When Self-Help Leaves You Feeling Helpless

Living in a time of information can certainly be empowering. With so much readily available research about the human mind, we now have the upper hand in taking care of ourselves. But this does not come without a cost. In this age of knowledge and constant scientific discovery – and the ease with which we can access it all – we are bombarded with ways to help ourselves. If you’re like me and love the idea of self-help, you can easily become obsessed with it. While undoubtedly a noble quest and one we should all aspire to, it can become overwhelming.

We all like to believe we have choices – A vs. B. We weigh the pros and cons and base our decision on the value of those scales. I personally do not respond well to choice. It gives too much credence to the notion that I might make the wrong one, making me responsible for any negative impact. This serves as an example of a highly privileged problem to have – an inability to make decisions from the position of having choices.

Nonetheless, each day most of us choose to live in the same way. We all relive the same thoughts and behaviors from the day before (and the day before that), leaving very little room for something as novel as a choice. 

We only force ourselves to look inwards in times of stress, mental health instability, or unhappiness. Personally, as someone whose battled with anxiety for well over a decade, I have tried and tested many modern “self-help” techniques. I am both a willing ear and an eager consumer of new phenomena, though I often fall short in perseverance.  

I click on the links and, as per the problematic pact we make with social media, I become a magnet for anything remotely related to health. Article after article, I find myself drowning in a sea of self-help. I wake up in the morning and feel immense pressure to help myself – an utterly contradictory notion. I add stress in an attempt to de-stress. A to-do list that reads, “journal, meditate, exercise, walk barefoot outdoors” is surely the opposite of inspiring.

The modern woman – a typical subscriber to self-betterment – is already under significant pressure. The struggle of making an active choice to spend ten minutes meditating instead of hoovering is entirely real. What is also very real is the guilt we experience if we cannot achieve it all. But what is paramount to remember is that you do have a choice. In a way, you have already chosen that some form of change is necessary. And wouldn’t you much prefer a clean mind to a clean floor? This is perhaps an oversimplification, but we sometimes need to lay it bare to give ourselves clarity. 

So much of what we experience, particularly when it comes to mental health, is a sense of powerlessness. But knowledge is power. If you have equipped yourself with the knowledge and techniques that empower you, you no longer rely on your circumstances changing to fix the problem.

Choosing what works for you can be challenging, as a medical physician and all-around health and wellbeing guru Dr. Rangan Chatterjee notes, “If I give my patients one option of an activity to help improve their health, they usually do it. If I give them three options, they do none of them.”

To again oversimplify, choose one thing to do each day and do it. Then, keep doing it until it becomes a habit. Once this no longer feels like an active choice or a “to-do” item, just like brushing your teeth, consider adding another component. Before you know it, your morning affirmations and five minutes of mindful breathing will feel like second nature. And you will find yourself feeling better.

Most importantly, remember that part of this self-help journey is to be gentle with yourself. Each day is part of a continuum, and one bad day doesn’t negate what has come before and what is yet to come. There is always a choice each day; if you can take that initial dive, self-help will feel less like drowning and more like swimming in a sea of change.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Featured image via Valeria Ushakova on Pexels


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