Sunday, 31 October 2010

Maslow's Menu and Diet

Just about every teacher, Mental Health practitioner and many business managers (though frankly not enough) are aware of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow was a psychologist who decided that the way to understand psychology was to study where it was working right, not where it's wrong.

He therefore concentrated on studying people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass who were perceived to be in pretty good shape to be able to become as successful and respected as they were in their respected fields. (In modern psychology there is now debate as to whether or not anyone is 'normal' or mentally healthy - I shouldn't laugh, but I do!).

Regardless of how it was arrived at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs has become highly influential in determining how well a person is doing and certainly helps by providing a structure and plan to work toward for any and everyone at any and every point of their life. The simplified version consists of five levels of need.

Maslow_Needs_Hierarchy.jpg (604×363)
  • Level 1: Basic (Physiological) needs (food, shelter, drink, sleep - the essential requirements to facilitate life)
  • Level 2: Safety needs (Security of: body, structure (e.g. law and order), employment, finance, family, morality - things that make us feel safe)
  • Level 3: Social Needs (family, community, friends and partnerships)
  • Level 4: Esteem Needs (confidence, feeling valued and respected, being allowed to need and be needed etc)
  • Level 5: Self Actualisation (creativity, accomplishment, achievements, problem solving etc)
The theory is simple: the more levels you can manage to cover the better your quality of life will be. The idea is to ensure all levels are covered in order to be happy and to achieve and reach our own full potential.

When we are depressed though, we can be reduced to only managing Level 1 at best. So, in order to protect ourselves from slipping that low, the more we can get Level 1 to be an automatic routine the easier it will be to build and recover from depression; the more we can keep hold of the things that make us feel safe, the more we can stay connected to others, the better our chances. The more we can ensure we don't lose sight of our dreams, ambitions and goals (so long as they remain realistic) the more we will be improving things for ourselves. Small steps get you there, trying to run before you can walk is far less likely to.

That's why Mental Health Services have worked so hard in providing so many forms of support through sport, creative and social activities as well as linking up with training courses for work and for independent living and social services to help with finances and housing concerns among many others.

Key to Level 1 is diet and exercise. That doesn't mean a special diet full of weird and wonderful restrictions and limitations, it merely means a sensible balanced diet and regular eating pattern. It also doesn't mean having to take up a sport (but it would help), it means keeping physically active by going for a walk regularly or sit-ups or even turning house-work into an exercise routine.

A Balanced Diet = Carbohydrates (which includes fresh fruit and veg, natural sugars, cereals, bread, fibre etc), Fats (self explanatory really) and Proteins (meat, fish, nuts). Too many of any category will create all manner of nasty health problems as will too little of any.

Research has shown that certain chemicals that whizz around our brains are beneficial to our moods, concentration and motivation. If you think of it as checking a car for oil and water you can help your health by including (in moderation) certain foods to firstly get it into tip top condition and maintain it.

Three really helpful chemicals are:
Dopamine: can help regulate and improve attention and motivation.
Good food sources: chicken, oats and a little dark chocolate (several bars of chocolate a day is never the best of ideas no matter how yummy they may be).

GABA: can help regulate anxiety and muscle tone
Good food sources: Almonds, broccoli and walnuts.

Serotonin: can help regulate mood and limit impulsive behaviour
Good food sources: Turkey and bananas.

Never radically change your diet or exercise habits without first discussing doing so thoroughly with a fully trained medical practitioner. Any medication you are on may effect what you will respond to. Any medical condition may effect what you should eat and what you should avoid. Be safe.

Two other important factors help you to stay healthy - sleep and relaxation. Until my training last week I had always thought that diet and sleep were top priorities, but recent research has revealed that exercise is more important than sleep. This is because if you exercise you naturally become tired more easily and therefore sleep better.

Switching your brain off in relaxation is important and a good idea in preparation for sleeping. Watching TV, doing a jigsaw, scribbling a doodle, yoga or meditation are all good ways to help relax so long as whatever you choose isn't so interesting that it turns into a stimulus. Exercise is also a brilliant way for your body to produce seretonin and a few other good feel chemicals besides.

Few people ever fully reach Level 5 (Self-actualization) regardless of whether they have suffered mental health problems or not. This is because Self Actualization really means reaching our full potential and for that to happen often requires two important factors; opportunity and response e.g. the right job and the right employer, or finding a partner and them saying yes!

Level 3 is about average, but Level 4 I believe is more likely for people who have experienced difficulties including illness because they examine their lives in order to identify what's gone wrong and from there work on how to improve things. It becomes a conscious effort which those who have not faced difficulties rarely enter into.

Where I'm at...
My personal needs are to slow up a bit on blogging for I've been guilty of being a bit of a hypocrite by neglecting some essential mundane routine things. The good thing is I've noticed and know what to do. It is a common habit to slip into when we are worried, anxious or depressed to only focus on what makes us happy. The downside is that when the reality hits it hits harder due to that neglect. We always have to face life's less pleasant aspects.

It's rather like fearing going to the dentist though. In anticipation our fear of the thing we want to avoid becomes a monstrous mountain to overcome. However, when we face it we find it's not half as terrible as we imagined - the less time we spend in worrying and avoidance, the less of an ordeal it becomes. Mountains are merely a series of molehills bunched together. The trick is to kick them away one at a time.

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