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Depression vs. Burnout: Differentiating Between Work-Related Exhaustion and Clinical Depression

This article will provide a comprehensive understanding of the distinctions between depression and burnout and highlight the importance of accurate diagnosis and appropriate management strategies.

Depression vs. burnout: which one are you experiencing? While there might be a difference between burnout and depression, they share similar symptoms and can have a similar impact on your mental health. Understanding the difference between burnout and depression can help you determine what it is you are struggling with and how to get help.

There is an increasing prevalence of work-related exhaustion and clinical depression. But no matter which you are struggling with, there is help.

man with emotional burnout

Understanding Depression and Burnout

There has been a long-standing debate about depression vs. burnout and whether they are the same. Many studies have explored the difference between burnout and depression and their similarities.

Recent work has identified key differences such as:

  • Experiencing hopelessness or helplessness
  • Impact on anxiety, daily function, anger, or sadness

However, some differences suggest that burnout leads to depression. Burnout can function as a preemptive condition that leads to other mental health disorders like anxiety disorders and depressive disorders.


Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout syndrome happens when you face long-term exposure to:

  • Stress
  • Overworking
  • Pushing yourself too hard
  • Not taking care of your needs
  • Emotionally demanding situations/tasks

Burnout can happen because of several sources, even parenting. Most people, however, are commonly affected by burnout because of their careers or daily tasks, such as:

  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Athletes
  • Parents of disabled or chronically ill children

People are at a higher risk of developing burnout if they lack control over what happens in their daily lives or in their jobs, if they have limited support in their job, if they are part of a toxic family environment or work environment, if they don’t take regular breaks if they feel unsupported most of the time if they work too much without taking care of themselves if they miss out on quality time spent with friends and family, or if they are exposed to constant stress from income or food insecurity.


Depression is the most common mental health condition around the world. Different events like pregnancy, medications, or burnout can trigger several types of depressive disorders.

Where burnout is typically associated with career burnout, depression can affect anyone at any time regardless of their career, daily tasks, gender, ethnicity, income, or other characteristics.

depressed girl sitting on the floor

Key Differences Between Depression and Burnout

There are several key differences between depression and burnout, having to do with symptoms, causes, triggers, and treatment.

Emotional and psychological aspects

If you are experiencing burnout, you can struggle with a high level of emotional and psychological problems, including:

  • A loss of empathy
  • Poor work performance
  • Problems with cognitive function (like making decisions or thinking)
  • Exhaustion
  • Social withdrawal

With depression, there are similar emotional and psychological aspects such as:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Losing interest in things you once loved
  • Feeling sad most of the time
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal ideations

Physical symptoms and impact on the body

With burnout, you can experience physical symptoms like:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

Depression can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

Causes and triggers

Things like overworking cause burnout, whether it’s in training, school, parenting, or your career. Symptoms of burnout can be triggered by increased exposure to stress, overworking yourself, or placing yourself in emotionally demanding situations. There is a clear cause for burnout syndrome related to prolonged exposure to a high amount of stress.

Several things can cause depression. In most cases, a depressive disorder often has a genetic link. but depression can also be the result of untreated trauma, burnout, changes in the season, pregnancy, or addiction. In some cases, depression occurs without a clearly identifiable cause.

Treatment approaches and interventions

There are several ways that you can cope with both depressive symptoms and burnout.


Mindfulness therapy is a form of treatment that anyone can use at home, but it can also be learned in an official therapeutic setting with a team of supportive professionals. Mindfulness is a way you can train yourself to speak up for your needs, set up a self-care routine, be aware of what your body requires, set boundaries where necessary, and identify your emotions without letting them control you.


Exercise is a great way to decrease stress and control depressive symptoms. When you exercise, it doesn’t have to be a marathon or 3 hours of weightlifting in the gym. It can be something as simple as some gentle stretching before bed, walking around your neighborhood, or doing 30 minutes of dance in your kitchen.

Regular exercise releases endorphins that can boost your mood, which helps combat symptoms of hopelessness or irritability in depression and burnout. It can also help you decrease your cortisol levels when you are stressed from your job or other responsibilities.

Regular exercise can boost your energy levels, improve your cognitive function, and boost the quality of sleep you achieve. Poor sleep quality can often contribute to an exacerbation of burnout symptoms and depressive symptoms.


For burnout, one of the most important things is setting boundaries around your expectations, how you expect to be treated, the type of support you want, and when you need time for yourself. Managing burnout is much more effective when you recognize that you can’t solve every problem, and you can take breaks, go on vacation, and give yourself time to regroup.

Get professional help

There are shared symptoms between depression vs. burnout which can make it difficult to distinguish between depression and burnout. That is why it is important to seek professional help for accurate diagnosis.

In some cases, burnout leads to depression. For that reason, treatment might be altered to include cognitive behavioral therapy or medication for depression.

With professional help, you can participate in things like cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of psychotherapy that help you better manage your symptoms.

Summing Up

If you are feeling hopeless or exhausted, you might be experiencing symptoms of a depressive episode or burnout. While they have many similarities, there is a big difference between burnout and depression. Some simple tips can be used at home to manage symptoms of both, like setting up self-care routines and using mindfulness, but working with a professional can give you comprehensive treatment and therapy for your individual condition.

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