovery.

BREATHE, HAALT, THINK – 3 powerful words to help you cope with stress during early addiction recovery.

Addiction recovery is all about rewiring the brain – changing neural networks that having embedded as brain maps around the “things” a person does while active in their addiction. [For more on this concept, please read, "Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life."] Thus interrupting the maps around automatic reactions by giving the brain the split second it needs to re-route and get to a place from which rationale thought can be accessed is critical to recovery. This applies to the person recovering from addiction, or the person recovering from chronic stress, such as that associated with coping with secondhand drinking | drugging. [For more on changing automatic reactions, check out “Step Away From the Conflict – Change Where You Think,” and “Courage to Change the Things I Can.”]

Now back to these three simple, powerful words and how they can help…


When you get that niggling stress feeling, breathe. Breathe deeply for several moments. This brings much needed oxygen to the brain. [An interesting aside, the brain must have oxygen and glucose to survive. When we are under stress, we breathe more shallowly.]


The other thing to do is take a quick inventory, which is where HAALT comes in. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired. Any of these will send the brain into stress mode. So ask yourself, “Am I hungry. Have I eaten a nutrient-rich meal or snack, lately?” If not, do so – food provides glucose. And if the brain hasn’t had its supply of glucose, it looks for it – causing stress. And remember, the healthier the glucose source, the better for brain health.

Next, ask yourself, “Am I Angry or Anxious?” Both of these are stress triggering emotions. If you take stalk of what’s trigger either emotion before you react, you can THINK. Thinking moves you from the “reactionary” Limbic System to the “thinking” Cerebral Cortex.

Lonely is also a feeling. It can also cause stress, and we can often feel lonely in a relationship or crowd of friends. Not that you can necessarily do anything about feeling lonely at that moment, but you can recognize that lonely is the cause of how you’re feeling – not whatever else you think it may be. This buys you time to think and take appropriate action vs reacting and perhaps making a bigger mistake that will further cause you stress.

And lastly, tired. Tired is a feeling that is telling the brain it needs sleep. If you’re tired, try take a nap, if you can, or go to bed early that night. More importantly, know being tired is the cause of how you are feeling.


To wrap this up, THINK is just a word you can use to shout down the stressor. It buys you that split second of time you need to move your brain from the “reactionary” Limbic System to the “thinking” Cerebral Cortex. As Dr. Ratey suggests, stop yourself and ask, “Is it a Stick or a Snake?” If it’s a snake, you may have an emergency. If it’s  stick, no worries, you’ve got time to decide what to do about the stressful feeling.



Remember BREATHE, HAALT, THINK. Just one of these words can buy you the time-out your brain needs to re-route your thinking.


Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author Speaker Consultant Owner at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa Frederiksen is the owner of Breaking the Cycles.com and the author of nine books and hundreds of articles. For over ten years, she has been researching, writing, speaking and consulting on substance abuse prevention, addiction as a brain disease, dual diagnosis, secondhand drinking | drugging, help for the family and related subjects – all centered around 21st century brain and addiction-related research. Her clients (some as far as Kenya, Slovenia and Mexico), include: individuals, families, military troops and personnel, U.S. Forest Service districts and regions, medical school students, businesses, social workers, parent and student groups, family law attorneys, treatment providers and the like. Please feel free to call Lisa at 650-362-3026 or email her at lisaf@breakingthecycles.com.

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  1. Well considered shtuff, as always, Lisa. Man, I remember the HAALT thing from my early recovery days. But back then it was just HALT – hadn’t tossed-in the anxiety piece yet. I’m always impressed that you stay the course with the brain rewiring dynamic/truth. It’s such a good fit with recovery from addictive/psychopathology. And it’s a huge point that if we can give that three-pound mass of tissue and liquid in our skull just a smidge of time – before diving-in to dysfunctional thought/behavior – it can do its re-routing work and we’re on our way to lasting change. Thank you, Lisa, for your dedication and care…
    Bill White, Licensed Counselor recently posted…“Another blasted holiday season. Well, damn!”My Profile

  2. This is simple (but not easy) – but having three catchy words to have at the ready can save your live. You can prevent being run over by a situation like knowing STOP, LOOK and LISTEN can prevent being run over by a car.

  3. Lisa,

    While reading your post I began to think how it’d be if I didn’t employ any of your very good suggestions regularly and began to feel anxious…Then I remembered I hadn’t been to the gym today where I practice these things–and honest ta god–by necessity or else this unit gets HAALT, regulary.

    I then began to think about our ancestors and what we’d be like if they decided they did not have to move, breathe and eat well regularly. What I’m trying to say in this back-handed way, is that your advice is so key, especially when linked to modern understanding of brain science. Love the way you ‘splain things.

    See…my brain doesn’t work as well when I don’t practice the anecdotes to HAALT, but you get my drift…guess I coulda just said, Thank YOU!!
    Herby Bell recently posted…Rituals of Healing – Farewell Dear MentorMy Profile

    • I do get your drift and boy does my not practicing HAALT get me in trouble, as well. The treatment world is fortunate to have you and your wealth of knowledge about ancestral health science to aide in wellness and recovery. Thanks for your comment!

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