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Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


Feeling Helpless: A Guide to Your Emotions

PUBLISHED Dec 23rd, 2020 & UPDATED ON Jan 26th, 2023

Unfortunately, feeling helpless can’t always be spun into a positive feeling like the super cute song from Hamilton. “Boy, you got me helpleeeeeessss! Look into your eyes and the sky’s the limit!” We wish it was always this adorable to feel helpless! But when you’re not part of a musical and experiencing this emotion, you feel frozen in time, paralyzed, devastated, and unable to change what is happening right before your eyes. This isn’t a feeling that you can just wish away. It’s not like feeling bummed out where you can just watch your favourite movie, maybe cry it out a bit, and then move on. If only! 

Helplessness pops up when we feel defeated and pushed to just accept our fate. You might feel helpless for a number of reasons. The stress and anxiety of whatever is affecting you can start to feel like it’s just too much for one mind and one person to bear. We feel like we’re trying to find facts, reassurance, answers, but we’re left feeling like we’ve fallen off the edge of a cliff and are just grasping at the air. 

A Deeper Look at Feeling Helpless

Some experts call helplessness, learned helplessness. You’re probably thinking, “I’ve never heard of that term before. What the heck is that?” Well, learned helplessness is when a person is repeatedly exposed to uncontrollable stressors or traumatic events. They’ll eventually feel that they don’t have any options or control over what happens to them, so they stop thinking that they can change what’s in front of them, even though they do in fact have the ability to help themselves. 

But even though we say that helplessness can be a learned behaviour, don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s toooootally normal to feel this way. It’s most definitely a natural response to stressful situations, no matter how small. 

Helplessness is also rooted in our biology as humans. If you know a little bit about the brain, you’ll recognize the hormone serotonin. When we feel helpless during a stressful situation, serotonin spikes to help us try and handle what’s happening to us in that moment. But then, as soon as it spikes, it drops right back down. The amygdala also starts working overtime as well because it’s the decision-making centre of the brain. But unfortunately, despite our brain’s best efforts, we still feel helpless. 

How Feeling Helpless Shows Up Mentally 

The brain is a very resilient yet sensitive part of the body. Go ahead, give your noggin a little pet because your brain does a lot of work for you. In a traumatic instance that causes you to freeze and feel helpless, the problem-solving part of your brain says “Umm, this is a little bit too much for me right now,” and takes a little nap. When you feel helpless, you can also feel a bunch of other emotions and sensations at the same time:

  • Lack of motivation to get through challenging circumstances
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Feeling like a victim 
  • Panic
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Frustration 
  • Giving up 
  • Procrastination

Unfortunately, feeling helpless isn’t always as lovely as the song from Hamilton the Musical. It brings up a lot of negative feelings. We know that it isn’t easy to work through these intense feelings like panic and anxiety, but if anyone can, it’s you!

How Feeling Helpless Show Up Physically 

The physical manifestations of helplessness are a bit elusive. They’re connected to how you’re doing mentally and if you’re having other feelings that accompany the helplessness. If you’re anxious as well, you might be experiencing some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. If you’re depressed too, you might have some of those symptoms. It allll depends on what is going on in your mind. Here are some ways that helplessness might show up physically on its own:

  • Crying
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Repeat behaviours 

This is a hard emotion to work through. We’ve been there too, friend. We know that you’re having a hard time, but we know that you’ll get through it. We believe in you!

5 Ways to Cope with Feeling Helpless

We’re on a mission to help you DiveThru this feeling of helplessness! Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We’re gonna ask you to do something for us right now. Are you ready? Ok, take a deeeeeep breath in. Ok now relax your shoulders and let it out with a nice big exhale. Alright, now we have a little list of things that you can do to help cope with what you’re feeling. Read it over and see if one, two, or all five suggestions are techniques you connect with.

1. Journal 

Starting a journaling practice can be an amazing way to work through your emotions. Sometimes the problems we face aren’t as hard to overcome when we see them written on a piece of paper. When we take these problems out of our minds and put them in a place where we can look at them, we can then make decisions about how you want to tackle what’s ahead of us. We take the power away from our negative thoughts when we can get them out of our heads. 

2. Reach Out to a Support Person 

You might not think that your friends and family can help you get through a time like this, but they are actually fantastic people for you to lean on. If you don’t think that you have anyone in your immediate circle that you can talk to, don’t be afraid to connect with a therapist or a helpline that you can text or call. Here is a website that has a list of mental health hotlines you can contact depending on your country.

3. Engage in Compassionate Self-Talk 

Be nice to yourself! You deserve to receive the same type of compassion and kindness that you give so freely to other people. You’re going through A LOT right now, so give yourself a little bit of a break. You’re doing amazing!

4. Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is an incredible way to help reset your body and calm down your nervous system that’s working overtime at the moment. So take a deep breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, then breathe out for four counts. Keep doing that over, and over, and over to calm yourself down a bit. 

5. Positive Distraction 

Positive distractions could be anything you want them to be! What do you think would help you out right now? Would it be cooking a meal? What about watching your favourite TV show? Like we said, a positive distraction can be whateverrrrr your little heart desires!

Well, that’s all the advice that we have for now. Remember, you aren’t alone with how you’re feeling. You’ve got a million people in your corner who are ready and willing to help you out–including us!

Read More: Online Therapy 101, How to Get the Most Value From Your Therapy Appointments,