Another Way to Cope with Stress: Learn Something New

By Harvard Business Review
October 11, 2018

Picking up a skill or gathering new knowledge helps people connect to an underlying purpose of growth and development.

The process of learning something new can be an extremely useful way of dealing with work-related stress: new information and knowledge that can help solve near-term stressful problems, while equipping us with new skills and capabilities to address or even prevent future stressors.


This article is a digest of a report for Harvard Business Review that references a study of interest to physician leaders.

The research suggested that medical residents at John Hopkins University who thought their team engaged in more learning behavior “reported significantly lower levels of burnout.” The research also shows that being part of a team where others are learning might help “buffer the detrimental effects of stressful, challenging work” for those who might not be inclined to focus on learning.

Click this link to access the study: “Association Between Team Learning Behavior and Reduced Burnout Among Medicine Residents,” which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

To read more AAPL articles related to physician wellness, burnout and resilience, click here.

Psychologically, taking time to reflect on what we know and learn new things helps us develop feelings of competence and self-efficacy. Learning also helps connect us to an underlying purpose of growth and development. These psychological resources enable us to build resilience in the face of stressors.

What can you do to increase learning when faced with stress at work?

Start internally: Practice reframing stressful work challenges in your mind. When stress emerges, change the message you tell yourself from “this is a stressful work assignment/situation” to “this is a challenging but rewarding opportunity to learn.”

Work and learn with others: Instead of wrestling with a stressful challenge solely in your own head, try to get input from others. Getting out and discussing a stressor with your peers and colleagues might reveal hidden insights.

Craft learning activities as a new form of “work break”: Alongside purely relaxing breaks — either short ones like meditating or longer ones like taking days off — consider recasting learning itself as a break from your routine tasks at work. This might seem like a mere mental rebranding, but if a learning activity allows you to divert from the type of effort you use in regular work activities, and if the activity also fits your intrinsic interests, it can replenish you psychologically. 

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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