Burnout Slows Your Brain – And Makes It Hard To Learn Something New
Burnout doesn’t just affect our energy and our motivation, it can also make it very hard to learn something new. The reason for this is that an increase in cortisol decreases our short term memory retention. It’s that feeling of needing to re-read a page or a paragraph multiple times, and still feeling like it’s not quite sinking in.
So what’s the danger in forgetting something every once and a while? The danger is that it isn’t just forgetting a thing on your to-do list… it’s that burnout actually makes it more difficult for you to learn something new. So let’s dive into why.
It enlarges your amygdala
The part of the brain that controls emotional reactions. This can increase moodiness. It also causes you to have a stronger stress response when startled.
It Thins Your Prefrontal Cortex
Burnout causes the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for cognitive functioning – to thin. This happens normally with ageing but in people who are stressed for prolonged periods of time, it occurs much more rapidly.
It Weakens The Area Of Your Brain That Controls Memory
Parts of the brain that control memory and attention spans are weakened. This makes it more difficult to learn and the brains of people who are chronically burnt-out show similar damages to people who have experienced trauma. Burnout also reduces the connectivity between different parts of the brain which can lead to decreased creativity, working memory and problem solving skills.
With these kinds of extreme effects, burnout is no joke. Luckily, with the right self-care, they can be reversed. One study took a group of stressed out medical students who were preparing to take their licensing exam and found that their brains showed many of the impairments described above. However, after four weeks of relaxation, many of the changes in the brain were reversed. They also stopped experiencing the side effects such as having a short attention span and mood swings.
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