Avoid Depression While Social Distancing With These 9 Emotional Needs

by | Mar 31, 2020 | Anxiety, Depression, Stress


We are all aware that if our mental health is compromised it can lead to depression or anxiety. In this time of social distancing and self-isolation, it can be challenging to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. In this article we explain what our emotional needs are and how we can get them met in healthy ways during this unusual time but also when life returns to normal.  


What are the emotional needs and what do they have to do with depression?


As humans we have certain needs in order to survive. We often confuse needing something with wanting something. But the two things are very different. Our essential physical needs are obvious. We need air, shelter, warmth, food and water. If we only have these then we will live, maybe not well but we’ll live. However, bound up with these physical needs are emotional needs that if well met allow us to survive and thrive. 

The Human Givens approach to psychotherapy lists 9 basic emotional needs humans require to be met in healthy ways. This is an updated expansion of the work done by Abraham Maslow in his Theory of Human Motivation. This expansion treatment is clearer and more understandable for us today. The approach states that if these needs are well met in humans then they will be mentally healthy. Conversely, if they are not being met over time, we are vulnerable to depression,  anxiety and other mental illnesses. 


Why would social distancing create depression?


Often in our lives we get these needs met without really consciously being aware of it. Our workplace often satisfies our need for status, achievement and community. A partner or best friend often meets the need for intimacy or closeness.  Children, pets or our religious beliefs often serve our need for meaning and purpose. 

So as you can imagine what will happen if we no longer go in to our workplace. We’re not seeing our colleagues. Maybe we’re not working in an environment where we are moving towards goals and achieving. After a while this will seriously begin to affect our mental wellbeing. 

The advent of social distancing has the ability to change the very structure of our lives and with that the ease of meeting our emotional needs unconsciously. Compromising our needs can impact on our mental health, and we are especially vulnerable to depression.


So what should I do? 


Let’s take a look at the needs individually and look at ways that we can still get them met while practicing social distancing or self-isolation. It’s worth saying that we naturally tend towards trying to get these needs met. Occasionally however we can end up balancing the deficit in the need by increasing something else. Unconsciously, on some level, we are likely to be aware that something is out of balance in our life. Often in an attempt to address this we may drink more or eat more than usual for example. The purpose of this blog is to draw attention to what we need so that we can make conscious choices on how we rebalance our lives. 


Meaning and Purpose 

This is the most important need of all. Life can be hard and having meaning in our lives makes all the struggles worthwhile – otherwise we’d give up. For example we get meaning and purpose from nurturing our kids, looking after our pets or having a belief system. Religion or spirituality gives us a wider perspective of the world and being stretched and challenged mentally allows us to grow and evolve. Most likely being at home while social distancing gives us more time to devote to our children and pets. We may well have more time to explore our beliefs and learn something new. So there is likely to be advantages of being at home a lot more. 

However, it’s important that your days remain structured and have purpose. It’s very easy to get into a habit of binge watching boxed sets or other similar activities. Or perhaps you may find yourself going to bed later and getting up later and later. Try to maintain routines of getting up at a reasonable time, and have a plan for your day. Shower and dress normally, not in pyjamas! This way your brain is engaged and you’re likely to be motivated to come out of this period of isolation with new skills or knowledge. Our brains love to learn, but so often we reach a stage in our lives where we just stop learning. If you use this time to learn something new your brain will reward you with feel good endorphins. 



We all need to feel physically, financially and emotionally secure in our lives. However this isn’t always easy and this is especially true in this current lockdown situation. Financial security may well be feeling vulnerable right now. Jobs may be under threat, and you may not be earning a full wage or in the worst case not earning at all. 

At this point, it is important to stay mindful of the present and concentrate on what is happening right now. Take practical actions to reduce your financial outgoings. Perhaps you can take mortgage payment holidays, freeze credit cards and investigate getting any extra financial help available. Job concerns or worries about debt are a projection into the future. These are not problems that are happening right now, although it’s easy to feel like they are. It isn’t burying your head in the sand. Once you have taken as many practical steps as possible, try to deal with each day as it comes. Also, limit your exposure to the news. You’ll probably want to watch the news each day, but avoid scrolling constant updates – these will add to your anxiety. 



In many ways we don’t have a lot of control over the universe in general. (Take the Coronavirus epidemic for example!) However, we actually exert a fair bit of control in our everyday lives. Around our usual commitments we usually decide where we go and what we do, what we eat, who we see, for instance. The current restrictions are likely to be stopping you from doing what you want to do. In this situation it’s easy to feel as though our lives are out of control. So, it’s important to take actions that give us the feeling that we are still in control of our lives. 

More importantly, we need to acknowledge that we are still making multiple decisions every day. Take the aforementioned advice about taking steps to safeguard finances. Whilst these may seem reactive, by facing things head on you are controlling the situation. Beyond that, you may decide to use this time to de-clutter or to learn something. Perhaps you may cook some new recipes or batch cook food for the freezer. Be aware of all the small decisions you make every day. This will benefit you much more than focusing on the things you aren’t able to do. 



As a herd animal, we need the company of others to thrive. (Although not too much – we also need privacy, but we’ll come to that!) Your workplace, football club, book club or college may provide that for you. You may have multiple communities. This is the most obvious need to be compromised by social distancing and self-isolation. 

So do whatever you can do to maintain these groups. Use video conferencing software, such as WhatsApp, House Party or Zoom to enable face to face interactions. For example, organise a video dinner with friends where you sit down to eat together using video. You could organise a group quiz for your neighbours. Or join an online interactive choir such as Gareth Malone’s Great British Home Chorus. Make the effort to stay in touch with friends on the phone and check up on neighbours and people who may need some help. All these things will feed your need for community and make you feel connected. 



As mentioned, we need community but we really need our privacy too. We need to have a space where we can think and reflect on what we’ve learned. Many couples who would both be out at work all day are currently working from home together. Lots of parents are home-schooling children (and working from home!). Space may be at a premium in your home at the best of times. So this is another need that is obviously in danger of being compromised by social distancing. 

By being aware of this need you can put in place some actions that give you that all important space. Discuss this with your partner and older kids, where appropriate. Acknowledge that it is the same for them, not just for you. Agree times when you can go and have a bath and not be interrupted. Maybe go and sit in a different room for half an hour to regroup. Moreover, be aware that different people will have different levels of need for privacy. 


Giving and Receiving Attention 

Now giving and receiving attention may actually be one of the needs that is improved by the current situation. Spending more time with our partners or children than usual might mean we’re actually giving them more attention than usual. And we may be getting more attention than usual too. 

However, it is possible that spending so much time together is causing friction and not resulting in positive attention. Try to alleviate this by being as present as possible in what you are doing. If you are sitting with your child teaching them, make sure you are giving that your full attention. If your partner is talking to you, listen and fully engage with them. Our undivided attention is the best gift we can give others and ourselves.



Intimacy isn’t necessarily sex. It comes from being close to someone and being able to be yourself completely, warts and all. This could be a partner or a close friend or relative. If your source of intimacy is your partner and you are socially distancing together then there are lots of opportunities to make the most of this time. However, the days can run into one another and become a bit samey. So make a point of having a special dinner every week or so and dress up as you might if you went out for dinner. Find things that you can do together, perhaps learning a language, rather than spending time separately on your phones! There are currently loads of free online courses, art gallery tours, exercise classes, dance lessons… the list is endless! 

If you are distanced from your sources of intimacy then the comments above about community apply. Make sure that you stay in touch with each other. Use video calls to both share your worries and fears, laugh and talk through anything that is bothering you. If video calls are not an option, then use the phone to catch up with each other. It’s ok to reach out and share your worries, so don’t feel that you don’t want to burden anyone!



As with our need for meaning and purpose, we need to feel that we are moving forward and achieving something. We need to feel competent in at least one area of our life. It may well be that your job is continuing at home and this is not an area that is affected by being more isolated. However, it’s worth just examining your need for achievement and making sure that you still feel like you are. Motivating yourself to complete projects, whether it’s something creative like a craft or DIY or whether it’s a work assignment, will make you feel that you are achieving something.



Status is a tricky need to pin down. The best way to explain status is that it is the way we feel other people view our achievements. In other words it’s our sense of achievement viewed externally. We all need to feel that we have status in the eyes of others, whatever it is that we do in life. A feeling of low status in particular can impact on depression.

The recent community coming together for Clap for our Carers will undoubtedly have raised the status of carers up and down the land. Just knowing that you’re being appreciated and your work is seen as worthwhile will be a huge lift at a time when fear and overwork will be taking it’s toll. So if you partake in this event, you can rest assured that this small act is having a huge benefit. There is also the added bonus that in this time of isolation, people coming together out of their doors to take part in this gives us a great sense of community which will hugely benefit our own wellbeing too. 


Audit your own emotional needs 

You can carry out your own emotional needs audit here and check for any areas that may need attention. If any of them need improvement then look for ways that you can do this. That can be challenging at this particular time, but try to be resourceful. An acceptance of the situation we find ourselves in will allow us to look for ways to make everyday life better for us and in this way we may find that actually we come out of this period more enriched and more fulfilled than we went in. 

I hope this information has been useful. You can head over to our website for more resources and information and as ever if you know someone who would benefit from a clearer understanding of our emotional needs during this unusual and testing time please share. 

Wishing you all the very best,



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