How can you tell if you’re just down, you’ve got depression, or you’re being consumed by burnout? Sometimes, the official answers aren’t so useful. Officially, depression is diagnosed based on the time and appropriateness of feeling down. For instance, the loss of a loved one should cause someone to feel down – even for an extended time. However, in general, the guidelines are a depressed persistent mood for longer than two weeks.
So how do you know if you’re suffering from depression directly, or if you’ve got burnout that’s leading to depression? Being burned out increases the chances that you’ll develop depression, so perhaps burnout is the root cause of the malady of depression that you feel.
The real problem is what we call “depression” is such a broad category of things that it’s difficult to pinpoint a single cause. From chemical imbalances to self-talk or self-image issues, depression can come from many sources. Finding the root of depression keeps many counselors busy, and despite good work, counseling often seems to have limited ability to locate and eradicate the root cause.
One of the challenges is that we get so focused trying to find the source of the depression – the root cause – that we forget that many of the ways that are used to defend against and recover from burnout are the same techniques used for depression – regardless of the source. We’re so worried about finding the cause, that we forget to focus on the cure. Certainly, in some things, it’s essential to find the root cause, but in others there may not be any one root cause. There may only be a set of causal factors that lead to the situation – none of which, if individually identified and resolved, solve the issue.
Whether you’re suffering from burnout, depression, or both, you may find that being more aware of the support you receive from others – and not discounting it – will lighten your burden. Perhaps it’s learning to view the results you see from your efforts in a different light that will make things a bit brighter. Maybe the challenge for you is learning how to set boundaries and develop decision-making criteria that will allow you to say no without feeling guilty.
Ultimately, the most powerful approach to dealing with burnout or depression is changing the way that you view yourself in terms of both your self-talk – the way you talk to yourself – and self-care – the way you take care of yourself. If you can change the way that you talk to yourself to be more loving and more accepting of who you are, you’ll feel less internally-generated shame, and it will feel less like walking around in muck. If you can learn effective self-care strategies, you can feel like you’re not indulging yourself, you’re rejuvenating yourself.
In the end, it may not matter whether you’re suffering from burnout, depression, or both. It may be that your real goal is simply to find approaches that allow you to grow out of whatever pit that you’re in.