How to tell if you're dealing with depression vs burnout, hosted by Wellin5 online counselling platform

Is it Depression or Burnout? How to Tell the Difference

Have you ever felt completely exhausted, emotionally drained, and unmotivated? It’s not uncommon to experience these feelings, especially in our fast-paced and demanding world. While burnout and depression share some characteristics, they are not the same thing — but it can be challenging to distinguish between feelings of burnout or depression. Continue reading to unravel the distinctions between burnout vs depression and learn how to best manage symptoms.

Burnout vs Depression Defined 

Burnout and depression are two distinct but interconnected conditions that can significantly impact a person’s mental health and well-being. While they share some similarities, they fundamentally differ in their causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches. Understanding the difference between burnout vs depression can help you find an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate interventions. 

What is Burnout? 

Burnout is typically associated with chronic workplace stress and is characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Episodes often occur because of prolonged exposure to high job demands such as excessive workload, long hours, lack of control or autonomy, and a lack of support or recognition. Burnout affects a person’s ability to function effectively, both professionally and personally. It can lead to disillusionment, cynicism, and detachment from work-related activities. That’s why WHO classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon rather than a medical condition. 

What Does Burnout Feel Like? 

Like depression, experiencing burnout can vastly differ between one person and another, and burnout may increase the risk of a depressive episode. Burnout can last, on average, between three months to a year, depending on proactivity of treatment. A good way to tell the difference between depression vs burnout is to understand the symptoms. Symptoms of burnout include: 

  • Exhaustion and Fatigue: Burnt-out individuals feel physically and emotionally drained even after getting sufficient rest. They are running on empty and struggling to find the energy to perform daily tasks.
  • Decreased Performance: Burnout can cause a decline in productivity, efficiency, or effectiveness at work or other areas of life. Tasks that used to be manageable may now feel overwhelming or impossible to complete.
  • Lack of Motivation: Feeling a lack of enthusiasm, interest, or passion for activities that once brought joy or satisfaction. Finding inspiration or staying engaged in work and hobbies may be challenging.
  • Increased Negativity and Cynicism: It’s common to develop a negative outlook, become more critical, and experience a sense of detachment or cynicism towards work, colleagues, or life.
  • Emotional Exhaustion: Those experiencing burnout feel emotionally drained, sensitive, or easily overwhelmed. Minor stressors may have a powerful impact on your emotional well-being.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Burnout can cause changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) or oversleeping. Sleep may not provide adequate rest or refreshment.
  • Physical Symptoms: Burnout can manifest as physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle tension, stomachaches, or other signs of physical discomfort that do not have a clear medical explanation.
  • Decreased Satisfaction and Engagement: Burnt-out individuals have a sense of dissatisfaction, apathy, or a lack of fulfillment, even when accomplishing tasks or achieving goals. Work or activities may no longer provide a sense of meaning or purpose.

When first identified, burnout was exclusively used to describe working professionals; however, the dialogue has evolved to include various causes. Burnout can arise from prolonged exposure to any emotionally and physically demanding situation. It is also commonly found among university and highschool students

How to Recover From Burnout

Recovering from burnout requires a multifaceted approach that addresses physical and emotional aspects. 

  • Take a Break: Allow yourself to take time off work or from other responsibilities. Take a vacation or a personal day to recharge and disconnect from stressors.
  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritize activities that promote relaxation, rejuvenation, and self-nurturing. This can include exercise, meditation, getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and your personal life. Learn to say no to additional responsibilities or tasks that may worsen burnout, delegate tasks when possible, and communicate your limits to others.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, trusted colleagues, or a counsellor for emotional support. Sharing your feelings and experiences can provide validation, understanding, and perspective. 
  • Revaluate Priorities and Goals: Reflect on your values, interests, and long-term goals. Assess whether your current work or lifestyle aligns with these aspirations, and identify changes that are needed. From there, take steps to align your life with your priorities.
  • Practice Stress Management Techniques: Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily routine. This can include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, or engaging in activities that help you relax and unwind.
  • Engage in Pleasurable Activities: Find time for activities that bring you joy and fulfillment outside of work. Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or pursuing creative outlets can help restore a sense of balance and enjoyment.
  • Prioritize Rest: Include sufficient downtime in your schedule. Allow yourself to rest, relax, and engage in activities that replenish your energy.
  • Make Changes in the Workplace: If work-related factors are the primary cause of burnout, consider changing your work environment. This can look like negotiating for a more manageable workload, seeking support from a supervisor, or exploring opportunities for professional growth and career advancement.
  • Maintain Healthy Habits: Adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep hygiene. These habits can improve your overall well-being and resilience to stress.


Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. It often goes beyond life’s usual ups and downs, affecting overall well-being and disrupting daily functioning. One key aspect of depression is a deep, prolonged sadness that doesn’t seem to lift or go away. Depression can last anywhere from two weeks to several years, with the possibility of recurring episodes. 

Depression Symptoms

Although depression affects everyone differently, there are common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Persistent Sadness: Feeling down, sad, or empty most of the day, nearly every day. This sadness is not necessarily tied to a specific event or circumstance and may seem unshakeable.
  • Loss of Interest or Pleasure: Losing interest or enjoyment in activities, hobbies, or relationships that previously brought joy or fulfillment. This may feel like a general lack of motivation to engage in activities that used to be meaningful.
  • Fatigue and Lack of Energy: Experiencing persistent fatigue, low energy, or physical sluggishness. Even small tasks may require significant effort and leave you feeling exhausted.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Experiencing disturbances in sleep, such as insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness). You may find it hard to maintain a regular sleep routine.
  • Appetite and Weight Changes: Significant changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or weight gain. This may be accompanied by a loss of interest in food or comfort eating as a coping mechanism.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Finding it challenging to focus, make decisions, or remember details. The ability to concentrate may be impaired, making even simple tasks overwhelming.
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt: Having persistent feelings of worthlessness, self-blame, or excessive guilt. You may harshly criticize yourself and feel responsible for things beyond or out of your control.
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Ideation: Thinking of death, dying, or suicidal ideation. These thoughts should be taken seriously and it is crucial to seek immediate help if you or someone you know is experiencing them.
  • Irritability or Restlessness: Feeling easily irritated, agitated, or restless, even in situations that wouldn’t typically provoke these reactions. You may become more short-tempered or snapping at others frequently without knowing why.
  • Social Withdrawal: Withdrawing from social interactions, avoiding friends, family, or social events. You may desire to isolate yourself and experience a sense of detachment from others.

It is possible to recover from depression and feel like yourself again. The first step is to understand depression and to seek help from a mental health professional

Get Help For Burnout And Depression

While burnout and depression can share some symptoms, it’s crucial to recognize their key differences. Understanding depression vs burnout will help you seek appropriate support and treatment catered to your symptoms. Burnout typically arises from chronic work-related stress, leading to exhaustion, declining performance, and detachment. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent sadness, a distorted perception of oneself, and disrupted sleep patterns, and is not necessarily tied to one aspect of life. 

Whether you’re dealing with burnout or depression, don’t hesitate to seek help  — it’s the step toward finding relief and reclaiming your well-being. Feeling like you need support? A Wellin5 counsellor is available. Get support.