Stressor Spotlight: Helplessness
Whether it’s a physical trauma such as getting seriously injured in a car wreck or an emotional trauma such as financial problems or worrying about a loved one, we all have times in our lives when we feel helpless.
Because these stressful experiences are common in our lives, helpless feelings are routinely associated with a condition known as learned helplessness.
What is learned helplessness?
Learned helplessness happens when a person repeatedly experiences stressful situations that they are unable to control. A person may actually be able to exercise control in these situations. However, because they have “learned” that they are helpless, they no longer try to change or control their situation. This leads to a victim mentality, which increases the risk of depression and other serious mental conditions.1
Learned helplessness makes a person unable to adapt, change, and grow. A person who suffers from this condition may think or say things like, “Why should I even try. No matter what I do, I end up in the same situation.” As a result, they become passive when faced with future traumas, not knowing that their responses can actually lead to more positive outcomes.2
Causes of learned helplessness
Though anybody can develop learned helplessness, the condition often begins in childhood as the result of repeated traumatic events. The most prominent catalyst is abuse, although other traumas can be a trigger as well.
Not surprisingly, pessimists are more likely to develop learned helplessness than those who tend to be more optimistic. Additionally, those who look at bad experiences as permanent and view them as “their fault” fall victim to learned helplessness more easily.3 Traits like low self-esteem, frustration, and failure to ask for help can also perpetuate this condition.
Symptoms of helplessness
Helpless feelings can affect the body in a variety of ways. According to clinical psychologist Deborah Serani, helplessness affects our ability to problem-solve and think on our feet on a cognitive level. Physically, it also causes a paralyzing feeling of fear as well as extreme fatigue.4 Other symptoms include:
- Toneless vocal expressions
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Social withdrawal
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Slowed movement
- Restrictions in thought, speech, and attention
- Labored speech5
While helplessness is a commonly experienced emotion, severe or extended periods of feeling helpless can lead to more serious health issues. Learned helplessness specifically can contribute to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.6 7 8
Emotions have an energetic connection to specific parts of the body. The emotion of helplessness is closely connected to 3 of the top front teeth (T8, T9, T10) as well as two of the bottom front teeth (T24, T26). Due to this energetic connection, feelings of helplessness may cause issue with these teeth. Conversely, any physical issues with these teeth may trigger feelings of helplessness.
The 5 teeth that are connected to helpless feelings are in turn energetically connected to certain areas of the body, which may be significant when looking at feelings of helplessness as well. These areas include the urinary bladder and kidney TCM meridians, the coccyx and L2, L3, S3, S4, S5 vertebrae, and the adrenals, kidneys, ovaries, urinary bladder, and pineal gland.
From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, the kidneys and urinary bladder are closely connected to fear, which is commonly felt in conjunction with feelings of helplessness. And as trauma and stress that lead to helplessness trigger our fight-or-flight response, it makes sense that there would be an energetic connection between this emotion and the pineal and adrenal glands.
Support for helplessness
No matter how helpless a person may feel in their life, there is always a way out. Seeing a therapist can be incredibly beneficial, as they can teach you how to cope with the stress and trauma that routinely lead to helpless feelings. Additionally, a therapist can help you identify behaviors and negative thoughts that lead to helplessness and replace them with more positive ones.
In addition to seeing a therapist, there are many mental exercises you can do on your own to work through any issues with learned helplessness. Psychology Compass identifies 3 powerful ways to “unlearn” learned helplessness. They are:
- Adopt an optimistic explanatory style – View and explain the events that happen to you as externally-related as opposed to an internal fault of your own, temporary instead of long-lasting, and specific to a situation rather than all-encompassing.
- Reframing negative situations using the ABC Method – Describe the event as objectively as possible, explain what your default interpretation was, think about the actions that led to these beliefs, and dispute the automatic reaction.
- Use the SMART method to gain control – Goal-setting can be a powerful tool for changing behavior.9 Setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed can lead to life-changing results.
Decreasing helplessness through lifestyle
Our lifestyle has a significant impact on the way we handle the stress and trauma that often leads to helpless feelings. As with many health conditions, drug use, smoking, and alcohol consumption can make stress and feelings of helplessness even worse. Additionally, a busy lifestyle, being overworked, and overeating increase helpless feelings as well.
Another important lifestyle factor related to helplessness is exercise. A 2008 study found that exercise can help prevent learned helplessness in animals by increasing resistance to stress.10 Exercise can also help you sleep better. This is doubly important because lack of sleep as well as interruptions in sleep may also contribute to feelings of helplessness.11
Deep breathing and meditation are two other practices that can help reduce stress in our lives and the associated helpless feelings. So the next time you feel helpless, take a step back and become more aware of your senses, such as the smells, sounds, and temperature around you. Add deep breathing practices to this process to calm yourself down and realize that you are in control.
One other thing that deserves mentioning in relation to helplessness is vitamin D3. This essential vitamin comes from the sun, and has a significant impact on mood. Simply basking in the sunlight for 10-20 minutes each day can improve your mood and reduce feelings of helplessness. If you are unable to get natural sunlight every day, a D3 supplement can be an effective substitute.
Essential oils for helplessness
Essential oils are well-known for their ability to support emotional balance. Generally, essential oils that assist with depression and anxiety are good for helpless feelings as well. In addition, oils that balance the emotions can also be beneficial. A few of the best oils for helplessness are:
- Ylang ylang
Helpless stressor Virtual Item
A digital signature representing helpless feelings is available to scan in the ZYTO software. This emotion is automatically scanned in the Balance software, and the response is shown in the Mental/Emotional Stress section of the Wellness Report. An out-of-range response indicates that this emotion may need some support to bring it back into balance.
- Emotions Balance – Includes emotions that are scanned in the Balance biosurvey such as Anxiety, Fear, and Grief.
- Feelings – Addiction – Includes emotions related to addiction such as Blaming, Cravings, and Anxiety
- Vulnerable – Includes feelings of vulnerability such as Insecure and Reserved
Helpless balancer Virtual Items
In a typical ZYTO biosurvey, a balancer scan is run after stressor Virtual Items such as the Helpless emotion are scanned. Items that bring the stressors back into balance may include supplements, oils, foods, or lifestyle changes. If the Helpless Virtual Item is out of range, you can see which item brought it back into range on the Biomarker Progress Chart in the Advanced Report.
In addition to scanning the Helpless stressor Virtual Item, feelings of helplessness can be further addressed with EVOX perception reframing technology. Using EVOX, a person can experience a shift in their subconscious regarding their helpless feelings. This simple process involves mapping the voice and introducing energetic frequencies for which the body shows a preference.
1. “Learned Helplessness.” Sussex Publishers, LLC. Psychologytoday.com.
2. Leonard, Jayne. “What is learned helplessness?” Healthline Media UK Ltd., Brighton, UK, a Red Ventures Company. Medicalnewstoday.com.
3. Won, Angie. “Reverse Helplessness and Anxiety.” Supportiv. Supportiv.com.
4. Tartakovsky, Margarita. “5 Ways to Reduce Helplessness.” Psych Central. Psychcentral.com.
5. Olson, Ann. “Learned Helplessness as a Correlate of Psychosis.” Sussex Publishers, LLC. Psychologytoday.com.
6. Miller, W.R., & M.E. Seligman. “Depression and learned helplessness in man.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 84, no. 3 (1975): 228-238.
7. Maier, S.F. “Learned helplessness. Relationships with fear and anxiety.” in S.C. Stanford & P. Salmon (Eds), Stress: From synapse to syndrome. Academic Press (1993): 207-243.
8. Hammack, S.E., M.A. Cooper, & K.R. Lezak. “Overlapping neurobiology of learned helplessness and conditioned defeat. Implications for PTSD and mood disorders.” Neuropharmacology 62, no. 2 (2012): 565-575.
9. Wade, D.T. “Goal setting in rehabilitation: an overview of what, why and how.” Clinical Rehabilitation 23 (2009): 291-296.
10. Greenwood, B.N., & M. Fleshner. “Exercise, Learned Helplessness, and the Stress-Resistant Brain.” NeuroMolecular Medicine 10 (2008): 81-98.
11. Landgraf, D., J.E. Long, et al. “Genetic Disruption of Circadian Rhythms in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus Causes Helplessness, Behavioral Despair, and Anxiety-like Behavior in Mice.” Biological Psychiatry 80, no. 11 (2016): 827-835.