Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

How Getting Back to Basics Will Help You Through COVID-19

Self-care is something we’re passionate about here at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology, not just for our clients, but for us as psychologists too. We believe self-care is the foundation of good mental health and healthy relationships – now more than ever, as we are faced with the growing challenges of COVID-19. We also understand that even at the best of times, making space to care for yourself can be tricky.

Thanks to the internet, there are a million and one tools and strategies at our fingertips to help us navigate the stress and uncertainty that COVID-19 brings for us all. It’s such a blessing to have so many resources and ideas available to us, but this post is a little different. Our aim is to help you find ways to connect back to the basics. The simple, everyday things you can do to take care of yourself. Small things that will make a BIG difference for your mental health and wellbeing.

You might have come across the diagram above before. This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s theory was that until our basic physiological needs are met, we can’t expect ourselves to focus on higher level, more complex needs. When we don’t attend to our basic needs our survival is threatened. More complex needs include things like connecting with others, doing things to feel good about ourselves, learning and being creative, appreciating the world around us, being kind and caring towards others and problem-solving challenges we face in our lives.

So what are our basic physiological needs?

  • Feeding ourselves
  • Resting
  • Drinking enough water
  • Moving our bodies
  • Warmth
  • Sex and touch
  • Shelter
  • Going to the toilet
  • Oxygen and fresh air

All of the above are basic human needs. When we ignore these needs and try to skip to the next rung of the pyramid, our foundation becomes shaky. When our foundation becomes shaky, of course, we risk the whole pyramid coming tumbling down.

Examples of this pyramid in action right now include:

Trying to take care of your kids while juggling working from home (a higher level “safety need”) without having fed yourself or given yourself time to go to the bathroom (a lower level “physiological need”).

Feeling guilty that you haven’t yet had a chance to contact someone you love to see how they are  (a higher level “love and belongingness need”) without having had a chance to go to the supermarket to make sure you have food (and toilet paper!) for yourself (a lower level physiological need).

Why is this relevant to self-care?

Well, sometimes when we most need self-care, one of our main barriers to actually taking care of ourselves is figuring out what we actually need in that moment. This hierarchy can guide you. This hierarchy is also a reminder to start with the simplest option first (an excellent solution to our tendency to overcomplicate and overanalyse things!).

When you know you need to slow down and take care of yourself, rather than jumping to some sort of complex strategy or five step solution to how you’re feeling, first ask yourself “what do I need right now”?

If you wake up feeling a bit off-colour, try asking yourself “what do I need right now”?…

If you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed by worries, try asking yourself “what do I need right now”?…

If you find yourself feeling unsettled after your interaction with someone, ask yourself “what do I need right now?”…

If you’re not sure, get specific and actually ask yourself:

  • Do I need to eat?
  • Do I need to drink?
  • Do I need coffee (perhaps not one of Maslow’s official questions, but an important one nonetheless!)?
  • Do I need some quiet time?
  • Do I need to sleep?
  • Do I need to stretch or move my body?
  • Do I need a hug, a massage or some other comforting touch?
  • Do I need to cool myself down or warm myself up?
  • Do I need fresh air?
  • Do I need to tune into my breathing?

Do you have trouble putting yourself first when it comes to self-care? You’re not alone.

If you still feel stuck with your own self-care or have trouble putting yourself first, try asking yourself, what would I do to take care of someone I cared about right now?

Often we know exactly how we would help someone else when they need a little love and attention, but we can sometimes draw a blank when it comes to ourselves.

  • Would you like a cuppa?
  • Can I give you a hug?
  • Here, I’ve made you something to eat.
  • How about you go for a walk in the fresh air?
  • Would it help to take a few deep breaths together?

Simple things make all the difference.

Tuning into our needs from moment to moment can be challenging at first, especially under the current circumstances. But getting back to basics is important and effective, now more than ever. It’s an essential part of taking care of our mental health. We’ve noticed for ourselves that the more we try to make this a focus and a priority, the more we’re surprised by how our mind and body intuitively knows what it needs. We just had to get into the habit of asking.

We do get though that self-care is not as simple as it sounds, even if you’re just focusing on the basics like we’ve suggested above. Self-care can be challenging for a whole variety of reasons, many of them stemming from childhood experiences and beliefs about what it means to slow down and deliberately take time to care for yourself. Of course, our life situation can also make self-care difficult – parenting or caring for someone else, losing your job or having unstable housing are obvious examples right now.

If you find you’re getting stuck when it comes to taking care of your basic needs, you might find it useful to speak with one of our psychologists to understand a bit more about some of the barriers that are getting in your way. Many of our psychologists are trained in single session approaches. This means that they can focus in on helping you with a particular issue, such as self-care, ensuring you walk away with practical, evidence-based tools all within just one focused session.

You might also like to read our follow-on post, When Self Care Feels Like a Big Ask.

Photograph by Breeana Dunbar Photograpy.