How learning can help you manage work stress

Written 20 September, 2018, 3 minutes to read

One of the most effective ways of dealing with work stress is probably one you’ve never considered. Unlike massage chairs and therapy dogs, your anxiety doesn’t need to be physically shaken out of you or transferred to animals. New research reveals that It just takes a little regular self-attention in the form of learning.

Ineffective approaches to work stress

Before diving in, let’s take stock of a few popular approaches to work stress that are actually highly unhelpful.

Firstly, there’s the juggernaut approach; powering on and ignore fatigue until the task’s done. While many often see it as sign of their professionalism, we need to recognize that a machine approach to stress limits quality and mental health. The more we exert ourselves while tired, the more exhausted we’ll ultimately become. It’s your classic burnout, and frequently results in crappy work.

The other popular stress coping mechanism is simple avoidance: trying to get away from it all, by taking time out and disconnecting. While this approach offers temporary respite, it just serves to postpone stress. The issue will still be waiting for you when you get back.

How learning helps reduce stress

So where does learning come in? Studies have shown that people who participate in learning activities at work can avert the negative effects of stress and enhance their mental wellbeing. By “learning” they mean developing new skills, gaining fresh knowledge, or simply pursuing innovative challenges.

How exactly? By helping employees develop two essential faculties:

  1. instrumental resources: learning can impart the knowledge needed to tackle problems. New skills themselves can be used as tools to avert future work issues in the long-run.

  2. psychological resources: from a mental health perspective, learning new skills makes us feel good; we believe in our competency, and during stressful times we’re reminded of how we can grow and develop, which fosters resilience.

Making learning at work a priority

So now you know how learning helps with stress, how can you actually implement this into your day-to-day work life?

Take on a new responsibilities

It might sound counterintuitive, but taking on more responsibility can help deal with stress. Consider expanding your existing skills or learning about other departments. This doesn’t mean suddenly trying to do accounts if you’re a creative, but there are small ways to take on new responsibilities: learn how to use that new work app, or aim to understand the monthly reports you only skim read.

Try treat stress as a positive

Changing your attitude to stress is easier said than done, but a shift in mindset can help you limit its negative impact. When a taxing situation arises, instead of panicking, try to view it as a tough but valuable chance to learn – a stride towards personal growth and long-term achievements.

View your learning as a ‘work break’

Another bit of mental reframing here: try to see your learning activities as a break, separate from work itself. If learning just seems to be even more work for you to tackle then its benefits are greatly diminished. Try to view it in the same way you would a coffee break– as an enjoyable, relaxing respite.

Collaborate and communicate

When it comes to stress, responding with two heads can be better than one. Talk to colleagues to gain new insights when challenges arise; their input lets you learn from their experiences and discover new solutions to problems.

Self-development is essential to long-term employee growth and happiness; we just need to start treating it as such. While managers can do a great deal to protect and encourage space for employee learning, we can all personally do a lot more to fit it into our everyday lives. Since new abilities and resilience only strengthen our performance, time spent on learning will always be time well spent.


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