Self-care is important. Anybody in the mental health field will tell you that. Practicing good self-care is a part of any healing or recovery journey, but how do you know how to practice good self-care if you’ve spent a lifetime either practicing really bad self-care or no self-care at all?  That’s what this post is all about. We’re going to slow everything down and look at feelings, needs, and self-care practices.

Maybe you’ve never thought of feelings as messengers, but they are, or they can be if you’re willing to listen. Feelings can tell you a lot about whether your needs are being met in the moment, and they can help you determine what needs aren’t being met too. Now, if you did an internet search, you could find long lists of feelings, and if you searched a little deeper, you could find long lists of needs too. We’re going to keep it really simple today. We’re going to work with just a few examples of feelings and related needs, and then we’re going to give you specific examples of healthy self-care practices that can help meet those needs in the moment. At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find a short exercise to help you get in touch with your feelings.

Before we go too far, let’s clear up what we mean when we talk about needs. One of the best places to look for this information is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You can learn all about Abraham Maslow and the history of his hierarchy by plugging his name into your favorite search engine, but for our purposes, the important thing to know is that Maslow did a lot of research, and he determined that human beings are driven to get certain needs met in order to survive.  Those needs are physiological, security, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  Whether you’re engaged in unhealthy or healthy behaviors, from Maslow’s perspective, You’re trying to get your needs met. When you’re on a healing or recovery pathway, knowing what you need is both (1) important and (2) sometimes difficult. Tuning into feelings can help.

Positive feelings, like grateful, joyful, and exhilarated are signs that your needs are being met.  On the other hand, feelings like fear, confusion, tension, and annoyance can be flashing lights signaling that your needs are not being met. Learning to first recognize your feelings and then connect your feelings to your needs can help you figure out what kind of self-care practice would be most beneficial in the moment. Below, we’ve listed some feelings and the unmet needs they may be alerting you to as well as some healthy self-care practices that you can try:



*If your fatigue is long-lasting and doesn’t improve, please see a medical professional. 



*If you are currently in an unsafe environment or in any kind of danger, please seek help from an outside source to establish physical safety.   



*If you are thinking of harming yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to your nearest emergency room.



*If you are thinking of harming yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to your nearest emergency room.



Your feelings are signals that, if you pay attention, can help you move forward on a healing or recovery path by letting you know that you have unmet needs in the moment. They can even tell you which needs are unmet. This kind of self-awareness helps put you in the driver’s seat of your own life. If you practice tuning in to feelings, sorting out your needs, and using healthy self-care behaviors, you can really tap into your own wellness. You will be stronger and more capable of moving forward on your journey toward greater health and wellbeing.


Here’s a simple practice for beginning to tap into your feelings.

You can do this practice standing, sitting, or lying down. Simply find a comfortable position.  Close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so. If not, soften your eyelids and gaze down slightly. Begin at the soles of your feet and slowly, let your awareness move up and over your body until you reach the crown of your head. Notice any sensations: tension, heat, cold, openness, tears, pain, movement, or shakiness…  And ask yourself, “how am I feeling right now?”

If you can’t identify the feeling by name, that’s ok. You can start with comfortable or uncomfortable. If you feel uncomfortable, look at the feelings in this post, and see what seems closest. Try one of those self-care practices. If it works, you will notice a shift in your feeling.  Stay open to experimenting with healthy self-care practices, and keep going. You’re gaining powerful tools for a well-balanced life.

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