Maslow’s hierarchy of self-care

You may have heard of Abraham Maslow. He was a psychologist interested in what motivates people, and expressed his theory as a pyramid of needs. The basic, most important needs are at the bottom of the pyramid, while the less crucial ‘higher’ needs are at the top. The idea that your basic needs should be fulfilled before you worry about higher needs – simply put, you need to make sure you’re not starving before you can create art. This model has since been used to study motivation that guides human and animal behaviour.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. ©

Interestingly, Maslow was most interested in exemplary, successful, healthy people, declaring that ‘the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy’. However, his ideas have since been applied to the improvement of physical and mental health.

It can be helpful to think of self-care as a hierarchy. You may find it most beneficial to start with lower-tier activities, and they can often make the most impact. Once your crucial needs are met, you can start thinking about more complex ones. Here are some examples for each tier to get you started:

Physiological needs

  • Food. Have you eaten today? Are your meals and snacks fulfilling and nutritious? Is your diet balanced?
  • Water. Are you thirsty? A glass of water can ease many ailments, be it light hunger or a headache. Have you washed today? Just splashing your face with water can make your day feel fresher.
  • Warmth. Are you comfortable? Sometimes a jumper or some cozy socks or a blanket can help. If you’re too warm, try a cool beverage or and ice cube on your wrist.
  • Rest. Are you getting enough sleep? Most people should be aiming for 7-9 hours a night. Are you taking relaxing breaks throughout your day? And you alternating between different activities?

Safety needs

  • Security. Does your life feel stable? Is there a small step you can take to bring more stability into your life? Is it time to look over your budget or pension plan? Remember, self-care is not always easy, but it makes things better in the long term.
  • Safety. If you’re not feeling safe from harm, is there someone you can call? If you feel anxious, do you have a coping strategy to ease the fear? You might find it helpful to make a list of techniques that work for you, and refer to it when you are worried.

Belongingness and love needs

  • Friends. Can you schedule some time to catch up with an old friend? Or take a moment to write to someone you’re out of touch with? Even sharing a funny cat video with people you know can make you feel more connected.
  • Intimate relationships. If you have a partner, how long has it been since you’ve spent some quality time together? Perhaps you could schedule a fun date? If you’re single, why not take yourself on a date? You could also try reading a romance novel, or buying a new sex toy.

Esteem needs

  • Accomplishment. Take a few minutes to make a list of your accomplishments, big and small. What have you achieved today, this week, this month, this year? Focus on small things first. Now look to the future – what do you want to make happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?
  • Mastery. What was the last skill you’ve learned? Perhaps you’ve finally figured out what that strange button on your microwave does, or managed to park your car successfully in an awkward spot? Mastering a skill can give you a significant boost.
  • Recognition. When did you last receive a compliment? Keep a note of lovely things people say to you to look over when you’re feeling uncertain. Has someone thanked you for job well done?

Now over to you. What tier of the pyramid will you focus on today? Are you taking care of your basic needs?

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