If you have ever taken a psychology class you have probably learned at least something about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In case you can’t remember or need a little refresher, here is what it’s all about: you need to fulfill your basic needs before you can fulfill your more complex needs. He created a pyramid with the most basic needs being at the bottom and the more complex needs at the top. Here is what they are (going from bottom to top)
Love or Belonging
While I am sure that many of us would like to skip to the top and go straight to self-actualization, that is not how it works. We have to make an effort to meet the needs at the bottom of the pyramid before we can work our way up.
Many people who struggle with addiction have a very difficult time meeting these basic needs. Often addiction takes over all of the other things we would usually do to take care of ourselves. Behaviors that seems so fundamental like eating and sleeping fall away. For people in early recovery it is vital to re-establish these healthy self-care behaviors. Here are some ways you can start to meet those basic needs so that you can start to move up that pyramid.
Eating well can mean different things to different people. There is no blanket diet that is good for all people. However, there are some basics that have been researched. The NIH (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/calories.htm) recommends emphasizing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It can also be beneficial to eat lean meats and proteins. You should try to limit sugar intake and control portion sizes in general. Following these simple recommendations can help you get your diet back on track. Dietary counseling has become common at many holistic treatment centers, as it’s a crucial piece to investigate if we are going to recover.
Contrary to what many bottled water companies would like you to believe, you don’t need to drink a ridiculous amount of water in order to stay hydrated. In fact, research has shown that just 2 cups of water per day can be enough for healthy adults. It is of course important to meet this minimum so that you aren’t dehydrated. Drinking water can help reduce stress, help us focus, and of course keeps our physical bodies running smoothly.
Get Your Sleep
Sleep needs tend to change for people over the course of the lifetime. For anyone who is chronically sleep deprived you probably know first-hand the negative effects it can have on the body. People who are sleep deprived tend to have worse concentration and memory. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Just like the water tip above, you do not need some crazy amount of sleep in order to meet your needs. But, if you are feeling tired you probably could use some more. Listen to your body and investigate for yourself what the right amount of sleep is for you.
Exercise has been linked to a whole host of positive outcomes. According to the CDC it will boost mood and has positive mental health benefits as well as being beneficial for your physical body. Getting even a little exercise regularly will be hugely beneficial. Exercise has proven effective in increasing mood, helping treat depression, and helping people focus more on daily tasks.
Go to the Doctor
When we are kids most of us go to the doctor pretty regularly because our parents take us. For many young adults they don’t get to the doctor as often as they probably should. People struggling with addiction sometimes avoid seeing doctors for fear that their addiction might be found out. For people in early recovery it is crucial to get back into the habit of seeking medical help regularly and as needed. Duke Health recommends that healthy people under 30 get a physical every 2 or so years. They also recommend that women who are sexually active get see a gynecologist regularly. Taking care of your physical health in this way can really help your mental health.
This might seem like one of those things that isn’t a “basic need”. However, meditation can really help you meet some of your most basic needs for mental health. Meditation has been shown to reduce cortisol levels thereby reducing stress levels (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724462). Being that stress is one of the biggest triggers for most mental health issues this can be truly foundational to well-being. If you are looking to start a regular meditation practice there are a number of easy apps and breathing techniques that can be done regularly with very little time commitment.
Speak up for Yourself
This tip is one that moves from Maslow’s bottom tier of physiological needs up to safety. It can be really difficult for people to ask for their needs to be met. It can also be very difficult for people who are newly sober or trying to get sober to ask for help when it is needed. Speaking up for yourself even when it is hard can be a great way to increase your sense of safety. Doing so will allow you to lean on others for support and safety and have you needs met by the people close to you.
Establish Good Boundaries
This tip also addresses your basic need for safety. Part of addiction is very blurry boundaries. This might mean people who are enabling or codependent, it can also mean having people around who are too demanding. One of the best ways to start keeping yourself safe in recovery is to establish good boundaries with the people around you. Sometimes this means cutting off friends who just enable using or saying “no” to people who demand too much.
Remember to Have Fun
It is hard to meet your basic needs if there isn’t some time for breaks and fun. It is important in early recovery to start to care for yourself in all of these ways but also to be gentle with yourself and enjoy the process. The best way to motivate yourself to meet your basic needs is to enjoy the time you spend doing it. Maybe you pick one of these like exercise or nutrition that becomes a hobby for you. Whatever you do, remember that it is hard to meet complex needs like happiness and friendship when you aren’t being taken care of in basic ways.