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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

3 Steps Out of Helplessness

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 15th 2009

not helplessThe are absolutely moments in life, some of us feel them more right now than others, where life seems at of control, everything we're doing doesn't seem to be working, and a sense of helplessness settles in. The truth of whether we are actually helpless is another story.

Past APA President Martin Seligman Ph.D. and colleagues studied Learned Helplessness in the 1960's and 1970's. In their study, dogs were administered inescapable electric shocks. At some point the dogs were able to escape, but remained passive and didn't try to avoid or escape it. The theory was that after not being able to escape from the distressing situation, the dogs had learned helplessness and "gave up" in later situation even though they actually could escape now. This situation is akin to losing hope which is a signature symptom in depression.

One thing we know is that learned helplessness can be worked on by engaging in behaviors that are effective in the face of being stressed.

Here are 3 steps you can take:

  1. Create a list of helpful strategies - Have a list ready of things to do that are effective in the fact of stress (e.g,. breathing, taking a walk, listening to music, meditation, calling a friend, etc...)

  2. Get centered - In order to employ this list we need to first get centered. Getting centered allows us to come down from the worrying mind, calm our bodies, and gain a wider, more flexible and creative approach right now.    

  3. Take action - Pick something from that list and try it out.

Get to know what works for you and continue to personalize this coping list to what works for you. If something works in one situation and not another, don't give up on it, try and reflect on why that one may have not worked while another might have.

What are some things that work for you? Please share your thoughts below. Your additions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Thoughts - Elizabeth - Jun 21st 2010

    I used to be super depressed until I read The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I keep something that he wrote on my pc desk so that I can read it daily. "Are your thoughts making you suffer?" is what it reads. I don't know why or how, but this saying really helps me every day! Hope it can help someone else too? ♥Elizabeth♥

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