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COVID-19: A Psychological Perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm in a very short period of time, whether directly affected or not. Of course, what I mean by directly affected are those that have contracted the virus, but the reality is that everyone around the world has been impacted by this global public health concern. While social media has contributed to the spread of information, it has also undoubtedly contributed to the hysteria and panic, which is not exclusive to COVID-19. Still, having an understanding of how this pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, and more importantly how we rebuild from this situation following its decline and control are of great importance – and psychology may help us do just that.

In a paper he called “The Theory of Motivation” in 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed what is now referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy described a system to classify the universal needs of society, of all persons. At the bottom of the hierarchy, Maslow called the Physiological Needs those that are most essential for survival – food, water, shelter, rest, etc. They are followed by Safety Needs, Belongingness and Love Needs, Esteem Needs, and finally, Self-Actualization. Self-actualization refers to one reaching their full potential, and the needs that preceded it fall in line. That is, you need a foundation of the former needs in order to become self-actualized.

Social distancing has become a difficult concept for many, though simple at its core: stay far enough away so the virus cannot spread. This directly impacts the Belongingness and Love level of need, as well as the Esteem needs in some ways. And while social distancing may have impact on some over an extended period, they are not essential needs. As the virus progressed and mortality increased, social distancing was no longer a recommendation but a requirement which was escalated by the mandated closing of businesses around the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down businesses large and small, leaving many people without work and with little means to support their families. In this light, the physiological needs – the most essential to survival – become threatened. What’s more, for many they came very rapidly, with little warning, and occurred at a time where many were already self-actualized. Never before, at least not in most of our lifetimes, have we seen a global crisis that has directly threaten our biopsychosocial functioning on every essential level, making COVID-19 one of the most pervasively damaging events of our time.

Surely this comes as no surprise to anyone, but it is critical to understand the many ways that this pandemic has and will continue to have an impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. Remember that everyone around you is likely experiencing some level of fear, uncertainty, and shuttering at the unpredictability of what may be ahead of us. So, remember to be kind, be patient, be present, and support each other as we overcome this pandemic and rebuild toward self-actualization. 

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