There have been several times this past year that I have felt helpless. It’s a terrible, dilapidating feeling, of wanting to better, or rid oneself of a stifling situation, but not knowing how. On a personal level, it can feel isolating. On a public level (such as during a natural disaster), it can feel disorienting and leave one feeling like a ‘sitting duck’. My five self care tips for when you feel helpless are about taking care of you, not the situation you currently may be dealing with. Learning to focus on what can be helped (yourself) is the most important in times like these.
I know that for myself personally, the feeling of helplessness makes me angry. I will often find myself in a tailspin of thoughts, telling myself that this is my life - and no one person or incident should be allowed to my govern or overwrite my Internal State. But, it happens. And when it does, I have found that the following coping mechanisms of self care help immensely. It is my hope that they might be able to help you too.
5 Self Care Tips for When You Feel Helpless
Understand that if you are experiencing a sense of helplessness, you are experiencing a symptom of trauma
Some moments of helplessness are fleeting - they may last the duration of an argument ( perhaps a couple of hours) to several days, weeks, or even longer. Trauma affects us mentally and physically, triggering one or more of our four intuitive responses to fear: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. When this happens, try to identify the patterns that lead to these responses and feelings. Is it situational? Does it tend to happen with the same people, or places? Once you are able to identify the patterns that lead to your trauma responses you will be in a much better position to manage your reaction.
Try to limit your use of social media
Social media is a powerful tool - and it can change lives for both the better and the worst. In the 2017 Northern California Wildfires it helped to reconnect family members and alert community members of donation drop-offs and free services. Social media has also been linked to increased depression.
That being said, the day to day use of social media tends to only show the highlights of someone’s life, not the “lowlights”. If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself or your life to what others are sharing on social media, it may be time to limit your use of it for a while. Your mental health is more important than keeping up with strangers online.
Take inventory of your surroundings
In moments of heightened feelings of helplessness, if possible, close your eyes. With your eyes closed, slowly try to identify the sounds and physical sensations around you: what you do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? One by one, identify the sounds, sensations, and scents around you. Once you have been able to identify them all, open your eyes. What do you see?
Take inventory of yourself
Similar to taking inventory of your surroundings, remember to also take inventory of yourself; again, if possible, close your eyes. Ideally, this should be done alone. Seated in a comfortable position, and with your eyes closed, focus on your breath. Starting at your feet, quietly attempt to “feel” each part of your body, working up to the top of your head. Alternatively, you could also focus on your belly, and how it rises and falls with each breath. Try to do this for a minimum of five minutes.
Do something that makes you feel good
What makes you smile? Are you are feeling helpless on a public scale (such as a local disaster)? If so, try looking into donating your time, or volunteering for a local effort. Your local community center, church, or public facing organization could be a great place to start. If you are feeling helpless on a personal scale, try seeking out the things that make you happy - is it a physical activity such as hiking, or swimming? Is it writing your thoughts in a journal, or painting? Alternatively, you could also try something new that you haven’t tried before. Getting ourselves outside of our comfort zones can be a good thing!
Please remember to be gentle with yourself. Feelings of helplessness do not mean that you have “failed” in any way. Instead, it is a mental response to a trauma. While we may not always have control over the things that happen to us, we can certainly be kind to ourselves in the ways we choose to respond to them. Self care isn’t just a buzzword of the moment - it is a re-branding of a very important part of our lives. Self care is important for our mental and physical well-being: it is not something that needs to be earned, or de-prioritized to meet others needs first. You are your biggest ally, and taking time for yourself isn’t selfish - it’s quite healthy.