Beyond Survival: Balancing Basic Needs

By:  Marsha Kravetz, MA, LPC, LMFT



     With busy lives and the many roles we fill, it's not surprising that we can feel overwhelmed. When basic needs are "out of synch" or ignored, our "bodyminds" tend to move into survival mode, and we are not always conscious of it. We tend to think of stress as caused by negative events or situations, but stress can result from positive factors as well.  Events involving personal growth (a promotion, a new baby, a new relationship) can result in stress to our systems because they involve CHANGE. 

     Systems seek to balance themselves: individual, family, work - all are systems, which are impacted by each other. They work best when we are "in tune" or mindful of basic needs, which include:


Home :  We need a safe, secure base where we can experience familiar surroundings and routines to reduce stress our stress. "Coming home" ideally, is synonymous with letting down our defenses and looking forward to transition to a little "downtime" before we switch gears to after work activities. 

Nurturance:  Healthy comforting food is a prominent choice, but any sensory experience

(taste, smell, touch, sound, sight) that is pleasing and comforting is nurturing.  We need to find ways, often unique, which nurture our senses. People often consider checking e-mail or forms of social media as nurturance or connection, but it is indirect and does not satisfy these needs as successfully as sensory forms.


Connection: Ranging from the most basic mother-child, family, extended family, neighborhood, and community relationships to spiritual, connections are the fulcrum on which our basic needs rely. We are creatures of connection and do not do well when isolated.  Immediately after 911 in New York, many therapists flocked to the city to support individuals and families. Can you guess which types of therapists had waiting lines? Massage therapists, meeting the multiple needs of nurturance and connection.

 R & R:  We need quality sleep, "down time ", and relaxation activities. There are a number of factors which negatively affect quality sleep. Did you know that it takes at least 30-60 minutes for cells to stop firing after using electronics? This means that if you sleep with a TV on during the night, you WILL be sleep deprived!! Instead, try a "white noise" machine or relaxing music with sounds of nature as a replacement.

Productivity: We have a basic need to move forward and feel closure from completion of tasks  and projects. However, being "over-productive" may often result in our ignoring other basic needs, especially when we go into "overdrive". Stress hormones are released as a result-usually in the evening, which in turn may negatively affect the quality of our sleep.  Most of us require an element of creativity as well to feel productive. 

     The goal is that these needs complement each other and function together with some balance, not that each need is perfectly met. Life happens! When we are pulled (internally or externally) to meet one need excessively, other needs suffer ~ and balance is disturbed. We may withdraw or be more reactive, feel anxious, vigilant, or have difficulty relaxing or sleeping - or feel a need to sleep more without feeling rested. When stress hormones are released, we may feel more energetic short-term, but "pay" long-term. We push ourselves harder, yet feel less productive. We begin to feel more pressured to offset the lack of balance, and our actions may become erratic and impulse~driven and we tend to revert to coping styles we have used in the past, whether they have worked for us or not, because we are creatures of habit. It's like trying to tread water indefinitely - we will sink if we don't move forward to reach the shore!

     Establishing how to balance basic needs has some common elements but is also unique in its application. The good news:


                          Small, specific positive changes bring positive results.


     The system begins to balance itself with these small changes because it receives the message that needs will be met with better balance. We are able to better identify what we need and what to do. As needs are met, their benefits complement and facilitate meeting other needs. Taking short breaks helps us "regroup" and direct our energies. Try to avoid ignoring fatigue by "plowing ahead" and allow more time than you think you will need so that you CAN take short breaks.  ( This is a hard one (!) but your " bodymind " needs concrete messages to stop, so that stress hormones are not released).
     As long as we are alive, we will be working at balancing basic needs, but we can improve our abilities in identifying and meeting them, so that we don't rely on old coping mechanisms which don't work for us. Let's begin with a few small strokes to reach the shore!