Are Learned Helplessness and Anxiety Linked?

Are Learned Helplessness and Anxiety Linked?

Learned helplessness is a state people can fall into when they connect with negative stimuli as they try to get away from what is considered a dangerous situation. Most of us don’t have real danger to escape but sometimes there is abuse, trauma, neglect and harm that causes us to want to get away. The concept of learned helplessness plays a large role in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). If you feel helpless, you may give up looking for a solution. Inaction may make things worse over time.

Learned Helplessness and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Learned helplessness often beings at a young age when kids are little. Scientists think that distant parenting can make things worse as the child learns early on they are helpless and parents will not come to help. Growing up with parents who suffer can also make children more susceptible. Over time, anxiety can build and this becomes a normal state of being and it is hard to shift that without professional help.

Vicious Cycle

The learned helplessness and anxiety symptoms form a vicious cycle. If the child is anxious and cannot be soothed, he or she feels like nothing may be done and learned helplessness sets in. the more he or she accepts this, the more anxiety takes hold. Symptoms may include:

  • Frustration
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Difficulty sleeping


While learned helplessness can be a serious problem, it can be successfully treated if targeted by a mental health professional. Studies have found that if people receive intervention at the onset of learned helplessness, it can be decreased through therapy and coaching. Even at later stages, improvements can be made with regular work.

Getting Help

Not all people with GAD experience learned helplessness. It develops over the course of time with certain factors at play. Genetic and environmental factors increase a child’s likelihood of developing both GAD and learned helplessness. If you feel stuck in a pattern of learned helplessness, visit a professional for an evaluation and seek support for addiction issues which co-occur as it is challenging to battle all this alone. There is hope and healing on the other side of addiction and mental health challenges.

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