Stress, Depression, or Burnout? How to Tell the Difference

Stress, Depression, or Burnout? How to Tell the Difference

As a freelancer, I work for myself.


My goals are met as a result of my motivation to 1) wake up early 2) prioritize my responsibilities and 3) kick ass. Days are spent pitching, emailing, and meeting deadlines, so in some ways I’ve internalized the thought that rest is for the wicked.

Except that this lifestyle choice has also come with a deep understanding of what the difference between stress, depression and burnout can mean.

Personally, I’m driven by a certain level of pressure in my day to day tasks. While stress is the cause of too much, burnout, a term that is being used more frequently, is the cause of not enough.

Dr. Joan Borysenko states that one in 10 women work more than 45 hours a week and individuals who work more than eight hour days, five days a week, are six times more likely to experience, burnout, a new phenomenon that is affecting staggering numbers of people in the workforce.

Burnout is a serious condition where an individual cannot find any enjoyment in their work and is usually the result of prolonged stress. Additionally, burnout syndrome can occur when an individual does not have any proper growth or success in their line of work. They have hit a roadblock. As I discussed in my personal work life, I still have the stress that gets me up in the morning to work under pressure. For individuals who suffer from burn out, feelings of hopelessness and the lack of urgency to get anything done is a result of the condition.

These characteristics, for many people, sound awfully similar to depression, and not surprisingly there is a lot of overlap. However, there are still distinct differences in the two conditions that can characterize which one may be directly affecting you.

Here are some red flags you should keep in mind:

The work place leaves you emotionally drained, but you shine brightly after you clock out.

Yes, everyone is happy to clock out and go home, no matter how much you love you job, but if feelings of unbelievable exhaustion, considerable helplessness and overwhelming defeat exist during your hours at work, while your attitude at home is relatively balanced — it’s probably burn out. Getting a new job may cure burn out, while depression would withstand all forms of new positions. Not able to afford a new job? Make changes within the work place. Discuss the issue with your boss or co-workers and let it be known that this is a situation that can avoided.


Your work performance has been alarmingly reduced.

If you feel a sudden loss of desire to perform adequately at your job, when you previously felt the need to always meet its goals, this could be a symptom of burnout. According to PubMed Health, suicidal tendencies and low self-esteem at all times of the day (away from work) are a side affect of depression and should be treated correctly by a physician. Work is at the core of burnout, while depression affects an individual in all facets of their life. In order to gain back the confidence and energy that you once had, take a break from technology and prioritize your “me” time.


All of your goals have led you nowhere, so why even try?

In a career, when an individual is stressed, a vision of the future and accomplished goals keeps the worker working. However, with burnout, there is no vision, light, or purpose in terms of work goals. To combat burnout, engage in outside activities and take up a new hobby once you leave work. Make sure to find a companion, co-worker, or friend that allows you to vocalize your struggles and concerns.

While there is no considerable research on how to diagnose burnout, the symptoms are typically associated with other disorders such as anxiety, stress, or fatigue. Prolonged stress and a demanding career without any rewards can lead to a loss of interest and love for your environment. Make sure to remain vocal about your feelings towards your work space — self-care is vital — and give attention to the changes that you can make in order to regain a positive livelihood.