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  • Writer's pictureDr Wayne Bullock

Are you depressed or just burnt out?

What’s the difference between being depressed and being burnt out?


How can you tell and does it even matter?


We’ve all been there. We get exhausted, both mentally and physically. We need a break from work, from family, from the world.


We ask ourselves … is this depression? Is this normal? Will this pass? What should I do?


If we go by the book, ‘burn out’ is an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition. And burn out is everywhere. One look at your social media feed and you’ll see one instance after another of someone you know feeling overwhelmed with their daily responsibilities. “Quiet quitting” – the act of doing as little as possible at work - is the latest social hashtag and is a common result of burnout.


While not a comprehensive list, burnout is characterized by feelings of cynicism, resentment, irritability, a loss of empathy, and a sense of a loss of control.


Here’s one simple way to try to discern between the two. Think of a hobby or an activity that typically makes you happy. If you don’t have the energy for that activity yet wish you did, you may just be burnt out. If you don’t find those activities enjoyable any longer, than this could be a sign of depression. It’s called anhedonia; the inability to enjoy activities once treasured.


What to do if you think you’re burnt out.

1. Look out for yourself and take a mental health day or two. Fill the day with a mix of rest and some activities you’ve been hoping to get to.


2. Unplug – Phones, iPads, TVs … give them a break. Especially before bedtime. The non-stop bombardment of news and texts only adds to the weariness.


3. Get some fresh air and raise that heart rate. Exercise and fresh air help everything. Get your steps in, get the blood flowing, and get those muscles working. And reward yourself with a healthy meal and a cool glass of water.


4. Count your blessings. Even the workplace that makes you cringe right now has a long list of ‘pros’. Write them out and take them to heart. Figure out one thing you can try tomorrow that will make your day more bearable. You can do it. Even a small change in perspective can make a significant difference.


What to do if you think you’re depressed.

1. Move – Physical activity is a necessary element of positive mental health. Get outside, rain or shine. Walk … take in the neighborhood … and breathe.


2. Reach out – Depression is not something you need to tackle alone. There are professionals throughout your area with the proper training and experience to help you today. Don’t wait. If money is the issue, check with your town to learn about free or subsidized counseling services.


Whether you have depression or burnout, you are most certainly not alone. Consider the steps listed here and please do look out for yourself.


Dr. Wayne Bullock is a Washington D.C. area therapist specializing in the needs of gay men, the LGBTQ community, and those dealing with anxiety, depression, and trauma.

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