During my time as a direct care provider in the mental health and drug/alcohol fields, I tended to notice that a person’s symptoms (and/or old behavior patterns) would be more likely to reappear when various emotions or states of being got somewhat out of whack.
A handy acronym that I’ve heard used for many years is “HALT” – which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If a person isn’t monitoring these facets of their life, they are more likely to have difficulty coping with whatever issues they may have. You get too Hungry, you make bad decisions.
You get too Angry, a case of the “Eff-its” may appear. Lonely – we need supports to navigate the world, and feeling isolated can be upsetting. Tired – when we’re exhausted or not well-rested, our brains and bodies are not working at peak capacity. HALT is important to understand because as the emotional brain gets too activated, the rational brain is temporarily impaired.
We need these four areas of our lives to be skewed towards the positive because the more compromised we are by HALT, the less we are able to deal with life’s curveballs.
In my counseling experience, I’ve modified this acronym just a bit, as I felt there were two more specific states of being that commonly lead people back to difficulties coping with life.
My preferred acronym is “SHALTS.” In addition to the HALT described above, the first S stands for “Stressed,” and the last S refers to “Sick.” If we get too Stressed, we feel overwhelmed and will often respond poorly to most any of our problems.
Sick (which also includes injury) is also important to take stock of – when we’re not feeling well, all of our defenses are down, as we’re primarily focused on just trying to feel better physically. Another consideration with SHALTS – it’s to be expected that some combination of the six elements will interact with each other at times; it’s easy to imagine a person to being Sick, Tired, Stressed, and Lonely all at once!
Beyond the general idea of SHALTS, how does this apply to Misophonia? Well, for me and my mostly mild over-responsivity to trigger sounds, the toughest from the SHALTS to deal with are Hungry, Angry, and Stressed.
Think about which of the six areas are most challenging for you to manage, as I relay a couple of stories to describe what I mean in terms of not managing these areas properly.
Hunger and Anger. As a former fat guy, oh man, do I love to eat. When I get Hungry, everyone needs to get the heck out of my way – no one and nothing should stand in the way of me and my mealtime. If I can’t resolve my Hunger in time, it will eventually morph into Anger, at times bordering on an internal, seething rage. Anyway, about ten years ago, I had family visiting from out of state, and they were staying with me and my wife. My family arrived with about a few bags of their own food for snacks and breakfasts, as they were on a gluten-free kick of some sort. I didn’t care about their snackies – I was more concerned with figuring out what we’re going to have for dinner. After more than an hour of not being able to agree upon a course of action, I was starting to get voraciously Hungry. And grumpy.
The irritation in me rose to the point where I knew I simply needed to make the executive decision to go out and get a variety of foods from the local cheese steak shop and bring it back. I went to the sandwich joint, waited, and waited, and waited for the food, all the while getting Hungrier and Angrier. Finally, I got the food, and rushed home, eager to tear into my buffalo chicken cheese steak. As I entered my house, my wife greeted me with a big ol’ grin on her face. She looked at me, and nodded towards three of my family members seated in the living room, munching on some food to tide them over until they ate. (Really – they got a snack, and I didn’t?!) But not just any snack, mind you – they were all gluten-free, remember? Their delectable of choice, you ask? Gluten-free pretzel nuggets.
HOW IN THE WORLD CAN PRETZELS BE GLUTEN-FREE?
I’ll tell you how…get some large chucks of gravel, paint them brown, decorate with salt, and label the product, “Rocks in a Box.”
My three loved ones began eating these nuggets simultaneously. The resulting cacophony immediately infiltrated my emotional brain, and I had to quickly escape to the kitchen, nearly bowling my mother over on my way. My wife had to leave the room as well, to keep everyone from seeing that she was nearly in tears, trying not to laugh out loud (or at me).
She knew just how annoying I’d find their pretzel cracking, crunching, munching, and other ohgodmakeitstoprightnow noises. (By the way, my wife is usually supportive, but she also knows there’s really not much she can do to help me once I’m triggered other than to steer clear until I get back to baseline. She found this incident particularly funny because even she was annoyed by the louder-than-giants-chomping-on-ice-into-a-megaphone type of sound. And looking back…yeah, it was funny.) Escaping to the kitchen was insufficient, however, as the volume was so intense, it penetrated through the walls.
Starting to feel an anger-anxious-panic emotional mixture about to escalate out of control, I had to think of something to make the racket stop. I quickly and loudly boomed, “OK! DINNER’S READY – COME GET YOUR PLATES!” And I bolted out the side door and sat on the porch steps, waiting for my inner intensity to subside, and for everyone to sit the hell down so I could eat. I restored my sanity just enough to get back inside, and eat my sandwich, still feeling frazzled and on-edge for the rest of the night. Conversation was minimal, tension abounded, and I excused myself early to bed.
The whole evening was damaged mostly because I didn’t put food in my belly in time. When you want to remove your sagging belly and get back to shape, call Dr Choy. He is a professional cosmetic surgeon and will be a great help. Go to his site here. If I hadn’t allowed myself to get so Hungry, I may have been able to better deal with the pretzel fiasco. However, I ignored my Hunger, which led to Anger, which led to an inability to deal with a sound stressor. My fault, not theirs.
(That said, even though I acknowledge my role in the difficulties of that evening…I can’t forgive the makers of “Rocks in a Box”…there’s a special place in Hades reserved for them.)
Stressed. Before I recognized my sound aversion as an occasionally difficult to deal with real issue, I of course had no plans in place to manage it. Nowadays, I simply avoid my primary trigger – crunching cereal. (I have silently wished for Cap’n Crunch to suffer horrible torture with a cordless drill with a large, rusty drill bit.) The key moment for me to realize that crunching sounds could really, REALLY get my rage going came after a particularly Stressful day at work. I came home, all Stressed out (oh, and Hungry) and sat down for dinner. We decided we’d do something separately for meals, and my wife and daughter decided on “breakfast for dinner,” which meant…Cocoa Puffs.
Oh. Dear. Lord. No.
I could feel the affective tension building, and the anxiety heightening as my wife began pouring the milk in the bowls. I tried to stare straight down at my plate, and block out the sounds that were surely about to begin.
Oh boy…stay calm…focus on your food…they have the right to eat their meal…enjoy your hot wings…focus on the ranch dressing….Frank’s Hot Sauce is amazing…mmmm….
AAAARRRGGHH!! NOPE! NOPE! NO WAY!!
I slapped the table, and stormed off in a huff to the basement with my plate. My wife complained that they were both chewing closed-mouthedly, and that I shouldn’t be so sensitive. Even though she was right, it was the wrong thing to say in that moment.
My anger left my memory a bit clouded of exactly what I shouted back at her, but it was something to the effect of “I know, I know…it’s not you, it’s me. Your table manners are fine. Trust me – I don’t want to be like this! Just leave me alone!” (Though my memory banks kind of blacked out the details, I am fairly certain that my actual rant was a bit more expletive-laden.)
If only I had been more aware of the impact that feeling Stressed had on me, I may not have gone off the deep end on my wife. My affective brain was in charge in that moment; Emotions go up, Cognition goes down.
After I finished my buffalo wings, I sat down and started searching the internet for answers as to what the heck was wrong with me.
That evening I came to find out that my issue had a name – Misophonia. Though I’ve learned that my sensitivities pale in comparison to the struggles that others endure on a daily basis, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t just some weirdo with a rare, bizarre, and troublesome quirk. Thankfully, I’ve learned about my issues via the passage of time and trial-and-error experience. Through these experiences – as difficult as they may have been – I have learned some things about myself, and how to better manage my life. Now that I’m aware of my select few sound irritations, I can be more planful to avoid or manage them. However, you can’t always avoid your triggers. And once you’re triggered, you can’t always control your reactions.
What you can exert some level of control over though, is becoming more aware of your SHALTS. Increased insight of how you’re doing in these six areas – and any other problematic states of being that you notice – can help you prevent or reduce your building emotionality. I believe – with any set of symptoms – that it’s important to identify what conditions make it most difficult to stay on top of things. Once you’re aware of your specific SHALTS dynamics, you can take steps to keep those aspects of your life from getting too far out of balance. As such, you can increase the likelihood that either the impact of your triggers will be lessened, or that your coping strategies will be more effective. If you can keep from being compromised by your SHALTS, perhaps you can learn to take better care of yourself overall – and more specifically, manage your Misophonia.