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Depression? Burnout? The Differences Explained

Depression. Burnout. You are probably wondering how are they the same? How are they different? One thing I am sure we can all agree on is that both elicit very unpleasant feelings. As a therapist in the group practice as well as in the EAP space, I encounter many clients who struggle with both depression and burnout. It can feel like that uphill battle that you can never seem to win or overcome. It can feel like you are in a valley with no sign of a peak in sight. It can be debilitating, frustrating, miserable, energy-draining, and time-consuming. In this blog I will break down burnout and depression so that we can uncover some of the similarities and differences together.

Depression is considered to be a psychological, mental, emotional, and even physical state where an individual can become compromised in a plethora of intrusive and unpleasant ways. Depression can cause one to feel isolated, experience anhedonia, apathy, develop severe mood swings, consistent irritability for a period of time, disassociation, and even hopelessness. Depression can be downright nasty when it has a hold on someone! It can be an uncomfortable season or seasons when someone goes through a period of depression and even becomes traumatizing. Sometimes one can be depressed without even knowing why they are feeling that way. Seeing as more long–term depression is a bio-chemical shift in one’s brain chemistry sometimes can have a person leading to negative outcomes they never previously envisioned. Treating depression can take time and various consistent and intentional methods to prosper.

Let’s talk about burnout (fun right?…. not so much). Burnout can be a whole different but similar beast in some ways. Burnout is a psychological, emotional, mental, or physical response to one being fatigued, drained and possibly losing temporary to permanent interest in the thing that they are developing the burnout from. Depression is more general in the sense that a person can be depressed about almost anything whereas burnout is more focused on a specific situation, issue or thing. Most of the time burnout occurs when a person is doing too much of the same thing(s) or sometimes not having enough variety in something they are doing. Usually, when we think of burnout we think of work, school, personal relationships, parenting, and repetitive tasks or situations. We all have the potential to reach a natural breaking point even if we are doing things we love to do. Usually reducing burnout can be making time for self–care, taking breaks, taking vacations, meditation, exercising, spending time with your support system, changing or reframing thoughts, and many other things.

All those wellness solutions I just named can also be applied to depression. Sometimes you can be going through depression and feeling burned out at the same time. Burnout is considered a more prolonged and gradual increase to stress levels over a period of time. Depression can sometimes be defined as stemming from a particular negative event, history, trauma, bad experience. Depression can also come out of nowhere at any time where burnout has a more linear course. I hope we have learned something together in reviewing some of the differences and similarities of burnout vs depression.

Tips for both burnout and depression:

1) Find your happy place. You need to find things that are going to bring you joy and fulfillment in whatever way it looks like for you. Find time to enjoy yourself so that you feel as filled up as you can be. This can help keep more of a balance if you are feeling burned out or depressed.

2) Talk to your loved ones when feeling down. Don’t isolate or cut yourself off from people. The time you feel like you need to disengage from everyone, and everything might be the very time you should reach out.

3) Seek professional help if you feel stuck or you don’t feel like you are moving in the direction you would desire to move. Burnout and depression can be extremely difficult for some to overcome. A counselor can help you see around corners and give you things to consider that you might have not.

4) If you have PTO, sick time, or unpaid time off, use it! I see so many people struggle with not wanting to use their time off when they absolutely need to. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day or go on a vacation or even a staycation. That time is meant for you to use and not just stockpile endlessly. Also, check to see if you have any FMLA benefits for mental health so you can take time off that way to relax and catch a breath!

Website link below for more information on burnout and depression:

By: Gianne Shah

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