Burnout syndrome, which shows its face as energy loss, a lack of motivation, emotional and mental exhaustion and social withdrawal, can often be confused with depression. But what if you can't tell which one you are suffering from? It doesn't help that many of the two conditions' symptoms overlap, which causes many to confuse the two.
With burnout, many individuals feel overwhelmed and drained, crushed under the pressure of being unable to meet constant demands or not being appreciated. The longer such stress continues, the more the worker loses interest in the job and finds it hard to find the motivation to complete tasks.
Not only does burnout drain you of energy but it also kills productivity. Left feeling helpless, hopeless and resentful, individuals may soon feel as if nothing they do makes a difference anymore and as a result, refrain from making any contributions. These negative effects can soon be seen in other areas of life, leading to physical ailments and leaving the body vulnerable to many illnesses. With depression, a similar progression also happens but perhaps the most important feature that distinguishes job burnout from depression is the source: work life.
Clinical psychologist Gülçin Şenyuva says while depression is not usually related to work and business life and may result from any kind of life event or trauma we experience, it is only the nature of our work and the people we work with that causes burnout.
Burnout syndrome can be defined as a working professional no longer thinking that the purpose and the meaning of their job are aligned with its original values and no longer really caring about the people they serve anymore, Şenyuva says.
The signs of burnout include loss of energy, demotivation, negative attitudes toward others and emotionally withdrawing from others. Burnout syndrome has three dimensions, Şenyuva says.
The first is emotional and physical exhaustion, which is the feeling of being overwhelmed and fatigued due to work and is the most important determinant of burnout. The second is depersonalization and cynicism, which pertains to attitudes and behaviors and shows itself as acts devoid of emotion. The third and last dimension is a diminished sense of personal effectiveness, or the inability to cope with the problem successfully and seeing yourself as inadequate.
Here are the six symptoms of burnout you should look out for:
Fatigue: While it may start off as a normal state of tiredness, as burnout progresses functional impairment can be seen, which could prevent the individual from carrying out and completing daily tasks or even doing personal care.
Insomnia: A person experiencing burnout due to increased stress may have difficulty falling asleep despite feeling tired or may not feel rested when waking up.
Forgetfulness, distraction: It is a symptom that occurs in the early stages of burnout because of high levels of stress. As burnout progresses, forgetfulness and attention problems can prevent the person from doing their job.
Bodily aches/complaints: Physical stress symptoms such as a feeling of tightness in the chest, palpitations, narrowing of the throat, getting easily startled, head and shoulder pain or tingling and gastrointestinal problems can be observed in the burnt-out individual.
Frequent illness: Chronic stress sets the stage for diseases by taking a toll on the functioning of the immune system.
Mental problems: Symptoms such as irritability, a depressive mood, lack of pleasure in things, feelings of helplessness, pessimism, insensitivity to others and decreased self-esteem are some of the mental markers of the syndrome.
Şenyuva says burnout happens in several stages. It starts with the person feeling the need to prove themselves which pushes the person to work much harder than usual. During this stage of proving oneself, the individual then slowly neglects their own needs. This later leads to internal conflict and displacement of needs or changes in prioritization.
Eventually, the individual spares no time for non-business/non-professional, i.e., personal, needs which only increases the denial of the problem. With decreased flexibility of thought and behavior, withdrawal begins, and feelings of helplessness and aimlessness start creeping in. At this point, the individual starts to care less about the work they do and has a nonchalant attitude. This spurs apparent behavioral changes and psychological reactions that cause desensitization and depersonalization.
The worker is left to grapple with feelings of emptiness and anxiety daily, and a deepening sense of meaninglessness, which shows up as a great loss of interest in work. The last stage is being physically rundown, to the extent that it can become life-threatening.
What are the differences between burnout and depression?
Although depression and burnout syndrome have similar symptoms, they are different problems, Şenyuva stresses.
“When the relationship between burnout syndrome and depression was investigated, it was determined that burnout was associated with depression, but it had its own characteristics and burnout was not a subtype of depression,” she said.
"Studies have found a link between emotional exhaustion and depression. It is known that an already-existing case of depression can negatively affect the work environment and performance, causing further burnout.”
Symptoms of depression
Noting that depression is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in all age groups, Şenyuva says that like burnout, symptoms of depression, too, can be categorized into three categories: cognitive, physiological-behavioral and emotional.
Cognitive symptoms of depression include concentration difficulties, indecisiveness, decreased self-esteem, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
Physiological and behavioral symptoms include sleep and appetite problems, psycho-motor problems, fatigue and memory problems.
Meanwhile, sadness, depression, stagnation, reluctance, hopelessness, pessimism and helplessness constitute the emotional symptoms of depression.
The number or frequency of symptoms during a two-week period determines if you are depressed. If the symptoms persist for a fortnight, it may be time to contact a trusted medical professional.
For a diagnosis of depression, specialists check to see if symptoms occur almost every day for at least two weeks, Şenyuva says, and with the appropriate counseling and treatment, 80% to 90% of cases have immediate and successful results.
“Pharmacological treatments, electro convulsive therapies and psychotherapies are included in the treatment of depression. In the psychotherapy process, (the depressed brain's) cognitive, emotional and behavioral conditioning is changed via various cognitive and behavioral techniques. Evidence-based studies show that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective method of therapy for depression,” she says.
Şenyuva emphasizes that if there are symptoms of depression and it has started to affect the person's life significantly, it must be treated immediately.
“The aim of treatment is to ensure the individual's well-being in the acute period of this disorder, to maintain this state of well-being in the maintenance period and to prevent relapses later on," she says.
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