Should You Trust Your Emotions? How to Tell In the Moment

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I recently offended a friend over lunch.

This happens from time to time, but I actually felt bad! (Which doesn’t happen all the time…)

He talked to me about a tool he uses with his kids to help them sort through their emotions and I guess I gave him that look that says, “Yeah… no idea what you’re talking about.”

He replied, “Thom! We talked about this in the past! Don’t you remember?”

Clearly I didn’t remember. (Even though I had been nodding like I did.)

But here’s the thing, his tool is an acronym, H.A.L.T.S, and it is really good. I don’t know if Grant came up with it himself or if he just ripped it off and I’m going to face copyright violations for printing it here, but it’s a good one.

HALTS stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired, and stressed. And if you are any of these things, you shouldn’t trust what your emotions are telling you.

This is helpful for three reasons.

It’s Easy to Remember

HALTS is an acronym kids can remember.

Kids need to be given words to express how they think and feel, which this gives them. The problem is when we are experiencing any of the HALTS, our brains have more trouble than usual communicating, so we need something simple to use and remember.

I would suggest using it as a script to help your kids communicate and I would practice it when things are going well.

“Before I make a decision… Before I post that picture… Before I skip that meal because I feel ugly… HALT! Am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired or stressed?”

It’s TRUE!

We should be careful about trusting our emotions when they are any of the HALTS.

I am prone to “blue” days. When I am feeling sad, my go-to feeling is paranoia. I constantly wonder what other people think of me, whether I’m doing a good enough job, whether I’m funny enough, too funny, too serious… on and on and on.

What I’ve learned to tell myself in those moments is simple, “Thom, stop. You aren’t feeling 100% today so you can’t trust your emotions.”

I’ve only learned to intentionally do this in the last few years. I wonder how many bone-headed decisions might have been averted if I had started sooner…

“Don’t live in the past, Thom, you can’t go back and change it.”

Deep sigh.

It’s a Biblical Concept

Learning to calm and quiet ourselves before acting rashly is a thoroughly Biblical idea. Can you imagine if Jesse had taught his boy David to HALT(s) before acting?

I would imagine we’d probably have 60% fewer of the Psalms.

Perhaps that’s why David wrote “Be angry and do not sin, on your bed, reflect in your heart and be still” in Psalm 4:4. Or why he wrote in Psalm 131, “…I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.”

I have both these passages memorized to help me remember to HALT(s) my emotions.

Notice, David doesn’t say, “Don’t be angry!” And clearly, if he has to quiet himself, it’s because his heart is in turmoil from time to time.

Emotions will come and go. They will intensify during adolescence and hopefully wane in subsequent years. But we need to train our kids to handle them. Tools like an acronym can only help!

And now, I should remember next time Grant talks to me about it.

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Thom Dick

Associate Pastor – Southland Church

Thom has worked with children and youth for 18 years. He and his wife, Tara, have 7 kids; 4 boys, and two daughters and a SON-IN-LAW(!). The kids are spread across 23 years too so that gives him plenty of experimental material to write about! They have welcomed 31 foster children into their home over the past number of years.

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