Burnout Or Depression? How To Pinpoint And Combat

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May 12 2022, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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Let’s not sugarcoat the truth: Our modern work environment was not designed with our mental health in mind.

Shoddy boundaries, demanding schedules, and toxic hustle culture have left many of us struggling to cope—especially women. A whopping 49% of women reported “feeling depleted from their work,” according to a 2021 study.

The line between simply feeling burnt out and suffering from depression can be a blurry one. After all, both conditions can lead to feelings of despair and helplessness. So how can you tell the difference?

The Difference Between Burnout And Depression

Before you can address the problem, you need to be able to identify it, and that’s not always easy. After all, depression and burnout share a lot of the same symptoms, including exhaustion, feeling down, and reduced work performance.

According to Dr. Victoria McCann, an LMHC-certified therapist who specializes in treating anxiety and depression, the best way to determine which mental beast you may be wrestling with is to trace back the roots of your feelings.

“Depression and burnout hold many similarities, including feelings of exhaustion, sadness, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, as well as changes in your sleeping and eating habits,” says Dr. McCann. “However, I believe the best way to distinguish between them is to consider the root cause of the negative emotions you are experiencing.

“While there may be crossover in the symptoms, the root cause is likely distinct for burnout: your job. Whereas the root cause for the symptoms of depression are likely harder to pin down, as depression symptoms are longer-lasting, more severe, and impact a broader cross-section of your daily life activities.”

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If you can’t seem to narrow down your feelings to a specific trigger, then it’s best to speak with a licensed mental health professional to get a better idea of what you may be dealing with.

However, if you’re pretty confident that your feelings are job-related, then you may be suffering from burnout.

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How To Manage Burnout

Do you have to drag yourself to work every day? Daydream about handing in your two weeks’ notice? Feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up without any hope of ever getting ahead?

These are all signs that you may be suffering from burnout. Use these expert tips to course-correct before you reach your breaking point.

Do a time audit.

You can’t begin to better manage your time if you don’t know where it’s going. Licensed therapist Katie Luman recommends doing a tie audit for two to three days. Write down everything you do and how long it took—and be super-specific.

“Did you spend 10 minutes scrolling on your phone in between Zoom meetings? Write it down. Did you skip lunch in order to catch up on emails or household chores? Write it down. Pay attention to what part of the day you feel most energized and when you feel most depleted.”

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Set strong boundaries.

“Me time” doesn’t exist unless you create it. If you want to prevent burnout, you need to be proactive about setting boundaries, both at work and at home.

“Burnout is often fueled by a lack of self-care and boundaries,” Luman adds. “Making small changes in your work-from-home schedule can breathe new life into your daily grind.

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Here are a few of Luman’s suggestions:

  • Change up your environment.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” on your lunch break and take a power nap or get outside for some sunlight.
  • Protect your personal time by leaving your laptop in your office at the end of your workday.

“You should start to notice a difference in your mood, attitude, and energy level when you start to prioritize your self-care and have boundaries with yourself around work.”

Prioritize Self-Care

When you’re running on empty, your rituals and routines are usually the first things to go. To restore some balance, SoFi career expert Ashley Stahl suggests prioritizing the things that make you feel good.

According to Harvard Business Review, it’s essential to replenish your reserves,” Stahl says. “Boost your physical and emotional energy. Prioritize sleep. Take up meditation or journaling. Do things for you—that rejuvenate you. That can be anything from going for a hike once a week to taking an art or music class.”

If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, constantly exhausted, or just generally “off,” it’s important to take a step back, assess what might be going on, and if necessary, seek professional help. By being honest about where you’re at and taking proactive steps to course-correct, you can prevent burnout before it becomes a bigger problem.

Updated 7/21/2023

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By: Emily Blackwood

Emily Blackwood is a freelance writer living in San Diego. She’s been featured in publications such as  HuffPost, YourTango, Foundr, The Bolde, and San Diego Home and Gardens Lifestyle Magazine. You can find more of her work on her website.

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