Are we in a state of ‘learned helplessness’?

Learned helplessness is a state described in psychology. In traditional psychological studies, it was demonstrated in animals but then quickly extrapolated to apply to humans.

Learned helplessness occurs when a person (or animal) has repeatedly experienced a stressful situation and then comes to believe that they are unable to control or change that situation. Even when the opportunity for change does arise, they do not try to change.

The march of the Coronavirus pandemic has been relentless with over 37,000 people now having died in the UK and more than 350,000 worldwide. Sadly, I feel that this has resulted in some of us experiencing learned helplessness.

There are steps we know we can take to control the spread of the virus. For example to wash our hands carefully, socially distance and only to go out when necessary. These actions do seem to have resulted in a slowdown of the spread of the disease.

But we are still being warned of the prospect of a ‘second wave’ and our social lives remain severely curtailed. We are distanced from our loved ones and some of us haven’t had a hug in months.

Some businesses may not open until 2021 – if at all

For businesses, especially those in the hospitality, tourism and arts sectors, there seems to be little light at the end of a very long tunnel. For example, many experts are suggesting that theatres and indoor performance spaces won’t be open until next year. Theatre owners can do very little about the situation, although it’s true that some have tried to come up with fundraising ideas and are engaging in lobbying activities.

As business owners and individuals, it can be very difficult to stay positive and all too easy to feel hopeless and helpless. It’s well known that learned helplessness results in lost motivation and it makes us less able to make decisions and at increased risk of depression. So we can find ourselves in a vortex spiraling further down into the dark.

I’m sure many of us have felt all or some of these things since lockdown began in March. Despite Government assistance programmes, some businesses will never recover and those that do survive will have to implement new ways of working.

It’s so important that we do not lapse into learned helplessness.

It’s difficult, but we need to remain positive. The current situation will end – eventually. In the meantime we can seek support and take actions that can make us feel hopeful, rather than hopeless.

  • Seek advice on how to access Government assistance programmes. 
  • Embrace new technology to maintain contact with our clients, colleagues, family and friends.
  • Plan for the future, think about how your business can adapt and look forward to better times.
  • Undertake some CPD to prepare yourself for the future – there are many free seminars out there, for example from the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Continue to follow Government guidelines to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS.
  • Seek additional help if you need it, either from your GP or organisations such as Herefordshire MIND.

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