If you’re feeling not yourself during this pandemic, you are not alone. Many people are off their game or feeling burned out during this pandemic.
The classic symptoms of burnout are feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness. In addition, while burnout isn’t recognized as a medical term in the United States, it is considered an occupational disease in the European Union and a legitimate diagnosis by the World Health Organization.
Moreover, according to one study, women are more likely to struggle with the condition and report higher levels of burnout. Men also suffer from burnout and exhibit different symptoms. Moreover, the reasons for burnout while working from home can vary dramatically among different remote workers during this period of uncertainty and routine change. The research shows that women tend to burn out because of emotional exhaustion, and men burn out because of cynicism.
First, it’s important to understand that burnout is more prevalent when people feel a loss of control, as if they are treated unfairly, or disconnected from others. Burnout tends to start with exhaustion and quickly migrates to shame or doubt about the ability to get things done well. It develops into cynicism and finally a feeling of helplessness. It tends to happen under conditions of chronic stress.
One surprising strategy to mitigate burnout, and to feel more “sparked,” is to take on a new challenge; better yet, dive into learning.
The power of learning
If your plate is full, adding something new may seem counterintuitive, but seeking development can be the solution to the feelings that go along with burnout. To approach learning in a healthy way, keep the following benefits in mind.
Learning expands your perspective
Finding ways to develop your skills, whether through learning a new language or developing a new functionality at work, can help you extend your view. When you’re struggling or stressed, your worldview can close in. When you are aware of new opportunities, the horizon broadens, thereby mitigating your feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
Learning increases your effectiveness
Learning for the sheer practice to learn is one of the most important skills children develop—and the same is true of adults. Gaining certain knowledge will help you in the short term, but a long-term ability to learn will benefit you even more, improving how you “flex” in response to challenges.
Furthermore, learning new things reminds you of your effectiveness and adaptability. If you are bored at home, learning a new hobby can keep you going. Or if you’ve hit a wall at work, raising your hand for a new project—and the “stretch” it will entail—can get you back on track and increase your motivation.
Learning connects you with a new network
When you’re feeling burned out, you are likely also feeling disconnected; learning can link you with new people and resources.
For example, taking a project management class puts you in touch with people who share your interests. And attending a networking event opens up the pathways to learn from someone more senior. Feeling that you are part of a community can help you feel less exhausted and fried.
How to learn effectively
When you’re charting your path away from burnout, plan your learning using a few of these guidelines.
Learn within your core areas
You’re already proficient in certain skills—so seek to deepen this expertise. If you’re great at leadership, further develop your skills in empathy or bigger-picture ideation. If marketing is your strength, deepen your capabilities with the latest strategies around online reach and persuasion techniques
Another key way to develop your skills is to teach others. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
You have to understand something deeply to explain it. And knowing how to do something is terrific, but showing others adds another layer of capability. Teaching helps others learn, but it also helps you learn.
Embrace the informal
When you’re thinking of developing skills, don’t think only of formal classroom opportunities (online or otherwise). Consider informal opportunities as well, such as getting in touch with people who excel in certain areas you have an interest in or networking in groups with specific capabilities.
Make an impact
Learning for yourself is fine already, but it is made even better when you learn while helping others. Consider joining a Habit for Humanity build and learning carpentry skills. Join the board for your local women’s shelter and develop your management skills, or help out at a local animal shelter and hone your dog-training skills.
As a general rule around learning, approach it with intentionality. As you leave school and get older, you may not have as many opportunities for learning, so being proactive about seeking them out is critical.
If you feel burned out, turn to learning as a healthy solution. Look for opportunities to expand your view, improve yourself, and to make new connections. All is not lost, and learning a new skill can bring new spark to your life.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.