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How is COVID-19 threatening our human needs?

It’s hard to catch a breath between breaking news updates about coronavirus, and it seems the pace and urgency of the messages increases daily.  I don’t intend to gratuitously add to the flood of information, but I do want to offer a perspective that may be helpful to you in the workplace . . .

As many of you know, I often talk about and teach about the “PICTURE” model of human needs. This model incorporates what we know about how our brains work and respond, as well as how we react to input in daily life based on our biology. I’m told that it helps tremendously with us understanding why we act the way we do -and- why others do what they do.

As a recap (or maybe an introduction for those of you unfamiliar with the “PICTURE” model), the five needs that we all share are:

Power and Achievement

This pandemic certainly triggers various sensitivities in each of us as individuals, but it would be very understandable to see the following in yourself or others:

  • intense need to know who’s in charge, who’s information to trust (this is our agitated POWER need making itself known). I’ve seen myself checking various news sources to see who is saying what, cross-checking stats, etc.
  • focus on data. We want to know exactly how many cases there have been as of  x:xx in our state, in our region, in the U.S., in the world. We want to know whether the presumptive cases have been verified. We want to know what percent of those with the virus have recovered. Have you found yourself in a conversation about the data? Feeling ‘in the know’ is more important to us generally than whether the accurate number of active cases is 984 or 992. I see people expressing their anxiety by diving down into gathering more, more, and more INFORMATION. That’s meeting their disrupted need for access to the information they seek.
  • feeling overwhelmed and out of CONTROL. Simple one here. We are largely out of control of this pandemic, and don’t like it! Remember, control helps us feel safe. When we don’t feel safe or secure, we grasp for control over something . . . anything. I have become the hand-washing policewoman in my household because – I suppose – I can feel some sense of certainty and direct impact about seeing my kids wash the germs off of their hands. So, the hand-washing is partially about germs and partially about creating some semblance of control and impact in my little piece of the world.
  • how the social distancing aspect of this development will play out, will be extremely interesting to me. Even us introverts innately crave some connection with others, even if it’s via technology. Quarantining, working from home, travel disruptions, school closures and the like will strain the ties that connect us with each other (our TETHEREDNESS) in some ways–not in all– but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see spikes in depression, anxiety, and panic attacks worsened by a severing of social ties and routines, in the near term and temporarily.

What does all this mean and how is it useful?

My intent is to remind you that reactions to this news item (small or big reactions) are normal, to be expected, and probably will relate to the human/PICTURE needs that are the strongest for you. Go easy on yourself and recognize what you’re struggling with because that – in and of itself – can help ease anxiety.

Additionally, other peoples’ behaviors may be out of character, or exaggerated in some ways in the wake of the virus. Be gentle with others, hold back from quick reactions to them until you’ve had a moment to reflect . . . they are likely dealing with agitated needs just as you are.

This brings me to one of my favorite truisms:

People are generally doing the best they know how to do.

Have you seen evidence of the PICTURE needs being threatened at your organization?

How about in yourself?

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