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Burnout vs Depression

By Jill Wright, Friday, April 21, 2017


(This post is by one Psychology Melbourne's clinical psychologists, Dr Giovanna Lajbcygier).

It is not uncommon in my work as Clinical Psychologist, based in the CBD at Psychology Melbourne, to come across high functioning professionals who have become very “stressed” by their work situation and may exhibit signs of “burn-out”. 

Burn-out is generally defined as the “body and mind being exhausted from work”. Lack of support, resources and tight deadlines can all contribute.

Signs and physical symptoms of burn-out can include:

  • Chronic fatigue in early stages, lack of energy and feeling tired most days

  • Insomnia

  • Forgetfulness, impaired concentration and attention

  • Lack of enthusiasm

  • Frustration and cynicism about work

  • Reduced efficacy in the workplace

  • Physical symptoms

  • Increased illness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Anxiety

These symptoms can also be found in depression, hence the difficulty in discerning which of the two might be involved.

The key features that distinguish them is that burn-out occurs in the work context. In depression, negative thoughts and feelings aren’t only about work, but about all areas of life. Other typical symptoms of depression include

  • Low self-esteem

  • Hopelessness

  • Suicidal tendencies

These are not regarded as typical symptoms of burn-out. So people with burn-out don’t always have depression. But burn-out may increase the risk of someone getting depression.

It’s important to recognise and to recover completely from burn-out. The following strategies can be recommended by your treating psychologist

  • Think about the "why". (Taking the time to identify why you experienced the burn-out and explore what you can do to resolve it, e.g. adding more autonomy to your job, delegating tasks, working from home one day a week or even changing roles

  • Focus on the basics (getting exercise, ensuring adequate nourishment and sleep)

  • Take a good vacation or a leave of absence.

  • Reassess your goals (this will help with identifying your values and thinking about what gives you meaning and what may be missing from your life or work)

  • Say "No." (Try not to take on new responsibilities or commitments while recovering from burn=out).

  • Practise positive thinking  (positive affirmations about the future, reflecting on positive aspects of your day, celebrating small accomplishments at work to help rediscover joy and meaning in your work again).

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