Burnout…isn’t the same as stressed-out or depressed

by | Jun 23, 2020

No more understandable time than these days to feel burned-out, stressed-out, or depressed. I mean, are you kidding me? But it’s really important to understand they aren’t synonymous. And it’s even more important to know the difference. Let’s see what we can learn…

Here’s the best way to understand the difference between stress and burnout: Stress is an issue of too much, whereas burnout is about not enough.

It happens. Heading out of town for a few days, so don’t have time to create a worthy post. Instead of bailing, I hit the Chipur archives and found a relevant post from nine years ago to tidy-up and bring your way.

I think you’ll find the piece really helpful. It’s a longie, so let’s get right into it…

What is burnout?

Fact is, many of us push ourselves to the max, living in the midst of staggering stress. I suppose one may get used to it and somehow continue to drag themselves through life.

But when feelings of helplessness, the “constant-struggle’s,” the “why-bother’s,” a nasty attitude, and physical/emotional/mental exhaustion begin to present, it’s time to step-back and gain some perspective. At this point if the burnout-inferno hasn’t already arrived, it’s imminent.

And you know what? The manifestations of burnout will seep into every nook and cranny of your life. I’ll tell you what, it’s not over-dramatizing to say a killer may be on the loose.

You’re burned-out, not stressed-out or depressed

Unfortunately, burnout is often misunderstood and mislabeled: “I’m just stressed-out.” “It’s only a bit of depression.” When those words are spoken in the face of burnout signs and symptoms it’s obvious it’s been missed and dismissed.

Here’s the best way to understand the difference between stress and burnout: Stress is an issue of too much, whereas burnout is about not enough.

Millions of people take-on tons of stress. And many will manage well because they can envision things calming-down as they get their ducks in a row. But burnout is about feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and inadequacy. And it’s tough to move forward under their spell.

Here’s another stress/burnout distinguishing factor. You typically know when you’re in the midst of a ton of stress. Burnout, however, often flies under the radar. I mean, you know something’s wrong, but what? And that’s what makes burnout so dangerous.

Oh, about depression. Absolutely, the manifestations of burnout resemble symptoms of a major depressive episode. But burnout is a unique pathology calling for its own treatment protocol.

I will say, though, that someone who’s been diagnosed with major depressive disorder may be more susceptible to burnout.

What does burnout look like?

why am i depressed

“Dang, why all these aches and pains all of the sudden?”

I don’t know of a better way to identify and understand a troubling phenomenon than to detail, in this case, its signs and symptoms.

So let’s do just that with burnout. I know you’ll find it helpful. But you may also find it a little confusing because there really is some manifestation overlap with being stressed-out and depressed.

Still, here are the most common signs and symptoms of burnout. Without perhaps creating a problem that may not exist (we can be good at that), see if anything hits home…

  • Acute boredom, lack of motivation, procrastination
  • Low self-regard and buckets of self-doubt
  • Chronic fatigue, aches, and pains
  • Frequent physical illnesses
  • Most any task feels as though it’s a waste of time and energy
  • Deeply feeling, “Same crap, different day.”
  • Changes in appetite and/or sleep
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Food and substance abuse
  • Misplaced anger
  • Missing work, school, appointments, social engagements, etc.

I’ll add that scientists have observed altered physiology and anatomy associated with burnout. Activity in the brain’s frontal lobe changes, as does cortisol regulation. And the cortisol piece is huge. As you likely know, the effects of fluctuating cortisol levels are far-reaching in terms of physical health.

How to manage burnout

Managing burnout involves two pieces. Prevention is always the first order of business. However, if the inferno has hit, you need to be able to extinguish the flames. Let’s chat both…


  • Gain insight into your potential for burnout based upon your personality traits, personal history, and family history. In short, get to know you.
  • Implement lifestyle changes. Incorporate me-time into your day (especially when you arise): meditate, journal, get into some art, stretch, or read something inspiring/motivating. Tidy-up your diet, exercise, get sufficient sleep, play.
  • Set boundaries. Learn how to say “no” to others – and yourself. You have to know when enough’s enough, and how to effectively express it.
  • Take regular and sufficient tech breaks – computer, TV, phone, text, email, you name it.
  • Get involved with projects/hobbies that bring you joy.
  • Do everything you can to minimize and manage stress.

In the Midst

  • Again, bone-up on how burnout presents in you. How can you expect to do anything about it if you don’t know it’s front and center?
  • Implement a prepared plan of slow-down. Not necessarily stoppage, just reducing the intensity and scope of your activity.
  • Prepare a list of life priorities. Referencing your list, what’s truly important in the immediate? What isn’t?
  • Secure help and support. You don’t have to endure your burnout leanings alone. Furthermore, you’re only throwing fuel on the fire if you try to.
  • Look in a mirror and tell yourself you have what it takes to get through the inferno, and to keep it from burning once more. Remember, burnout is an issue of “not enough.”
  • Love yourself (for a change?). You’re more than worthy.

Chill, and keep moving forward

Burnout needs to be frontpage news during these, shall we say, tense times. Never forget, it’s such a powerful phenomenon, and capable of wreaking havoc. And the scary thing is, it so often flies under the radar. That can only mean trouble.

But not for you, because now you know what it is – and what to do about it.


Hey, my eBook will provide some easy and meaningful reading to help you cope with burnout. Feelings & Rhymes Through Treacherous Times

And let’s not forget about hundreds of Chipur articles.

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