Emotional Needs for Van Life and Motorhome Living

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PAGE UPDATED: 19.02.22

It’s not always easy to meet emotional needs when living in a motorhome, RV, or campervan. We’re talking about things like the need to feel safe and secure, the need to have connections to others, and the need for time alone.

When these needs are unmet our stress levels rise and we start to suffer an array of psychological problems.

So, if you’re struggling in any way or you feel that your mental health could be better, this page will introduce you to a simple way to assess your emotional needs and get your vanlife back on track.

Let’s find out how to feel good once more on the road…

Image: Robson H Morgan

Identifying basic needs for life on the road

We are all aware of our basic human needs; the need for food and water, warmth, clothing, shelter, and sleep. All van-lifers need to ensure these basic needs are met, though some of these can be difficult to achieve at times…

Keeping warm in your RV over winter can be expensive if you’re using things like a diesel heater or a generator to power an electric heater. On cold winter nights we’ve resorted to wearing more layers of clothing instead.

RELATED CONTENT: Our top tips for using your motorhome in winter

And if you are a full-time van dweller, it’s not always easy to sleep if you’re having to wild camp, what with the possibility of having to move on to somewhere else. Indeed, wild camping has been made much more difficult since the pandemic.

But it’s not just these basic needs that we need to meet. Unlike a plant or flower that just needs the right conditions to flourish and grow, humans are born with added complexity – emotional needs.

The essential emotional needs for mental wellbeing

The emotional needs we’re talking about are…

  • The need to feel safe and secure – not always easy if you live fulltime in your van
  • The need to give and receive attention – if you’re a solo van-lifer how do you meet the need for attention? Humans are social animals and we all need at least some interaction with others
  • The need to feel in control of your life – again, not an easy task if you’re always on the move
  • The need to feel a sense of belonging – one of the reasons (perhaps) that van-lifers like to group together
  • The need for time alone – to reflect and mentally assimilate experiences
  • The need to feel challenged and stretched (but not stressed!) – a healthy brain is a brain that is learning new things
  • The need for meaning, purpose, and goals in life – perhaps one of the reasons we travel?

But what if these needs go unmet? This is where the problem lies…

Why unmet emotional needs raise your stress levels

Meeting emotional needs in balance can be a real challenge, especially if you’re living life on the road as a full-time van-lifer or traveller.

Of course, it is sometimes inevitable that these needs go unmet, whether you’re living a traditional bricks and mortar life or living in an RV. We are all faced with difficult situations at times.

But here’s the thing…

Unmet emotional needs are one of the main reasons for raised stress levels and if high stress continues you are more vulnerable to a whole host of emotional and psychological problems such as…

  • Sleep problems
  • Anger and anxiety (the primitive fight/flight reactions)
  • Worry and depression
  • Fears, phobias, and panic attacks (how many of us are now more frightened to travel since the pandemic?)
  • Addiction problems
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Loss of meaning and purpose in life
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness

In a moment we’ll help you assess how well your needs are currently being met. But just before we do, let’s look at some possible reasons that emotional needs might not be met in your life…

The 3 main reasons that prevent you from meeting your emotional needs

So, just before you do an audit on your emotional needs, let’s just look at the three main reasons emotional needs might be going unmet in your life…

#1: You are living and/or working in a toxic environment

If you live full time in your van it’s not always easy to find a place to stay that feels safe and secure. Even worse, there are some ‘toxic’ people out there who seem intent on causing trouble!

Just take a look at some of the responses to our wild camping questionnaire to see what we mean!

And if you’re a digital nomad, working to make money on the road is not always easy. This can be a constant source of worry.

So, right environment is crucial if we are to flourish and achieve good mental health and wellbeing. We all know how much better we feel when we find a really nice campsite or the perfect wild camping spot such as this one we found in Scotland…

VW autotrail motorhome wild camping in scotland. A safe place helps meets the emotional need for security

#2: Your innate guidance system is not working properly or you are misusing it

Perhaps there is ‘unfinished business’ from your past that keeps coming back to haunt you? Maybe negative conditioning keeping you stuck?

The thing is that we can all be victims of our histories, all too easily sucked back in to old emotional patterns. Gav sees this all the time in his hypnotherapy practice.

Or perhaps you are mis-using your imagination (one of your most powerful resources when used correctly). The thing is, mis-using the imagination (such as worrying or ruminating) could eventually lead to depression.

#3: You are suffering from psychological damage e.g. trauma, abuse.

The hippie style communes of the 1960s and 70s were full of people looking for utopia, many of whom already had mental health problems before they dropped out of ‘normal’ society. Unfortunately paradise remained elusive and many people’s wellbeing suffered in such communities.

In effect, untreated psychological damage will keep you stuck, functioning on a basic rudimentary level, nowhere near your full potential. The emotional brain runs the show, keeping you either hyped up (looking for danger) or dissociated (as a means to escape reality).

None of the above makes for a great van life experience! But the good news is that nature has been clever…

If your environment is suitable enough and you are not suffering psychological damage or misusing your resources there’s every chance you can meet your emotional needs because van life, itself, offers you the chance to learn many new skills and develop your resources to meet these emotional needs.

It’s almost as if your van and your adventures become your teacher lighting the way ahead…

VW campervan in the woods at Minsmere Nature Reserve, Suffolk

Assessing your emotional needs

Download your van life emotional needs audit below to see how well your needs are being met. This will help identify the potential causes of any mental health issues.

Remember, needs that are not met satisfactorily will often be the cause of raised stress levels, undermining your mental, emotional and even spiritual wellbeing. It will certainly interfere with your enjoyment of van life!

We won’t ask for your email address: just click the link and the pdf should open immediately. (Save to your device and you should be able to add text and mark your scores on the PDF).

How to meet your emotional needs

So, how do you meet your emotional needs?

Once you’ve identified which needs are scoring low, you need a plan of action!

For example, if you’re feeling lonely and your need for attention is not met, make sure you get out there and meet other van-lifers. Exchanging attention nurtures the soul. It provides you with a sense of emotional connection to others.

Or if your need for time alone is unmet, make sure you get away from it all – even your partner – for a few hours. Go for a walk in nature and enjoy some silence, stillness and solitude. We all need solitude to process life’s experiences.

Or if your need to keep learning things is unmet, take up a new hobby or try something completely novel. One of the things we intend to do is acquire some basic mechanical knowledge (perhaps a vital necessity in an old van like ours?!)

Once your needs are met again, you feel as if you’ve gotten your life back on track. You feel secure in yourself, connected to others, competent in your skills, and you regain a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

There is a reason you’re alive; get out there in your van and make your mark in the world!


Further info and resources

If your emotional needs are unmet and you feel you need some extra help check out this hypnosis download

Or for more info read about emotional and spiritual needs on Gav’s hypnotherapy site

And for more about Human Givens psychology add their book to your vanlife library!

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