We often hear people say, “I’m so burned out.” We also hear people say, “I’m so depressed.”
In other words, people commonly feel some of the symptoms of both burnout and depression.
However, these are two serious conditions. If you’re facing clinical depression or serious burnout, then you may need help to recover.
Whether or not you seek professional help, you will want to understand both burnout and depression.
One good starting point is to figure out which condition you are struggling with. This can be challenging since depression and burnout look very similar.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of chronic stress. Work often causes burnout. However, other ongoing stress, such as caring for someone who is chronically ill, can also cause burnout.
Burnout isn’t a clinical diagnosis. However, it is something serious that many psychologists are familiar with. Burnout isn’t just a bad day or a rough week. Instead, burnout is an ongoing condition that affects health and well-being over a period of time.
What is Depression?
Depression is a clinical diagnosis. It has many symptoms and can look different for each person. However, as with burnout, it is an ongoing condition. It impacts health and wellbeing for weeks, months, or even years on end.
Similarities Between Burn Out and Depression
The biggest similarity between burnout and depression is that they impact your daily wellbeing and quality of life. They can impact your ability to function, to feel joy, and to connect with others. They are pervasive, ongoing, and hinder you in some way.
Here are some additional similarities, or signs that are seen in both burnout and depression:
- Changes in appetite and/or sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy
- Feeling cynical and/or detached from others
- Feeling down, blue, negative, irritated, or numb
- Reduced performance at work or school
- Less enjoyment for things you used to like
- Physical symptoms such as digestive issues and headaches
- Problems with attention, concentration, and memory
The Difference Between Burn Out and Depression
So, if the two conditions can look so similar, then how can you tell what you’re dealing with? There are some key differences to consider.
First of all, the cause may be different. Burnout is caused by chronic stress, whether work-related or some other stressor. In contrast, depression doesn’t necessarily have a clearly identifiable cause. It can be triggered by trauma, loss, or stress. It may also have a genetic component. Therefore, if your feelings are clearly caused by chronic stress, then you’re probably dealing with burnout. If you leave the stressful situation and it resolves, it was burnout. In contrast, if there is no clear cause, or if reducing stress doesn’t resolve the issue, then you might be dealing with depression.
Related to this is the issue of specificity. With burnout, you typically feel depression-like feelings in relation to a specific situation. For example, you no longer enjoy your work but do still enjoy other activities. In contrast, depression is pervasive. You feel hopeless about all areas of life. If your feelings are accompanied by low self-esteem, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and/or suicidal tendencies then you’re likely dealing with depression.
There is also an interesting link to cortisol that may reveal more information to us in the future. Early research indicates that people with burnout have too little cortisol. In contrast, people with depression produce too much cortisol.
Of course, these nuances are not easy to distinguish. Furthermore, you can be dealing with both burnout and depression at the same time. Burnout itself can increase the likelihood of depression. A professional psychologist can help you better understand your situation while working to improve it. Please reach out, I’m here to help.