top of page
  • Valentina Solci

Satisfying Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs During COVID-19

Breaking down the five tier pyramid and offering guidance amidst the pandemic

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory on human motivation suggesting that "people are driven to engage in behaviors by a hierarchy of increasingly complex needs" (Explore Psychology). The theory was proposed by humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in 1943 in a paper called, "A Theory of Human Motivation". From there, Maslow continued to refine and expand on his theory by observing exemplary figures, such as, Frederick Douglass and Eleanor Roosevelt; the updated theory was published in his 1954 book, "Motivation and Personality" (Explore Psychology).

Maslow identified the first four levels as "deprivation", or d-needs. These lower level, basic needs must be fulfilled first as needs become more and more complex as you go up the pyramid. The aim at reaching the higher level needs stems from the desire to grow as a person and focus less upon basic survival requirements. In order to reach self-actualization, one needs to meet all other basic needs sequentially, starting from the very bottom.

Considering that the world has been undergoing the COVID-19 pandemic for approximately eight months now, alongside other serious issues like the climate crisis, job losses, and political activity, I felt it was necessary for us to refer to Maslow's Theory to identify what needs in our lives have not been met and what we can do about it. As you read this, please keep in mind that going about meeting these needs varies depending on the person, their location, and specific circumstances.


Physiological needs form the basis of Maslow's pyramid and consists of physical survival needs, such as, food, water, shelter, environment, health, homeostasis, air, and clothing. These needs are essential for survival and, thus, must be met before building up to the other levels. In regards to your food intake, this depends on your body weight and personal dietary process, but, on average, Dr. Edward Bitok, DrPH, MS, RDN, assistant professor, Department of Nutrition & Dietetics at the LLU School of Allied Health Professions, says that "The wait time between meals should be between three and five hours" (Insider). Additionally, we all know we should aim for a "balanced diet", prioritizing fresh, locally grown produce and lots of greens. Just like food, access to clean, drinkable water varies according to one's circumstances. On top of this, there is no clear cut recommendation on how much water intake an individual should consume per day as there are many different professional opinions (Healthline). Finally, shelter has been quite influential to everyone's lives, especially during the age of quarantine. Many people find themselves living alone or at home with family. Whatever your situation is, aim to designate personal space in which you can perform common day-to-day activities.

Safety, Protection, & Security

The second level of the hierarchy describes the need for feeling and being safe. This may be from family members, your close community, strangers, and the environment. There are two types of safety needs: physical and economic. Physical safety refers to the protection from violence, conflict and natural disasters, while economic safety pertains to job stability, saving, and paying off bills. The goal here is to obtain protection from danger, health, and well-being (Explore Psychology). Simple ways you can aim to achieve greater safety and security are by writing down a list of accessible emergency contacts, setting up your house in a way that makes you most comfortable, creating several back up plans in the event of an emergency, scheduling any major financial obligations on your calendar and thoroughly planning out how you will meet those obligations.

Social, Belongingness, & Love

Belongingness refers to the inclusion and membership status within communities, such as, families, school, neighbors, and work. Another way to describe belongingness is "the need to form and maintain lasting social connections". The key words here are 'social connections'. One desires to feel accepted, appreciated, and respected within a social group, and, in turn, feel the same way towards their peers. In regards to love, it is ideal to receive mutual, genuine love from family, friends, and a significant other.

This is the most interesting of them all since many of us are living remotely, quarantining, and social distancing. Hence, limiting our old ways of socializing. This is the best time to roll up your sleeves and get creative! Thankfully for us, technology dominates our worlds. Gone are the days where you'd have to write letters to your loved ones hoping and praying they will receive it and waiting weeks, if not months, just to get a reply. Nowadays, we have an overwhelming amount of options on how and with whom we choose to interact with virtually. From classic text, email, and phone call to Facetime and Zoom or, to a more media based approach, Instagram. There is no excuse as to why you are not socializing....modern-day, pandemic style!

Of course, we all prefer to be interacting and living life in person, but, unfortunately, we need to sit tight and make the most of our available resources. With that being said, here are a few ideas on how you can interact, grow, and strengthen your social network: participate in virtual school clubs, attend summits and webinars, host group calls and virtual parties, send your loved ones letters or mailed in gifts, and check in with those you care about even if they may be far away!

Ego & Esteem

Once the previously mentioned three levels of needs have been met, the need for esteem and recognition become significantly more important as it pertains to one's accomplishments and work. As said by Explore Psychology, "By gaining recognition for these accomplishments, people gain a sense that they are making important contributions to society." This level is deeply tied to the desire to be respected, admired, and appreciated by your close community as well as colleagues and strangers. According to Maslow, there's a lower and a higher level to esteem. "Lower level esteem involves a need to receive applause, accolades, or awards from other people, while the higher level esteem is all about gaining inner self-respect", says Explore Psychology.

During these pandemic days, I would recommend to not stress upon this level too much. We are all trying to hang in there and leverage our opportunities amidst this crisis. So the last thing we need is to think about popularity, recognition, or fame, especially from those we don't even know. Just focus on you and what makes you happy and fulfilled.


The top of the pyramid represents reaching your fullest potential. This is clearly a subjective stage and nobody can truly define how this would look like for a given individual since we are all complex and diverse beings. However, to put it simply, this need stems from the desire to become the best you can possibly be. In order to define this for yourself, you need to figure out your values, long term desires, and what makes you feel happy and most alive. Self-actualization is not an end point or a final destination. We are elaborate beings capable of continued expansion, growth and improvement. Thus, one definitely continues to grow and evolve even after self-actualization has been achieved. This stage can be summarized by Maslow's words: “What a man can be, he must be.”

During the latter part of his career, Maslow became aware of a level beyond self-actualization called self-transcendence. Once an individual has experienced full self-actualization, it is inevitable that they desire to continue growing and challenging themselves. Therefore, this level "involves looking outside of oneself and getting a greater awareness and connection with human beings on a much wider level."

Regardless of where you stand in this pyramid, take a moment to realize that you are only human and that you are doing the best you can amidst the various life circumstances that face you. Maslow's theory is not law. It simply serves as a guideline and point of reflection in which to turn to when we may desire advice on how to improve our lives.


bottom of page