Self-Handicapping, Depression, and Covid-19



Covid-19 has changed nearly every aspect of life as we knew it. Turmoil and chaos are becoming the norm. Grocery stores are empty, schools are closed, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the deaths continue to pile up. With all of this going on around us, how could we possibly be expected to continue on with classes as normal? At what point does the mental health of students, professors, and personnel prevail over profits? Am I self-handicapping by thinking the expectations placed upon us are absurd considering the unprecedented situation we find ourself in? Am I depressed because of my feelings of helplessness because I know there is nothing I can do? It’s almost ironic – learning psychological terms and theories – anxiety and depression, and then being diagnosed with them because while everything is falling apart around me, I’m expected to continue performing academically as if nothing has changed. Scratch that – it’s not ironic. It’s disgusting.

“According to the social psychological concept of self-handicapping , people act in ways that may undermine their subsequent performances, thereby having anticipatory excuses for potential failures.” (Gruman, P.563) What if the anticipation is logical? What if the anticipation is statistically probable? “Zuckerman, Kieffer, and Knee (1998) found that among college students, higher self-handicapping scores were directly correlated with lower GPAs, less time spent on academic work, and less efficient exam preparation.” (Gruman, P.563) My cumulative GPA isn’t the best at a 3.42, but I did get my associates degree with a 4.0 and the President’s honor roll distinction. So far this semester my lowest averaged grade out of the 3 classes I’m taking is a 97. So again, am I self-handicapping? Am I making excuses because I’m anticipating failure or is failure unavoidable? How does it make sense that while I’m figuring out how to homeschool my two children, while I’m worried about my father that has congestive heart failure and refuses to self-distance, while my husband’s job and my families livelihood is as novel as this virus that there still isn’t a standardized treatment, cure, or vaccine for, and while my life and the lives of everyone else in this country and around the world are being turned upside down, that we are expected to continue on with blog posts and exams like there aren’t mass graves accumulating in Iran (Cunningham) or refrigerated trucks and makeshift morgues full of dead bodies in NY. (Annese)

Does my pessimistic outlook mean I’m depressed? According to the doctor I spoke to from 98point6, it does. The specific diagnosis is – Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. Are the academic expectations the sole reason for the diagnosis that I received yesterday? – Definitely not… but to think that they aren’t compounding the issue is preposterous. “The 1978 human model was called the attributional reformulation of the learned helplessness theory of depression . The attributional model proposed that people are depressed because of the attributions they make for why unfortunate things happen. According to the model, people who are prone to depression make pessimistic attributions that cause them to believe that there is nothing they can ever say or do to change their unfortunate circumstances. Technically, such a state of mind is called a negative outcome expectancy (discussed earlier) or simply helplessness. According to the 1978 model developed by Seligman and his colleagues, helpless thoughts about the future prompt symptoms of depression.(Gruman, P.152) I think it’s pretty clear that I feel helpless and that  my mental health is suffering (and let’s be fair if I didn’t feel helpless and I actually believed I could change anything or thought I come up with a cure for Covid-19, I would be delusional) – I’m not naive enough to think that my academic performance isn’t going to be affected but I also don’t have the luxury of taking the time I need for my mental health, because – student loans and I need the grades to raise my GPA for grad school. I also know that I can’t be the only person struggling to adapt. I know that the solutions given to us by administrators – when we’ve worked so hard all semester to maintain and excel aren’t sufficient. Penn State University has failed me, failed my fellow students, my professors, and the personnel. So again, why am I writing this blog post and why are you reading it as if nothing has changed and it’s business as usual?



Annese, J. (2020, March 26). NYC builds massive makeshift morgue near Bellevue Hospital. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from

Cunningham, E., & Bennet, D. (2020, March 12). Coronavirus burial pits in Iran so vast that they’re visible from space. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2016). Applied social psychology : Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Retrieved from



  1. The world is definitely in a weird place right now. There are people who think the world is ending, there are people who think that this is all a set up for something bigger, the information people are obtaining is confusing, lives are being lost sadly, etc. When thinking about going into this new year and the expectations I had for it, I never in a million years/in my wildest dreams expected that we’d all be locked up in the house for months, wondering what’s going to happen. As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, as Rogue also said, just know that you are not alone in how you feel and can support each other through technology, so no need to hesitate if you need to reach out. In terms of dealing with current times, while being already enrolled in online courses before any of this Covid-19 stuff began, a lot of college students that I know that had to transition from campus classes to online classes, think that I’m lucky because I’m already used to taking online classes. They assume that apparently nothing must have changed for me. The reality of it is that even though I was already doing online classes before all of this, life has changed for me. I can’t work, I can’t go to the library, I can’t focus, I have no idea what’s going to come of the next few months in the world, I can’t see my loved ones for a while that aren’t currently in my house, I constantly worry if everyone I know from all over the world is okay and safe, I worry about all of the medical staff in general who are facing this thing upfront and risking their lives (including a whole lot of people I know), what will become of the next semester for school, and the list goes on! You’ve brought up an interesting question as to whether or not the mindset during everything going on currently would be considered self-handicapping or not. With all of the panic and having to try to act like life goes on, are we handicapping “our own performance on a task” so that we can have an excuse that’s prepared for future failure? (Gruman, Schneider, Coutts, 2016). I found it interesting how the textbook talks about how there have been teachers that have encouraged the concept of self-handicapping in their classrooms (Gruman, Schneider, Coutts, 2016). Again, you’re not alone in this! All in all, I hope that things get better for you, as well as the rest of us and hopefully we can soon get back to a life without all of this panic. Thank you for sharing!

    Works Cited:
    Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2016). Applied social psychology : Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Retrieved from

  2. I agree with your sentiments about how many situations during the COVID crisis are dictated by profit and the economy rather than what would be beneficial to the average person. I understand that government officials are attempting to keep the economy and society functioning as much as possible during this crisis despite the quarantine measures being taken. Despite this, more consideration into the severity of this issue has been necessary since day 1, however the United States has been very slow to respond to any of this.
    Thank you for opening up about your own worries, I think that venting to others during this time may be our best solution currently. Even if your grades have not necessarily shown self-handicapping, I understand how taxing this situation can be for a lot of us. The mental stress of waiting in quarantine for something bad to potentially happen cannot be good for all of us, and has been effecting some more than others. I hope administrative officials begin to acknowledge this fact, especially with online courses, since the student population is so varied. Additionally I share your worries about negative outcome expectancies during this time considering that we are forced to be inactive and simply wait and wonder how bad things are going to be. I hope you know that you are not alone in your pessimistic thoughts at this time, and even if we cannot connect in-person, we still all have access to each other through technology and can provide support for one another during these stressful times.

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