Burnout vs Depression

Similarities & Differences Between Burnout & Depression

Author: Dr Ruth Arenas  Editor: Alexander Bentley  Reviewed: Michael Por
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Burnout vs Depression


Burnout is usually thought of as something that happens professionally and caused by work stress, but the way it makes you feel can feel very similar to depression, a common definition is that it has three components to it, exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. This article will help you understand Burnout vs Depression.


Symptoms of Depression


There are the 12 symptoms of depression, it only takes 5 of them to be considered as having a major depressive episode.


The 12 symptoms of depression are:


  1. Low interest
  2. Inefficacy
  3. Cynicism
  4. Exhaustion
  5. Depressed mood
  6. Appetite change
  7. Sleep change
  8. Agitated or slowed
  9. Low energy
  10. Worthlessness
  11. Thinking problems
  12. Suicidality


With depression you have both mental and physical changes. It’s more than just thinking, “I hate my life”, because it also includes physical changes in the way your body functions like with your appetite, your sleep, and your energy levels.


Symptoms of Burnout


With burnout you get emotional exhaustion in response to a prolonged stress, you get the personalization or cynicism, as a negative response to your job and others around you.


Depersonalization is the experience of feeling detached from yourself. It can seem like you’re just observing yourself in the world and you’re not really inside of yourself. For the person who’s burned out, you can feel like you’re just going through the motions every day and you’re not really living it.


Now, a person who’s depressed, can have depersonalization experiences but there’s so much else going on that that the personalization is not a prominent feature. However, with burnout it’s a prominent feature and it’s usually related to the stress in your work, or the demands of your work, or even the demands of your home life.


The last symptom of burnout is a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. This is what is known as inefficacy. It’s like you’re just chugging along, turning out work and doing all the things everyone wants you to do, but you’re just not getting anything out of it.

Differences Between Burnout & Depression


One of the main differences between depression and burnout is that with depression, you usually have trouble getting pleasure from any of the things that you’d normally made you feel good before, and this is in any setting.


So a person in a deep depression can be flown to an exotic island, and with their own lounge chair, and that person can sit there and still feel miserable. Whereas with burnout, the sense of exhaustion stress and dissatisfaction is closely connected to the stress, so you can take that person and say hey, ‘we’ve made arrangements for someone to take over all of your work, and we’re going to fly you off to Bora Bora for a week. And when you get back, you’ll have a clean slate, there will be no work that’s piled up because Jane over there is going to take care of all of your work and she’s not going to get mad about it, and you’re going to have this whole week paid for’.


Now you may say, “who wouldn’t love that”. Well, with the depressed person, none of that stuff matters. The darkness is still in your head. So but the burned out person can go on that kind of trip, sit in the lounge chair and be completely rejuvenated and relaxed.


In fact, often people who are in the early stages of burnout, can have a complete relief of their symptoms on the weekends if they’re not working, but then they can have the Sunday evening fear.

Stages of Burnout & Depression


In the early stages of burnout, people who are burned out can become depressed11.Perceived collective burnout: a multilevel explanation of burnout – PubMed, PubMed.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21229404/. It’s not as though you can only have one or the other, but it can start as burnout and progress to depression, especially if you’re someone who has previously been depressed in the past, or you’re prone to developing a depression, independent of any of your circumstances. Depression doesn’t have to be the result of something bad happening, it can just be its own thing, without any negative situations causing it.


Another way to tell the difference between burnout and depression is that with depression, you can have feelings of self loathing and worthlessness, that are that are pretty much generalized, but with burnout, your self esteem is usually preserved, but if you do have any feelings of worthlessness, it’s usually only connected to your value and in your work, and it’s not to your overall value and self worth as a person.


Why Separate Burnout & Depression?


If a person’s burned out but not depressed, they don’t need to be treated with antidepressant medication. The way to address the burnout is to address the factors that led to the burnout.


So that leads to the question of why do people get burned out in the first place.


Christina Maslach pioneered the research on burnout. She called burnout the “erosion of engagement with your job”. When there’s a poor role fit you’re less likely to cope with the stress of your workplace, in other words, when your character and your temperament don’t match well with the demands of in the culture of your workplace, you can become burned out when the demands of work outstrip your ability to compensate for these things that aren’t clicking well for you.


So it’s not just a matter of having a lot of work to do, or being in a stressful environment. People can hold up well under great amounts of stress, if they’re feeling personal satisfaction from their work22.P. Koutsimani, A. Montgomery and K. Georganta, The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6424886/. The way to reduce burnout is to change the individual or to change the environment, you don’t have a lot of control over your environment, unless you’re self employed. So then the focus becomes learning the different ways to cope with the work setting.

Overcome Burnout


How you change yourself to better adapt to your work environment is going to be an individual thing, but below are some generally accepted ideas.


Don’t allow yourself to be infinitely available to people. We’ve developed the expectation that if you text or email someone, you should get an instant answer, but we train people to believe this by instantly responding. But suppose you check your messages four times a day in batches.


The people who reach out to you will come to expect you to respond in a more extended period of time and stop expecting an instant response. If you’re always allowing yourself to be instantly available, you’re never giving your mind a chance to unwind. An overactive mind leads to stress, anxiety and burnout.


Some other self help interventions would be things like prioritizing your sleep and making sure you get seven to nine hours. If you’re always sacrificing sleep because you’re working late.


You become inefficient because of the sleep deprivation, and then that inefficiency makes you need to work longer hours, because you’re not thinking as quickly taking time to exercise also helps relieve stress and improve your mood, taking 10 minutes in the middle of the day to decompress with meditation can go a long way in recharging and rebooting your mental energy.


Home recharge systems like those used at the world’s best wellness clinic, Remedy Wellbeing are great for helping you be able to do that in a guided fashion. Now all these things are ways to change you, but sometimes changing you, isn’t the final solution, you may, you may need to take a hard look at whether or not your job is really a good fit for you.


A therapist can help you learn to overcome Depression and Burnout. Many people use online therapy because it’s more accessible that waiting for weekly face to face sessions. Online therapy also costs less than traditional therapy for depression and depression. To learn more press here


Can you imagine this level of work for another 5, 10 or 15 years? Maybe the change is a matter of changing your work environment, or finding a different company that that does similar work, Maybe it’s similar work but in a different industry.


These aren’t easy answers but burnout and depression have negative consequences on your body. And if they persist over a long time it’s like trying to push a square peg into a round hole if you push hard and long enough, you may get that square to go through the hole, but you’ll lose the edges of the square and will be negatively changed when it comes out on the other side.


If you notice that you’re feeling more generally hopeless and taking a break from work doesn’t help, then talk to your doctor. You could start with your primary care doctor or you could see a therapist to see if you’re starting to develop a depression.


Previous: Do You Have High Functioning Depression?

Next: Depression Treatment Centers

  • 1
    1.Perceived collective burnout: a multilevel explanation of burnout – PubMed, PubMed.; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21229404/
  • 2
    2.P. Koutsimani, A. Montgomery and K. Georganta, The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 18, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6424886/
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