Many people ask if burnout and depression are the same things.
While they have several symptoms in common, there are some key differences, and being able to differentiate between them is very important as the two often get misdiagnosed.
What is burnout?
“Burnout” is a phrase that is commonly used in modern life, especially in high-stakes industries and among top executives.
Primarily, burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, typically caused by stress over a prolonged period of time.
Burnout is classified as an anxiety disorder that builds up over time, typically among individuals who are trying (and sometimes failing) to live up to the impossible standards and expectations set either by themselves or other people. These expectations could come from various sources – not just work, but also financial problems, health or family issues, and difficult relationships.
That said, it is very typical among a number of high-level professionals, especially CEOs, lawyers, investors, entrepreneurs, and surgeons.
The human mind and body cannot cope with the prolonged, high-intensity stress that comes with working excessive hours and not taking time for self-care. Eventually, albeit gradually, the body becomes so overwhelmed that it shuts down altogether.
However, burnout manifests itself in other ways too. One is a growing and often overwhelming sense of cynicism toward your work. You may feel that nothing you do at work matters, even if you work harder than usual, resulting in a total loss of enthusiasm.
Another manifestation is a loss of confidence or self-belief, resulting in decreased performance which often triggers or intensifies anxiety.
Burnout is a dangerous loop that is hard to break. The higher the stakes, the harder it becomes to remove yourself from the situation.
Here are the main symptoms of burnout:
- Exhaustion / chronic fatigue
- Anxiety and constant worry
- Trouble getting to asleep and/or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks
- Reduced or poor productivity
- Restlessness or irritability
- Pessimism and anger
- Increasing isolation and social anxiety
- A strong feeling of hopelessness
- An inability to feel a sense of accomplishment
What is depression?
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. As a mental health disorder, it affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves but can also have a significant effect on an individual’s physical health.
If depression is left untreated, a wide variety of mental, emotional, physical, and behavioural problems can arise.
In most cases, depression is characterised by a negative mood, marked by persistent sadness, diminished interest in previously enjoyable activities, a feeling that nothing matters, and a sense of worthlessness. If the depression is severe, this may also be accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
Depression can be very unpredictable. It’s highly related to your personality and your personal experiences and can vary in intensity and duration.
It can happen at any moment in life and although some people are more likely to suffer from depression, it can happen to practically anyone if the circumstances allow for it.
Overall, depression can dramatically reduce a person’s quality of life. Here are the main symptoms:
- A constant feeling of sadness
- A feeling of worthlessness
- Significant changes in sleeping patterns
- An inability to feel pleasure
- Increasing isolation
- A lack of motivation
- Low energy
- Trouble thinking straight and solving problems
- Decreased or no interest in activities or socialising
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of agitation
Depression vs burnout: similarities and differences
As you can see, there is quite a lot of overlap between depression and burnout. In both cases, the individual may experience a lack of energy, negative thoughts, or low motivation, whether that is in their work life or in their day-to-day business. By contrast, the differences lie in the causes.
Burnout is caused by an accumulation of external stressors (increased workload, high expectations, etc.) during one given period – and your physiological reactions to them. Depression, meanwhile, can strike at any moment and can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry imbalances, illness, substance use, or trauma.
Because of this – and especially because burnout can lead to depression – a correct diagnosis is vitally important to treatment.
Treatment for burnout and depression
If you or a loved one has been experiencing several of the symptoms described earlier over a prolonged period of time, you may be experiencing burnout or depression.
It’s important to take action if that’s the case, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts or you find that your normal day-to-day functioning is being affected.
Talking is always the first step, even if it’s just with a close friend or family member. Though they can’t offer professional help, having people who can offer support and who will listen without judgment is key.
Feeling both safe and understood is essential to making progress. This is why therapy could be a great option, especially for depression.
In this case, treatment depends on the type of depression, its causes, symptoms, severity, and whether there are any concurrent disorders. Typically, ‘talking therapies’ (including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are used. These teach new ways of thinking and behaving, and can help change habits that may be contributing to depression.
Other complementary therapies (meditation, art therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, yoga…) may also be used alongside, as well as prescription medication, if necessary.
By contrast, burnout is treated very differently. Taking a break from your stressors is the first step. Being able to take a break, switch off and recover both physically and mentally is vital.
Wellness, in conjunction with mindfulness training and learning relaxation techniques, could be very useful in preventing a relapse. These techniques allow you to better understand your triggers and learn to adopt healthier coping mechanisms for the future.
Treatment at White River Manor
Getting guidance and advice from a professional matter. With the right professional support at hand, at White River Manor we can create the right treatment plan for you in unbeatable surroundings.
Our highly trained, experienced, and passionate staff strives to provide the highest quality care and support.
We will work hard to find the reason behind your problems and devise a personalised plan that will ensure your long-term recovery.
In our inpatient centre in the heart of South Africa, not only will you be guaranteed total relaxation and disconnection, but you’ll also be guaranteed a healthy diet, good sleep, and regular exercise – all of which can help you to refresh and return reinvigorated.
We’re here to help! If you or someone you know is struggling with burnout or depression, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.