depression vs burnout

Depression vs Burnout

Depression vs Burnout – they can seem like similar conditions, so how do you tell the difference? In this article, I will explore the distinctions between them.

We tend to think of burnout as something that has come out of over-doing things and being exposed to too much stress in our life. The way that it feels within your body is very similar to depression. Burnout normally includes these three factors: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency. Depression can affect you mentally and physically as well and can impact the way your body functions, like your sleep patterns, energy levels and appetite.


Burnout tends to be an emotional exhaustion as a result of high stress over a long period of time. You may have a real cynical view of your job and the people around you, and feel very de-personalized, which means you feel detached from your true self. You might think you are just going through the motions day by day and not really living. 

With depression, the sufferer may experience some de-personalization, but it is not a major factor like in burnout. Depression also doesn’t have to be the result of something bad happening. It can just be its own thing without any negative situations causing it. 

As we have mentioned, when you have burnout, you may feel like you are just showing up, churning out work and doing as you’re told, but you won’t feel like you are getting anything out of it. This is where the reduced sense of personal achievement or inefficiency comes in. 


One of the clearest ways of differentiating between depression vs burnout is that with depression you will have trouble getting pleasure from any of the things in your life that have made you feel good in the past. Whereas with burnout, the low mood, exhaustion and dissatisfaction is closely connected to the stress, so if you take them out of the situation for a couple of weeks and send them on holiday to purely rest and replenish, the symptoms are likely to alleviate.

We sometimes see people in the early stages of burnout who are able to replenish enough on the weekends to start again on Monday (after the extensional dread of Sunday nights…). I think this is how I went through so many years as a lawyer in burnout. Working like mad Monday to Friday and then staying in my pyjamas resting all weekend. This is clearly not sustainable either, which is why I work with my clients to create a life where burnout is not inevitable. 

Get Help

The key message here is that whether you think you are experiencing signs of depression or burnout, you need to get help fast before things accelerate. Know that there is help out there for you and reach out to your loved ones or to me if you need support.

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