Mind your mind: Identifying and fulfilling your needs

In the past few years, I’ve read a lot of articles on self-care and noticed that one popular concept seems to be “taking care of your needs.”

However, my question has always been “what if you don’t know what your needs are in the first place?” I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only student on campus who struggles with finding time to meet their needs.

Sometimes, when I look at my busy schedule and list of commitments, I secretly wish I didn’t have needs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our survival depended solely on absorbing minerals and sunlight, like plants? Unfortunately, we’re humans and fulfilling our needs is necessary for basic survival as well as thriving in stressful environments.

Make it a habit to check in with yourself

One friend of mine told me that she had started consciously checking in with herself a few times a day. During those times, she asks herself, “What do I need right now?” At a glance, it seems like an easy question. But I’m willing to bet that a lot of us would stumble trying to find an answer.

Nevertheless, the first step towards fulfilling your needs is being aware of them. Practice checking in with yourself several times a day — it is a mindful way of acknowledging that you are a human being with needs that need to be fulfilled. If you’re afraid of forgetting to check in with yourself, you can always set a reminder in your smart phone.

Like every other habit, it’s a matter of practice.

Trial and error

Once you make the decision to take care of your needs, you’ll soon discover that identifying your needs is a process of trial and errors. For me, it’s a little bit like being hungry but not being able to identify the specific craving. What do I do in those instances? Instead of sitting at home, contemplating my options for hours, I usually have to take a chance, grab my car keys, pick a restaurant and hope for a good outcome. The worst result? I won’t like the place I picked and I’ll know to avoid it next time.

All this is to say that when it comes to fulfilling your needs, there is a high chance that you will make mistakes. But the important thing is that you can learn from them. For example, let’s say you’re in the middle of navigating a stressful situation. You might come to the conclusion that you need time alone — but later on discover that it would have been more beneficial to you to reach out to your support system.

Sometimes when trying to fulfill a need, you’ll have to try different options, and that is totally okay. You won’t always know exactly what you need, but I believe that your mind and body will tell you when you are close to reaching it.

Self-care categories

There are so many ways to take care of yourself and I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed with the number of options laid out in front of me. Usually, after asking myself, “What do I need?” I focus on my physical needs. This means that I ask myself, “Am I thirsty or hungry?” and “Are any parts of my body hurting and what can I do to relieve the pain?”

I’m assuming that a lot of students spend hours studying at a desk. I’ve noticed that for me, sometimes all I need is to get up and stretch or go for short walk around IKB to feel energized and ready to focus again.

After taking care of my physical needs, I usually focus on assessing my emotional needs. Every person is different though, so everyone will have a different process of assessing their categories of needs and not necessarily in the same order.

Listen to your gut feeling

I’m a big fan of trusting yourself and your body. I believe in the “trusting your gut” feeling. There is a fine line between what you want and what you need — and it can be hard to distinguish the two.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to silently reflect for a moment and maybe the answer will come naturally. Other times, it won’t. In those cases, I try to think of my past history and ask myself, “In past similar situations, what steps did I take?” or “What worked, and what didn’t?” It’s all about figuring out what works for you.

I want to stress the fact that taking care of your needs is an ongoing process. For me, learning how to listen to my needs was a foreign and scary process, because somewhere along the path of growing up, I had forgotten how to take care of myself.

Some of us grow up in an environment where it’s unsafe to express our needs. Other people grow up feeling as if they shouldn’t have needs or believe that fulfilling needs isn’t important or shouldn’t be made a priority.

For some, the idea of having needs can be a strange concept. So, don’t be surprised if it feels weird or uncomfortable at first — in fact, sometimes a little bit of anxiety is a sign of progress, showing that you’re trying something different and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Know that there is nothing more important than taking care of yourself and wellbeing — both physically and mentally.

The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency call 911.