The Importance Of Triangles In Times Of A Mental Health Crisis

When you are going through what is known as a “mental health crisis”, everything feels like such a mess that you cannot even begin to start tidying it all up. Tiny jobs become momentous tasks, trying to survive an hour feels like trying to survive a millennium and it all feels completely unmanageable. Unhelpfully, being in the 21st century, the general busy non stop, non sleep, 24/7 side to modern life does not help matters (on the other hand there is the positive that, helpfully, we are not in the 16th century where, although it was less busy, you had a higher chance of being murdered by your husband if his name was Henry and he happened to wear a crown).
In simpler times your daily activities may have simply comprised of getting some water from your well, milking a few cows, doing a bit of hoeing out in the fields and then perhaps settling down by the fire with a nice bowl of homemade stew, (it is my understanding that in the olden days people ate nothing but stew). Nowadays however, the list of tasks one must perform to get through the days are endless.

Instead of walking out to a field there are specific buses you have to run to catch for work, computer programs that randomly malfunction and delete all the work you have done for the past week (something that never happened when “work” mainly focused on hoeing), specific coffee orders you have to remember for your boss to avoid being fired over a missed shot of espresso in their large cappuccino, bills to pay, TV shows to catch up on, appointments to make, social events to come up with excuses for, washing machines to fix, ironing to do and earphone wires to untangle (SERIOUSLY WHO IS TANGLING ALL OF THE EARPHONE WIRES WHEN I AM NOT LOOKING AND PLEASE CAN YOU STOP IT). It is exhausting and when in crisis, you need to delete it all and focus on one thing.


I am not talking your equilateral triangles, your scalene, or even your isosceles. I sneer at your Bermuda triangles, love triangles, even your 3D Egyptian pyramid triangles, for no triangle is better in a crisis than the great “Maslow’s Triangle” (toast triangles are a close second for being helpful in time of a crisis though, because you can have peanut butter or marmalade on them).

“What is this mysterious Maslow’s Triangle?” I hear you ask? Well I’ll tell you!

Basically there was once this psychologist named Abraham Maslow (I hear he was quite the dude), and he came up with this list of things needed to fulfil humans and reach “self fulfilment” or “self actualisation”, aka “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” (that is the official term in all the text books but I am calling it Maslow’s triangle because it looks like a triangle, that is a catchier name and it meant that I could sound smart in that first paragraph by talking about other kinds of triangle which are now irrelevant to this post…calling it this also gave me the opportunity to mention toast triangles which are tasty, so I went with it and now here we are).
These needs are pretty much all Maslow thinks you need to become a whole and happy person and who knows, he may be right, but right now it doesn’t matter if he was right or not because to be honest, survival is what we want and aiming for his idea for self actualisation is a bit of a stretch at this moment in time/any moment in time during a mental health crisis. As I always say, we need to learn to waddle before we can fly.

“What does this mysterious Maslow’s Triangle look like?” I hear you cry! Well I’ll tell you that too (and may I say you are asking a lot of questions today…)
So here it is:


As you can see, all of these “needs” are prioritised in order of importance with the most important on the bottom and the least important/ones that will make you happy but are not essential for purely physical survival, on the top. It is like a pointy version of Jenga, you have to have enough of the blocks to make up the bottom or else it doesn’t matter what is going on at the top, that pyramid is going to fall and there will be sand EVERYWHERE.

In times of crisis, I think people (by which I mean I), try to keep going with all the busy things of modern life that make up the entire triangle and in doing so get overwhelmed, miss out some of the more important things, and consequently make myself/my health worse. For example my magnifying glass and entire life focus is pretty much entirely zoomed in on the second from the top level, “esteem needs”, and because I hate myself oh so very much and thus have very low supplies of the “esteems”, I forage for these like a bear who is late in preparing for hibernation, without caring about anything else because in my eyes it is not as important. In my head, I need to feel worthy of and deserving of life before I can do all the things people need to do to actually survive…and yeah…it doesn’t work like that, hence why my pyramid has fallen, leaving me in hospital, in crisis, and trying to pick sand out of all the crevices (like I said, it gets EVERYWHERE).

In every situation I will sacrifice the bottom sections as I claw for that esteem level. When I am worrying about something like my blog/don’t feel productive/like I have accomplished or achieved “enough”, I ignore all other levels of needs until that achievement feeling has been somewhat reached (I say somewhat because, as I am sure many people can relate, no matter what I do in anything, it is never enough). Need to write a blog post but don’t have any time? Better cross “sleep” off the to-do list. Haven’t drawn that pesky diagram of the triangle you need to insert into this blog yet? No food or drink until that triangle is drawn! Not posted on Instagram and need an “outdoorsy” photo but it is freezing outside? Get out there and Valencia the hell out of some greenery even if you freeze to death in the process!
That is exactly what I do, what I think a lot of people do, and that is why mental health crises often get worse and spiral, because we are focusing on the wrong things when trying to survive and get through the day. Self actualisation is great and all that and we can work on getting to that eventually but if you are in a crisis, the most important thing to do is get your Maslow’s triangle out (and toast triangles if you are feeling peckish), and focus all your energy on the bottom levels. No “I should be doing this” or “I need to be doing that”, no, you are in crisis, it is time to prioritise, remove the stress and simply focus on basic survival. Only when you have got that covered can you start building all the other things on top and if you don’t, even if you work really hard at the achievement stuff, eventually it is going to crumble and remember what happens when pyramids crumble…SAND EVERYWHERE.

When you are in a mental health crisis you need to cut yourself a nice bit of slack. If it is necessary, take a mental health day off work to go to an appointment or get some rest, because without the rest you won’t be able to stay at work very long anyway. It is necessary to focus on keeping yourself hydrated (BUT NOT TOO HYDRATED REMEMBER THE SODIUM) and get yourself a cup of tea before sorting out all the ironing (which in the long run is not necessary at all…I don’t see ironing on the triangle…), and it is necessary, nay fundamental, to nourish yourself and give yourself a good supply of food at meal times before worrying about all the other things on your to-do list (I REALLY need to work on this one). In times of mental health crises it is OK to strip things back and take a step back from the things at the top of the triangle so that you can look after yourself and build your way back up to that self actualisation tip. Focus my friends, on the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife, I mean the BARE necessities aka the bottom layers of Maslow’s triangle (I think a bear even sang a song about that whilst dancing around in a jungle with a half naked child in orange pants but that might have been one of those weird hallucinations I have been having lately…they are wherever I wander…wherever I roam!)

So, why is it important to focus on triangles in times of mental health crisis? Because my dear friends, in times of crisis, you need to allow yourself to simply focus on looking after yourself, keeping yourself physically well and safe so that you are strong enough to survive that crisis and work your way back up to the top of your Maslow’s triangle with the fun, self actualisation stuff going on. Forget the other shapes, hold onto your triangles, and if those triangles happen to be made of toast, eat them with some jam and a nice mug of warm tea.

As always, take care everyone. x



9 thoughts on “The Importance Of Triangles In Times Of A Mental Health Crisis

  1. Ahh this is so so important – not just for times of crisis but also a useful reminder for everyone doing all their living every day. I think most people today view their triangles entirely inverted – precariously teetering on that sharp point, focussing so much on trying to get better at French, draw more, see everyone they feel they should see, get better at weight lifting, cook more instagram worthy meals, that we’re totally neglecting basic human needs. And maybe the inverted triangle is actually contributing to CAUSING mental health problems in the first place – relegating eating to luxury status, and so on. We can’t stay healthy in body OR mind if we’re forgetting those essentials…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oooh I love this theory! I mean I don’t love that we are all potentially getting mentally ill because of inverted brain triangles…but as a hypothesis I really think you are onto something here! You are practically Freud!…only less weirdly obsessed about sex and all of that kind of thing…more in the revelatory contributions to psychology sense…I LIKE YOUR TRIANGLE THEORY OK. xx


  2. This is some really good advice :). My therapist always remind me that when I panic and feel anxious I must remember the Maslow triangle. Do I have food, home etc? If yes, I’m safe and I’m not in danger. But it’s hard to believe in it when I feel like my heart’s going to burst or I feel like failing at school or work. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I had never heard of Maslow’s triangle until very recently when my therapist brought it up to me! Great therapists think alike! I know that focusing on base needs is hard when your head is spinning but I promise you those “little” things are by far the most important! Only by taking care of those needs can we deal with the bigger scary things we spend far too much time worrying about and consequently too much time forgetting our own wellbeing in the process! Hope you are taking great care of yourself my dear, always here if you need x


  3. As always you have written something helpful and humorous that draws in your readers while informing them. I hear so many all or nothing’s here and can relate so well. Us OCD people know them well. There is no in-between. There is all consuming love or hate, right? I am saddened when I hear you use the word hate in relation to yourself. That is such an absolute and the reality is that we all have good and bad in us. Most of us rarely fall into the category of being worth idealizing or hating. Anyway, I am straying away from Maslow who I remember so well from school. I recall when my son came home from the hospital, Maslow was front and center. Not that I was even thinking of him at the time, just that we were employing the common sense principles of that bottom layer…….the foundation. I remember telling my son that things were going to change when he came home. We were no longer going to do the same family dance with OCD calling the tunes. It was very clear that his OCD (which drove the eating disorder) got much worse when he didn’t sleep enough and when he was malnourished. Fairly straight forward. He wanted to go back to school, but over-studying (and I mean 8-9 hours/day) was a huge problem with the OCD. I was very clear that I would not consider a return to school unless basic self-care was taking place. That meant that regardless of what else was going on there was a sleep schedule and proper nourishment. I told him that I was not budging on this. We could work together as a team (and we did) but I wasn’t going back to the way things were because none of us could continue to live that way. No one in the family was meeting that first level of needs and everyone was suffering. His brain could not heal and there the OCD would have a field day with malnutrition and lack of sleep. I knew this from experience (the sleep part, I didn’t have an eating disorder). I had to be a mom and make the tough decisions which were that either this was observed and adhered to or he was going right back to the hospital. I was not going to let him slowly die at home and not intervene and I made that clear. To keep things brief (or a bit more brief should I say) he did observe those rules and we worked together with his therapist and treatment team. He did go back to school and he and I worked as a team to set a maximum number of hours of study per day. I would sit with him in the evening when he had met that maximum and we would work through the anxiety of not studying further and work on distress tolerance. It wasn’t perfect and I can imagine that I sound like I was very harsh. I know both ends of this spectrum and my job as a mom can sometimes be unpleasant and unpopular. The reality is that we did work as a team, though, and had successes and failures but rode them out together and as a family. Most of it was driven by selfishness on my part because I simply couldn’t do without him. I would go on, but the colors would never be the same when I looked out the front door at the flowers and the trees. Nothing would be the same, so I enforced and guarded that first level of Maslow’s triangle like a dog with a bone. Get better Katie, you are worth it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so very much. You definitely got that “no-inbetween” bit right when it comes to us people with OCD! I am also very impressed that you went to a school cool enough to teach about our dear Maslow! None of my teachers even mentioned him! We just covered basic triangle types in maths, what use is that!? Much like your son in school I had a massive problem with over studying because of OCD and would let everything like sleep go on the back burner which in the long run, as you said, doesn’t work! I think your self care rules were a brilliant idea and you should get some kind of award for working so hard to help him and take care of him. It is bad enough when the person who is ill is not sleeping but when the family is exhausted I know from experience that a household can fall to pieces. Your support at home was probably one hundred times as valuable as any of the support he got from therapists especially considering you were the one focusing on taking care of basic self care and needs so that therapy appointments could actually be of some benefit and weren’t just sessions of trying to stay awake. You may think you were harsh but to be honest I think in these kind of situations strict boundaries and rules are the only way to get anywhere and are actually the most loving and kindest thing a person can do. It is what a good mum does so you can certainly count yourself as one of the best! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the importance of the bottom levels of the triangle which I am really trying to learn to take care of right now. I will trust and believe in you! Thank you for loveliness as always, much love xx

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s