burnout and depression

Is it burnout or depression?

Burnout and depression have similar symptoms, and they are both very prevalent conditions.

They are marked by lack of focus, fatigue, frequent headaches, and changes in feeding patterns. When not properly informed, you can mistake one for the other.

Both conditions can happen at the workplace and can hinder one’s ability to work. Dealing with them can be a real pain in the neck; managing is no option; burnout must be rooted out!

burnout and depression

When burnout doesn’t go away, it can lead to depression. Meanwhile, depression, on the other hand, puts people at risk of burnout.

How common is burnout?

According to a report, 64% (two-thirds) of Nigerian employees risk employee burnout, with the women being most vulnerable.

Still, from this survey, this employee burnout in Nigeria could lead to significant mental health challenges.

What is burnout?

Burnout is the condition that occurs when your stress and activity level outweighs the amount of rest. It is a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that is caused by prolonged excessive stress.

It may be the reason you can’t stop feeling emotionally drained and unable to meet the target. If burnout continues for long, you lose the initial motivation for your job or position that is causing the stress.

Do you need more explanation? Here is an example:

The easiest way to describe burnout is by looking at the individual words that make It up; that is, burn and out.

Fire needs oxygen, fuel, and heat to burn. As it is burning, the fuel gets reduced, and if there is no more fuel added to it, it will eventually burn out.

When the fire is burnt out, it has nothing more to provide. No heat, no light; it becomes exhausted.

This is the same for human beings.

You need energy which is the fuel to keep up your daily task, and if you do not refill, you will eventually burn out.

So burnout occurs when your energy level is low.

What does burnout feel like?

Burnout primarily has the following symptoms:

  • Exhaustion: you become exhausted or fatigued if you cannot cope with your work or position because of low energy. This exhaustion can be emotional or physical.  Some people may have physical symptoms like headaches, stomach pain, body pains, or digestive issues accompanying burnout.
  • Reduced performance: When you suffer burnout, you feel negative about your work, and it may be difficult to concentrate on a task. Lack of creativity and sluggishness can also occur, and this will affect your everyday task and performance.
  • Being alienated from work-related activities: Burnout makes you feel like your job is stressful and frustrating. You make quickly feel tired of your colleagues or numb about your work. It is common for people with burnout to distance themselves from their co-workers.

The symptoms of burnout are very similar to depression, and for this reason, people should be very cautious to differentiate between both.

Alongside exhaustion, you may notice that you have frequent headaches and quickly snap at people.

People could also complain that you are less patient and quickly annoyed or irritated than usual. You may also notice that you and withdraw from activities or isolate yourself from others. Still, that is not all.

You may also feel pessimistic about burnout related-situations like your work and caring responsibilities. It is also natural to become more resentful and low on motivation, drive, and efficiency when there is burnout doing its work.

Most commonly, people proceed from just a negative feeling to seeing ourselves as failures because of the inability to keep up with work. This isn’t just the anger and sense of annoyance, but constantly blaming themselves for not being good enough.

When not handled quickly, it is easy to feel helpless, lonely and defeated.

Causes of burnout

Most frequently, burnout is caused by jobs, and you can develop the condition if you feel undervalued or overworked, or when youhave not had a vacation for years to care for the other areas of your life.

However, burnout is not solely dependent on the job. It could be caused by lifestyle and personality traits in the following ways:

Causes of work-related burnout

  • Having a workload that is higher than your capacity
  • Feeling like you lack control over your work
  • Not being clear about your job expectations
  • Not receiving rewards that match your effort
  • Working in an unchallenging and monotonous environment
  • Working in a high-pressured or chaotic environment
  • Not being fairly treated at work
  • Having values that do not match that of your boss or organization

Causes of lifestyle-related burnout

  • Spending most of your time at work without socializing
  • Not having enough supportive relationships
  • Having too many responsibilities with little or no help from people
  • Not having enough sleep

Causes of burnout from personality traits

  • Being a perfectionist. You will likely feel like nothing is good enough and strive to make them be
  • Having a pessimistic view of your job, self, or the world in general
  • Always trying to be in control and not willing to give others a chance
  • Having a Type A personality; wanting always to be a high-achiever
burnout and depression

What are the differences between burnout and depression symptoms?

To understand the difference between burnout and depression, you need to understand the difference in the intensity of symptoms because that is the differentiating factor.

Like I mentioned before,  burnout can slowly turn to depression. Still, the intensity and duration of the symptoms you will tell what you are having.

Time offs

When having job-related burnout, it is always advised to take some time off to relieve your symptoms. This is why we benefit a lot from vacation days.

Sadly, many young people are working with private enterprises which do not give them many vacation days.

If you have burnout, you may need some time to focus on yourself and other parts of your life, such as staying friends and reviving relationships.

However, if you get away from the triggers and stresses but don’t feel better, your burnout may have progressed to depression, or what you have was initially depression.

Changing the pace

Slow things down! That is all we hear most of the time when we feel too tired to carry on.

Though changing a career or leaving a stressful job can be scary, it could help. If you cannot leave your job, at least, changing your behavior at the workplace works. However, when dealing with work depression, slowing things down may not be helpful.

In fact, getting out of your job or taking it a bit slower when you’re dealing with depression will make you less and less productive and with less money. These two can increase depression more.

Talking out

Sometimes, it is always better to talk about the problematic aspects of our lives even when we feel like burying them under alcohol, ice cream, or a stream of Netflix.

Talking to friends is extremely important when you are burnt out. It can relieve all the anxiety and stress and make it easier to handle the daily task.

However, if you’re battling work depression, just talking things out may not work.

You will need to employ other means of handling depression like drinking herbal teas, practicing mindfulness and the rest to recover. You should also consult a therapist about some valuable therapies.

Low self-esteem

At the early stage, burnout should not be associated with low self-esteem. It should just be frequently a feeling of tiredness and exhaustion and inability to do more.

If you do not deal with the issue quickly and become less productive the more, you may feel like a failure; it may lead to low self-esteem.

However, it is not very common to have low self-esteem related to burnout. Many factors determine a person’s self-esteem and work is just one of them.

So whether or not you’re able to keep up with work, the other factors should be able to make up your self-esteem until you recover from the burnout.

burnout and depression

Depression is the most significant culprit for low self-esteem. It is marked by a heightened level of feeling worthless and comparing yourself with others.

Since it may strike at places other than the workplace or where your stressors are common, it could be a bit difficult to escape the feeling.

Weight changes

You are okay and should love your body, shape, weight no matter how it is because they don’t have so much to say about your value or who you are as a person.

However, a psychologist said that when it comes to depression and burnout, sudden weight changes could indicate a mental health issue.

According to Sherry Carter at Psychology Today, many people that are burnt out usually skip meals because they don’t have the appetite or they just feel too tired to prepare their food or eat.

This leads to the most common change in weight relating to burnout, which is weight loss.

Though these appetite changes also happen with depression, people that are depressed may end up eating too much or too little. No wonder they have depression fatigue.

This is more frequent for women since there are more emotional. So, a depressed person may either gain or lose weight.


Until burnout progresses to depression, you shouldn’t feel hopeless.

With burnout, you are aware that the reason you cannot continue is that you have not rested enough, hence, lack the energy to work. You also know that with a few days rest and other remedies for burnouts, you can quickly pick up and go back to your level of productivity, if not more.

Feeling like you are worthless, hopeless and can never amount to anything is mostly a symptom of depression.

Also, feeling hopeless usually result from excessive thinking and deep sadness, which are all symptoms of depression.

Suicidal thoughts

Burnout should not be related to suicidal thoughts; depression is.

If burnout looks like depression, trust me, it is only depression at a mild state. If suicidal thoughts start coming into the picture, there is no doubt that you have severe depression.

How to deal with burnout

People get burnt out for different reasons. This could be taking up extra responsibilities at work, or having an unhealthy schedule, or caring for a loved one that is sick or old.  Sometimes, it could be endlessly chasing a goal you cannot achieve.

It is possible to manage burnout without quitting your job. You only need to apply these steps:

Pull back

  • Learn to say ‘no

This should be like the first remedy you pick for burnout. We usually lose so much to helping people to take all the tasks at the office, and this drained us. Becoming more selfish and saying no is usually an excellent way to regain our strength.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 talked about the term “self-actualization” and explained that people could only be happy when they can express themselves and achieve their potentials.

Successful leaders have come to realize the importance of self-actualization. This has helped them know how to allocate their time to people, businesses and themselves.

They know what it means to say no to more responsibilities, tasks, and even more money.

We get too scared of how people will feel or what they will think about us when we say no. Because of this, we stretch too thin just to please them.

But hell no, we shouldn’t do that at the expense of our energy. People will still think what they want even if you kill yourself for them. So, no! Tell them you won’t.

  • Delegate tasks

Learn to accept help. Doing everything yourself does not make you the strongest person alive; even the strongest warrior chooses his battles.

If there is someone you can share responsibilities with within the office, get them involved.  If you are a leader, let your team know what you are doing and create a chart for duties.

However, you should understand that it can be challenging if the person is carefree and not dedicated to the work.

If you are self-employed, it is okay to spend a little more money employing people to help with minor tasks. It will keep you productive and sane.

  • Take breaks

Your body can break down when constantly in a state of stress. So you might want to give your mind and body regular breaks from stressful projects until you’re done.

burnout and depression

Talk to your loved one or watch funny short clips on the internet between work. You can also take short walks to clear your mind of the task at hand.

Use this time to do some relaxation therapies like taking deep breaths, stretching, meditation, and avoiding your phone and other gadgets.

Whatever you do to relieve stress, it should be something that makes it easy to come back to the task at hand.

  • Set boundaries

As an employee, if your employer doesn’t just know that they are pushing you too hard, it is crucial to speak up. Let them know your limit and why you cannot go beyond.

It is important to set boundaries. If the cumbersomeness of the work makes you take some of them home to do, then talk with your employer about stopping overtime.

However, if it was a part of your job description that you agreed upon during employment, find a better schedule to handle these things.

This is where discipline and time management comes in.

  • Create time for your hobbies

We live in a world where resting and doing something fun feels like you’re wasting your time; I wonder who brought us into such a system.

Hobbies are significant and valuable for burning off stress. They also burn off the bad energy and leave you refreshed.

Going back to your old hobbies or creating new ones is a great way to balance your life.

Keep a healthy body

  • Exercise

Stress and negative thoughts have adverse effects on your body, and exercise can help you take them away.

Exercise makes your heart rate and blood pressure increase to enable your blood to pump faster and clear off the toxins.

 That is why people naturally feel better after a rigorous workout or run.

Anxiety is one of the key symptoms of burnout that you can overcome through exercise. 

burnout and depression

According to a 2004 study done by Joshua Broman-Fulks,  students who exercise were less sensitive to anxiety than those who don’t.

This is just one of the scientific studies that show the benefit of exercise on the mind.

Create an exercise routine to escape the toxicity of your workplace.

This can be challenging if you come back physically exhausted, but having a late night or early morning exercise can build energy even when you’re exhausted.

  • Eat healthy meals

Your meals are essential for keeping you energetic throughout work. So, instead of taking coffee or a bar of chocolate for breakfast or lunch, go for balanced meals.

Caffeine and unhealthy fats affect your moods, and some foods contain chemical preservatives with the same effect.

Also, reduce the amount of refined carbs and sugar you take. Though you may crave French fries and other high-carb foods, they can quickly give you an energy and mood crash.

Let your foods be rich in omega-3 fatty acids. You can find them in walnut seaweeds, flaxseeds, and fatty fishes like sardines, mackerels, salmons, etc.

Quit smoking and only drink alcohol in moderation. Though nicotine and alcohol may improve your mood for a while, you will become more anxious when their effects wear off.

Anxiety worsens burnout and depression.

  • Drink herbal teas and sleep

Most herbal teas have calming effects and soothe your mind by producing antioxidants that battle stress hormones.

These herbal teas work well for stress, depression and anxiety. They also improve focus and keep your mind calm.

Black and green tea are mostly known for this effect, but you can find others with significant calming effects here.

These herbal teas are also known to induce sleep. Take the opportunity to get the needed 7 to 8 hours sleep.

  • Avoid negative people

Negative people do you no good. They only complain and whine about how things should be done and not lift a finger to change it.

Don’t waste your time with them.

If they are a must-encounter, limit your time with them; better still, become detached when talking to them.

Renew your focus

  • Tame the feeling

Meditation works like crazy, and it has been in practice for thousands of years. You can rewire your brain and become more focused by just meditating for 10 minutes a day.

It is an excellent trick to employ when you find it challenging to complete the task before shutting down when the job is done.

However, if your job doesn’t give you time to meditate, you can use this other trick.

When you are handling a monotonous chore-like updating a spreadsheet, blank your mind from thinking about other things except for the task at hand.

When your mind wanders off constantly, you will become quickly tired more than expected. That is why concentrating on the task at hand and taking things one step at a time will help preserve your energy.

Cultivating mental focus and awareness is one of the best ways to recognize the symptoms of burnout quickly and address the underlying issue, if any.

burnout and depression
  • Review the area of challenge

Most times, your success at the job is tied to stressful activities. So, we need an easier way to do the job.

If you have burnout in this kind of situation, you may benefit from the positive consequences of writing.

Keep a professional journal and take records of your accomplishments and what is holding you back.

You may also want to set small achievable goals not to feel too overwhelmed about achieving a more significant Project.

Creating a source reward system is also essential for treating burnout. For instance, you can promise yourself a cup of ice cream or a call to your loved one when you’re done.


Burnout is severe, and whether you are experiencing it or depression, there is help.

I have mentioned some of those tips for help above, and I know that they are helpful.

Have you ever had burnout? What did you do about it?

Medical Disclaimer

The information shared on this website is gathered from researches, peer-reviewed studies and real-life observations. We aim to educate and help you live mentally strong and positive. What we share here may be controversial, but we expect you to use your intuition and judgment. Our information does not replace professional medical advice. In fact, we encourage you to seek professional help when you need it.

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