While the features of burnout may mirror symptoms of depression, burnout is not a diagnosable, clinical condition like depression is. Burnout is more a state in which people experience exhaustion and increased cynicism that may lead to lack of personal accomplishment.1,2 If burnout persists, it is possible that such feelings can manifest from exhaustion into full-blown clinical depression with more severe symptoms.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout is a word used to describe a state of emotional, social, and physical exhaustion. It’s typically linked to work burnout or job stressors, but any aspect of life can leave you feeling burnt out including parental burnout or caregiver burnout. When we experience burnout, it can feel big and all-consuming.
Burnout Signs & Symptoms
With burnout, you may start to notice you have a negative attitude towards clients, consumers, or colleagues.2 When people don’t feel accomplished, productivity may be affected, which in return, perpetuates a cycle of workplace dissatisfaction.2
Common signs and symptoms of burnout include:
- Lack of motivation or interest
- Mental fatigue
- Poor work performance
- Sleep issues
- Feelings of intense pressure
- Feeling unaccomplished
- Having escape fantasies
- Generally feeling unwell
- Identity issues
Risk Factors for Developing Burnout
Anyone can experience burnout at any point in their life, but people with high stress or emotion-focused jobs may be at a higher risk for burnout.
Additional risk factors for burnout may include:
- Working too much with no clear boundaries between personal/work life
- Lack of support in the workplace, at home, or with caregiving responsibilities
- Feeling like you’re being judged or scrutinized by superiors
- Unclear values at work
- Feeling like you lost track of your own goals
- Being pushed in several different directions
- Being in a state of fear or constantly being threatened at work
- Difficulty managing interpersonal relationships at work
- Frustration with “the system” or governing bodies that impact your daily work
- Secondary and vicarious trauma responses
What Is Depression?
Depression involves a low mood and feeling of sadness and hopelessness. These issues come with feelings of tiredness, focusing on the negative and thoughts of self-harm. Depression can also come after the high of an anxiety attack, though depression is marked by a chronic sense of low feeling even during a high period of anxiety.
Depression Symptoms & Risk Factors
Depression includes symptoms such as loss of interest or pleasure in doing things and a noticeably different change in perspective and experience. There are many depression symptoms. For example, what used to bring someone joy may not have the same effect on someone while they are depressed.
Depression may also cause physical symptoms like chronic fatigue and increase or loss of appetite. Depression can be extremely debilitating, causing some individuals to isolate and lose the ability to function. It can impact many important areas of functioning, including social relationships, work, and/or school.
Common signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of emptiness
- Low energy
- Restlessness or moving around more than usual
- Observable changes in behavior
- Lack of self-worth
- Feelings of physical pain
- General thoughts about death, dying or suicidal ideation
Risk Factors for Depression
Anyone can be at risk for depression but some individuals are at a greater risk than others, including those with a family history of depression, unresolved grief, or anyone with adverse childhood experiences.
Risk factors for depression may include:
- Family history and genetics
- You own mental health history
- Increase or change in substance use
- Unresolved grief, feelings around loss
- Sudden life changes
- A big move or change in jobs
- Breakup or divorce
- Anyone with a history of adverse childhood experiences or trauma history
Burnout Vs. Depression: Key Differences
While there are overlapping symptoms of depression and burnout, such as loss of interest, low mood, and difficulty concentrating, there are also major differences.1 To meet criteria for depression, someone must exhibit a combination of symptoms lasting at least two weeks.3 On the other hand, there is no strict timeline to determine what meets criteria for burnout.
Here are key differences between burnout and depression:
How Long Symptoms Usually Last
There is no definite timeline for burnout, but you can expect symptoms to be present for at least weeks to months in order for you to consider it to be burnout. Similarly, depressive episodes must last at least two weeks but can last months or years. There are many types of depression depending on severity of symptoms.
While prolonged stress may play a role in causing depression, removing the stressor doesn’t exactly “cure” the depression. Depression can be circumstantial or genetic and passed down through families. Additionally, burnout is more complex than just normal stress; burnout affects people’s sense of purpose and their self-worth or personal significance.4
Burnout is best managed through talking with others, making time to relax, or by addressing the conflict within you. With depression, psychotherapy, and medication management is typically recommended due to the heavy impact depression can have on someone’s life.
People who are experiencing burnout, especially at less severe levels, can often continue functioning, where a key differentiator between the two is that, in depression, there is interference with functioning and often a loss of hope for the future. Suicidal thinking can also occur with depression, which makes it critical to always ask depressed people if they are having thoughts of killing themselves. – Bernadette Melnyk PhD, APRN-CNP, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, Vice President for Health Promotion, University Chief Wellness Officer, and Professor and Dean of the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University
Can Burnout Lead to Depression?
Unexamined burnout may certainly lead to depression if left unresolved.1,2 Burnout is an emotionally and physically exhausted state that can mirror depressive symptoms like fatigue and general unwellness.5 Burnout and depression do have a relationship. They are linked by the experience of stress due to lack of control over one’s environment.5
Burnout is feeling emotionally/physically exhausted as well as out of control primarily due to what’s happening at work. Depression is feeling emotionally/physically exhausted as well as out of control primarily due to what’s happening in one’s life. If a person is feeling burnout due to work stress, that can bleed into depression impacting all settings. This is true because our work identities comprise a huge percentage not only of our personal identities but also of our personal self-worth. What impacts one setting can impact the other if proper supports are not put in place. – Dr. Jacquelyn Rabouin, MFT, PhD, Psychotherapist at UC Santa Cruz
How to Manage Burnout & Depression
There are many ways one can address burnout and manage their symptoms of depression. Self-care, therapy, medication, meditation, exercise, and taking a break are all positive ways to cope with symptoms. For burnout specifically, having an outlet or an activity planned for after work may help you to balance out where you are putting all of your energy.
Here are five tips to help you manage burnout and depression:
1. Read About Depression & Burnout
Sometimes it can be hard to recognize negative emotions in ourselves. When feelings are internalized, it can be hard to separate and distinguish between what is true and what is the result of prolonged negative feedback leading to internalized shame. When we are so beaten down in our shame, it can be hard to accept that we still have a lot of positive qualities.
Reading books and stories of how people overcome adversity, even when its internal struggles, can be really powerful and empowering. When we can resonate with stories outside of our own, it can validate our story as well. It can give us hope for something better for our futures and give us the push or sign we may need to finally address these harmful emotions.
Finding a special and sacred place to meditate may also be helpful in helping you reflect and process how you’re feeling. Meditating can help us process emotions differently so we can react in a way that benefits us and helps our own personal cause. This can also help you be more mindful with yourself and remember to speak to yourself with kindness and offer grace on the hard days. It can help remind us to take things one day at a time and slow down our often fast minds. If you need help getting started, consider using a meditation app.
3. Journal Your Feelings
Writing things down gets them out of your head. Sometimes when we write down how we feel, it can help to read that out loud so we can both read it and hear it. Hearing the words helps us to realize how we really feel, as we process information differently that way. This can help us identify negative thought patterns, and explore where they come from and why. Once we’re able to sort through some of that, we can start to do the work to heal.
4. Practice Yoga
Yoga allows people to express and process emotions through their body. There are a lot of benefits to moving your body and exercising, however yoga takes that one step further as the goal tends to be finding balance. When finding balance and an emotional equilibrium is at the center of one’s mind, it becomes that much easier to learn more about ourselves and recognize our worth.
5. Develop a Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is a great way to become more self-aware. Mindfulness practices embrace finding your inner voice and listening to this inner voice to help guide you. This is the time when you are also more accepting of all the things in your life that truly bring you joy and peace.
Treatment Options for Burnout & Depression
Just like with depression, it is important to do the work of forming new habits. Burnout-focused therapy may include stress management, values work, and distress tolerance skills. Cognitive and behavioral approaches are widely accepted as the first line in how to treat depression and burnout.
When to Seek Professional Help Depression vs. Burnout
It is a good time to seek professional help if you are feeling mentally exhausted for any reason. It is important to work with a professional who can give you a proper diagnosis or see a doctor who can rule out serious medical conditions.
Experiencing any thoughts about self-harm, death, or suicidal ideation is a big warning that you or your loved one needs more support than they currently have. For those in the helping field, there is an increased risk of suicide due to professional burnout and working a high-stakes career that involve end-of-life situations.6
Reputable resources to help with suicidal thoughts include:
- Calling 1-800-273-TALK(8255) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline)
- Texting the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741)
- Calling your local city or county crisis helpline
- Crisis Text Line: Text “DESERVE” TO 741-741
- Lifeline Crisis Chat: Live Online Messaging
- Call or text 1-877-870-HOPE(4673) to reach volunteers at Samaritans
How to Find a Therapist
One great way to find a therapist for burnout or depression issues is by searching an online therapist directory. All licensed therapists are equipped to help people struggling with mental health issues such as depression and may have formal training in treating this issue. Reading reviews and looking at clinician bios to understand the scope of their practice can give you an idea of whether their experience suits your situation. Many therapists offer a free phone consultation to help you know if you’ll be a good fit.
Another way to locate a therapist is by referral, which can come from your physician or another healthcare professional. Healthcare providers often have access to a network of other providers who can be helpful. Going through your physician or specialist is also a great way to keep them in the loop about any treatment options or trauma experienced.
Final Thoughts on Burnout Vs. Depression
While burnout and depression may have overlapping symptoms, they are separate conditions with major differences. Depression is a diagnosable disorder whereas burnout is more of a state or condition that is typically more easily resolvable and preventable. With both, it’s important to reach out for support and address symptoms and conflicts before your condition worsens.