Why You Feel Helpless and What to Do About It

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American psychologist Martin Seligman initiated research on learned helplessness in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania as an extension of his interest in depression.

Learned helplessness manifests as avoidance, procrastination, attention deficiency, and a feeling on non-application of will to the task at hand.  Researchers showed that by administering a drug related to the benzodiazepine class, used to treat anxiety disorders, the rats responded to stimuli more readily.

Although we associated learned helplessness with depression, more often the intense stress of the task coalescent with an energy deficit in the organism increases feelings of malaise.  Anxiety may be analogized to a psychological pain response, while depression (and apathy) exist as a complete lack of engagement in the stimuli all together.


“Rats were injected with chlordiazepoxide 30 min before a situation of uncontrollable stress, or 30 min before an FR-3 escape test 24 h after the uncontrollable stress. Only in the latter situation they reduced their response latencies. The conclusion was that helplessness after moderate stress (i.e. electric shock) resembles a state of anxiety. Anxiety can be described on a behavioural level as inhibiting the ongoing behaviour. Therefore an explanation in terms of anxiety is in agreement with Weiss’ inactivity hypothesis and with the results of the study by Drugan et al., who also emphasized the role of anxiety or fear in learned helplessness experiments.’

Both depression and anxiety appear in the context of chronic elevations of serotonin and subsequently cortisol, so substances that tend to lower these would be useful; substances like nicotine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and its derivatives, 5HT3-C receptor antagonists like ondansetron (Zofran), cyproheptadine (Periactin), mianserin and its derivatives (mirtazapine [Remeron]) all may be used to attenuate the excess of serotonin.  Coffee (or caffeine) may be used, but its tendency to increase anxiety in moderate doses necessitates a self-evaluation of the proper amount; niacinamide with aspirin may be used to counter its effects on lipolysis, and other gabergic drugs besides niacinamide such as l-theanine, (nicotine again), taurine, and glycine will further attenuate the anxiogenic effects of caffeine.  In theory, both aspirin and niacinamide should protect against nicotine’s lipolytic effects.

Administering a thyroid supplement can assist in lowering anxiety if the pulse if below around 80 BPM as an average throughout the day with an average temperature below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Either with or without a thyroid supplement, inhaling and exhaling into a closed system (such as a brown paper bag) will raise blood CO2 levels, which will further dilate and relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure and attenuate anxiety.

Progesterone may be used to relieve anxiety, but it powerfully stimulates the thyroid and may cause a surge of adrenaline, or it can trigger a transient mimic of a thyroid storm.  Pregnenolone may be used safely in doses up to 500 mg orally, or a 1/10 of the amount may be used on the skin with DMSO as a solvent, and this goes for progesterone as well.  Pregnenolone will powerfully lift feelings of learned helplessness in the context of good thyroid function.


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