Know Your Needs
Updated: Sep 9
Most people on the eastern seaboard of Australia are in COVID lockdown at the moment. I heard on the radio last week that the number of young people presenting to hospital with suicidal ideation and self-harm has risen by 31% since last year.
Contrast that with the recent Guardian poll that surveyed how people are feeling at the moment. It found that around 1/3 of people are feeling generally positive emotions, around 1/3 are feeling ok - middle of the road - and 1/3 are feeling generally negative emotions. This data also showed more of the youngies in the group that's struggling.
So what is it about age that means we cope better?
One thing that helps is that we've had more 'time on the track' so to speak. We've coped with difficulties before and so there's a confidence that we'll cope again. It's a confidence based on a track record that young people simply don't have. There's no getting around that.
But there's also a powerful practice that we can share with everyone.
One of the difficulties when you're new to this humanity thing is that you can get swamped by hardships. You don't really know why you're depressed or anxious or hopeless, you're just hit by it. You're in it! (Of course we adults can experience this too.)
I'm going to share with you a resource to deal with this. It comes from the suite of Flourish tools that we'll be offering. It's my model of The Nine Needs. These are human needs, we all share them. We know from modern research, from ancient wisdom, and from our own experience, that these are the needs we need to meet to flourish fully as a human being.
This is useful because it helps us see WHY we're struggling - what needs are not met right now - what is causing my distress. This clarity itself reduces stress, but more than that, it also points us in the right direction for action in order to cope better - to move our lives towards greater flourishing.
Here's a brief description of the Nine Needs. As you read through, give yourself a rating of 1-10 for each one, reflecting how well this need is met in your life right now.
The first four are SAFETY NEEDS. If they're not met, we feel vulnerable.
Material Security - your physical wellbeing is not 'at risk'. You have food, shelter, electricity and water, transport, you have access to health care, and you are physically safe.
Autonomy - you're free to make choices about your own life without coercion or punishment from others. You can choose your partner, your work, your political and spiritual orientation etc. as you wish.
Certainty - you understand enough about the way things work - the world, people, life - that you're not overwhelmed by chaos and unpredictability - the uncertainty that is a part of reality.
Belonging - you feel a sense of belonging with one or more groups. People know you, they expect you to participate, and they accept you as part of the tribe. This could be anything from a sports team to a workplace, a family, your local cafe, or an interest group. We may or may not feel emotionally close to these people but we feel like we belong.
The remaining five needs are FULFILLMENT NEEDS. That is, if they're unmet we won't feel unsafe, but we certainly won't be fulfilled and thriving as a human being.
Pleasure - this includes the obvious pleasures of the senses, but also includes pleasures of the mind (ideas, entertainment) as well as fun and adventure - the thrills of life.
Engagement - focusing your attention, skills, and energy intensely on a task. This is sometimes called 'flow'. Time disappears, and we don't even realise we're enjoying ourselves until it's over because we're so absorbed in the process.
Achievement - setting ourselves a goal and applying our effort, skill and energy to achieve it. This may or may not have an external reward attached to it, it doesn't matter. It's the joy of putting in effort and producing an outcome.
Connection - being seen, understood, accepted and cared for by another. This is much more personal than 'belonging'. We need 4-6 good quality connections in our life to thrive.
Contribution - giving your energy, effort, care, time, skill &/or resources to help other beings - human or otherwise. This is often where we find meaning, and it has a great purchase on our happiness.
So back to young people struggling. As a young person, if we're not supported well by our parents, we may be struggling to cope financially. COVID itself can be felt as a threat to our physical wellbeing (material security). We are learning to be independent, yet at the moment our choices and freedoms are severely limited. We also might be struggling to achieve financial independence from our parents (autonomy). We haven't got good roadmaps of how the world works, so when it goes haywire, like in a pandemic, we have no confidence that it will work out (certainty). Our whole reason for existence as a teen/young adult is to find our place, our tribe, to feel accepted and like we belong. That's really hard in lockdown.
Many of the things that bring us pleasure, fun and adventure are not possible right now (pleasure), we probably haven't even found what brings about flow for us yet (engagement), if we're unable to find a job we might be struggling with achievement, and our ability to develop close relationships with people is curtailed (connection). Finally, we're less likely to have discovered the powerful joy that comes from being of service to others (contribution).
Simply understanding where the angst is coming from reduces stress. It's like being unwell and finally getting a diagnosis. You can see the problem, and your pain stops being an un-solvable mystery. But it's even more helpful than that.
If you or someone you know (young or otherwise) is struggling right now, use this model to assess which needs are under-done, and ask yourself: what could I do now, accepting the constraints that exist, to better meet my low-rated needs?
What CAN I do to feel physically safe?
In what areas CAN I exercise some choice?
What could I do to better understand life and the world (my book here, is one resource)?
What group could I join and participate in, even if that has to be virtually for now?
What small pleasures could I add to my life (think through the five senses plus the mind, and any type of fun).
What activities do I find really absorbing?
What goal could I set for myself and work towards, measuring my progress as I go?
What friendships could I cultivate with people who can connect authentically?
What could I do to help others - people or animals - preferably in person (i.e. not just signing a petition or donating money, although those things are terrific in themselves).