Inspiring Thoughts from EAC

COVID-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

By: Nanette Kerwick, LMSW, CEAP, CAADC
EAC Clinical Specialist —

How are you feeling?  Overwhelmed?  Scared?  Drained?  We are all stressed by the pandemic. Unless you have been involved in dealing with a possible pandemic before, all of what we are experiencing is totally new to us.

Part of the explanation for the physical, as well as the psychological reactions, is explained in Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs.  It is a theory of what motivates people and is often shown as a pyramid.  Needs lower down in the pyramid must be satisfied before you can get to the “higher needs”.  The lower needs are the physiological ones: food, water, shelter, warmth and rest.  The next level on the pyramid is safety needs.  That is when you feel safe and secure.  Those two lower levels are considered the basic needs that must be met before you can get to the higher ones like belongingness/love, esteem needs and finally achieving one’s full potential including creative activities (fully self-actualized).

As a result of the pandemic, we are all (to a certain extent) feeling, or are actually stuck, on the basic needs level.  The main one most of us are spending a lot of time on is safety level.  So much time is being spent on trying to stay safe.  That is why it is hard to focus.  It is also why it feels like it takes twice as long to get things done.  We have been consumed by ensuring that we have the right “stuff” to sustain our needs.  In addition, we are more irritable, more forgetful, feeling overwhelmed, and craving connection.  Planning for the future is the furthest thing from your mind.  You only have enough mental energy to focus on the immediate.  We have instinctively been prioritizing self-care and family.  You may find yourself grasping to control what you see as controllable, because everything is so unpredictable now.

My friends, colleagues and clients – this is normal.

We are acting in fearful and anxious ways because this is what we do when we are confronted with safety and security issues.  You are not going crazy or being lazy.  You should not compare yourself to others.  Don’t buy into the idea that you should emerge from this a “better person”.  We are experiencing trauma on a global scale.  It is ok to “just be” for a while.  It is ok to feel the way you feel.  Most of us (when we have the energy) are feeling angry, frustrated and helpless at times.  That is also normal!   It is also OK to seek help.  Covid 19 is a threat to both our physical and psychological well-being.  The good news is we don’t stay stuck (usually) on the safety level; we find ways to reestablish a new normal so we can move on to the next levels on the pyramid.

According to Maslow, when a deficit need has been “more or less” met, it will go away.  Our mindset will then turn to other needs that we have not been able to satisfy. We will go back and forth between feeling safe and being able to move on to other needs.  Then, unfortunately, we will feel unsafe and go back to doing what helps us feel like we are in control of our environment.

If you take away anything from this blog it is this: even in the midst of working on feeling safe and secure, we will still feel growth needs.  We will want to be creative, helpful, find a sense of community, find love and acceptance, become independent, or improve our self-esteem by learning new skills.  In fact, according to Maslow, once these growth needs have been engaged, we may want them more and feel more strongly about them even in the midst of our struggle for safety and other basic needs.  We are still reaching for the peak of the pyramid.

Do you find you can relate?  Post your experience here.

One thought on “COVID-19 and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. Steve Gainey says:

    Informative and educational of what we go through during distress.

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