Do You Know What You Need?
I guarantee this…if you DO NOT KNOW what your needs are, they probably aren’t being met!
Most of us know our basic needs on any given day such as food, water and shelter and sleep. We know when we are hungry, thirsty, cold or tired as this is simply our primal awareness guiding us. Even a newborn infant knows these things! However, when an individual has been or is in a stress response (fight or flight), these needs can become secondary. We become laser focused on the real OR perceived “danger” facing us and adrenaline kicks in telling our brain to prepare for battle. Physiologically this means increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, short and shallow breathing and hyper alertness, literally preparing your body to run or fight to survive.
How many times have you found yourself at 4 or 5 o’clock in the evening saying “I just realized I haven’t eaten anything today; no wonder I'm out of it,” or “no wonder I can’t think straight”? How do we get here? How many of us are confronted with real “danger” while at work (aside from police officers, first responders and soldiers)? The percentage is very low I assure you. Yet, we find ourselves hungry, thirsty AND tired at the end of the day because OUR BASIC NEEDS HAVE NOT BEEN MET! What happened to our primal awareness guiding us?
The human body is an AMAZING, self-regulating system directed entirely by our nervous system. Our brain and spinal cord, acting as Central Control, send out messages to all systems about when, where and how to respond “as needed” to keep our body in balance. Just like animals, or any living cell for that matter, the stimulus which activates our central control is and always has been our environment. This is where we perceive our surroundings to send information (messaging) to central control. Once information/data has been received, our nervous system innately directs the body on how best to respond in efforts to protect and preserve this system.
What is important to recognize here is that our nervous system does not differentiate between what a real OR perceived emergency is. It is only able to respond to our environment. For example, if you suddenly realize that you forgot to add some important element to a presentation you are about to deliver, how do you think your body responds to this sudden and surprising information? You are exactly right if you say: increased heart rate, short-shallow breathing, increased muscle tension and hyperfocus! Most of us experience these sensations when we are worried, scared or anxious. All feelings that might arise from such a situation right? Recognize this response? That’s right, it is our fight or flight response…responding to our environment! Is this an emergency? Is our life or safety threatened? The answer is clearly NO, however, the cues our nervous system is getting say otherwise.
The reality for so many Americans is that we stay in fight or flight mode either by trying to keep up with unrealistic schedules and activities or by constantly worrying about all of these things when we are not engaged in them. Our nervous system reacts to the worry, anxiety and fear by signaling our body to “prepare for battle”. A state which our body is not designed to stay in day after day, week after month, after year with no rest. The results we see from this are a lot of humans wandering around unaware of what their needs are and if they are being met.
I am talking about more than just our basic needs such as water, food and shelter. What about our sense of belonging, love, growth, creativity and self esteem? All of these things are put on the back burner so to speak when our body is in fight or flight mode. Just like us forgetting to eat or drink water during a stressful day, when this stress response is chronic, all of these other aspects of being human are not being met either.
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist developed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the 1940’s, “a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.” This theory outlines human needs in this order:
Physiological - Food, water, movement etc.
Safety - Shelter and protection from harm.
Love/Belonging - Nurturing, touch, being part of a community/tribe.
Esteem - Sense of self, social and personal acceptance, inner strength.
Self Actualization - The motive to realize one’s full potential…the highest level of psychological development after basic needs have been met.
As you can imagine, if our basic needs such as food and water are being missed while we operate in a state of chronic stress (fight or flight mode), these higher psychological and emotional needs are not being met. All of which are equally as important as food and water for our growth and development.
According to Kenneth Acha, MD a board certified family medicine physician and senior professor of leadership and spiritual formation at Servants University, we are endowed with 7 categories of fundamental human needs. He states that “every human being, in every culture, over every generation, on every continent has these 7 categories of needs.” He also states that “just like hunger reminds us to eat physical food to nourish our bodies and survive, these 7 fundamental needs are “inner longings of every human soul that push us to contribute to our own upkeep and that of a group because as a species, we do better as individuals when our entire group does well.”
These categories are described with the mnemonic S.U.C.C.E.S.S:
Safety and Survival - This includes not just physiologic needs such as food, air water, warmth, excretion and reproduction. The Survival part includes security, protection, work, self-care, structure, leisure, order, and entertainment and health care.
Understanding and Growth - This is our need to understand (which is necessary to learn and grow) and be understood by others. Dr. Ache states “Humans are communal beings, designed to live in relationships with and communicate with others. Each of us has an inherent human need to be understood. Our survival depends on it.”
Connection (love) and Acceptance - This is how we connect and have a sense of belonging with our community, loved ones, family etc. These connections are where we learn to love and be loved.
Contribution and Creation - Because humans live and thrive in tribes, communities and groups, we have a natural drive to actively create, contribute and serve. All of these things are an effort to continually improve and support their community. This is so important for the creative and problem solving part of our brain.
Esteem, Identity and Significance - The need to feel competent and capable among your community/tribe while understanding who you are and what you stand for, what your place is in your community. To have meaning and purpose in your life.
Self Direction (Autonomy), Freedom and Justice - In any community, all members naturally desire a sense of autonomy as we find our role/place in the group. We strive to maintain freedom and justice within our community to feel safe and connected, supported.
Self-Fulfillment and Self Transcendence - According to Dr. Ache “Self-actualization is the innate drive to become all one can be.” It is our natural drive to reach or realize our full potential.
When you consider all that is involved in fulfilling both our basic or fundamental needs, plus the fact that 90% of disease in this country is STRESS related, sadly, it is no surprise we are seeing record numbers of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder continuously on the rise.
We must recognize the reality that CHRONIC STRESS is literally killing us. It is so important to get a real grasp on how much our mental, emotional and spiritual health are impacted by stress—not just our physical or structural health.
What are you doing to address and/or reduce the effects of chronic stress in your life?
Are you involved in a community of people, family or group?
Do you have regular experiences and opportunities to be creative and or expressive?
Are you feeling loved and/or expressing love for others?
Do you know WHO you are and WHAT you want in life?
Are all of the activities or things you do in a day, week, month, or year, helping you to reach your full potential in life?
If you haven’t thought of or considered any of these aspects of life recently (or ever), you may benefit from a little self-evaluation. Check in with your body and mind regularly to gauge where you are on the “stress meter.” On a scale from 0-10 (zero being no stress and 10 is the worst stress you could ever know), start with a goal to stay below 5 most days. This exercise itself will cause you to at least pause and consider all that creates “stress” in your life. You will begin to gain awareness about how these effects show up in your life on a daily basis. Once you are able to see this for yourself, it is then you will realize what you need.