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The Link Between Burnout and Depression: 6 Warning Signs

Written By Leeor Gal @ The Therapy Gal

What is Burnout?

Hi! My name is Leeor Gal, I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the group practice owner of The Therapy Gal. I know burnout all too well, and before I started setting the proper boundaries, I too fell victim to it. My goal is to share some tools and knowledge around burnout to help you combat it as well!

Burnout in the workplace is when you're left feeling physically and emotionally drained due to extended exposure to excessive stress, a load of demanding tasks, and a lack of much-needed recovery or support. It's like your work fuel tank has hit empty, and you're left mentally exhausted and physically fatigued.

Why is Burnout a Precursor to Depression?

The reason is that burnout can pave the way for depression because the ongoing stress and depletion of your mental resources can erode your resilience and coping abilities. When you're in a state of burnout, even simple daily tasks can start feeling overwhelming, and the constant strain on your mental and emotional well-being can push you closer to depression.

The Connection Between Burnout and Depression

The link between burnout and depression is a bit complex, involving how our minds and feelings interact. When you're dealing with burnout, a few things can contribute to the development of depression:

Psychological Factors

  • Overwhelming Stress: Burnout makes you feel constantly overwhelmed, and that can make you more vulnerable to depression.

  • Loss of Control: When you feel like you're losing control over your work and personal life, it can lower your self-esteem and add to depressive symptoms.

  • Negative Self-Perception: Burnout can lead to self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough, which are common signs that depression might be on the horizon.

Emotional Factors

  • Persistent Sadness: The emotional exhaustion from burnout can turn into a persistent feeling of sadness.

  • Irritability and Mood Swings: Burnout can make you irritable, and mood swings are often associated with both burnout and depression.

  • Lack of Interest: Losing interest in your work and hobbies is a shared symptom of both burnout and depression.

Warning Sign 1: Unending Tiredness

Feeling perpetually tired and utterly drained is like your body's way of waving a red flag. It's the kind of exhaustion that can be linked to both burnout and depression.

Why Does It Matter?

Recognizing the significance of ongoing fatigue is crucial because it serves as an early warning system. Acknowledging and dealing with it early on could help prevent a plunge into a more severe state of depression.

How to Tell if it's Burnout-Related Exhaustion

To differentiate burnout-related exhaustion from regular tiredness, keep an eye on the patterns. Burnout-induced fatigue tends to hang around, even after a good night's sleep or a relaxing weekend. It's the type of tiredness that infiltrates every aspect of your life, making even small tasks seem like daunting challenges.

Warning Sign 2: Decreased Productivity and Motivation

Declining productivity and motivation are like the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to recognizing burnout and depression.

Why Do These Signs Matter?

Your ability to stay productive and motivated is often the first to take a hit when you're dealing with burnout or depression. Recognizing these signs can help you take action before they worsen.

Recognizing Declining Productivity and Motivation

Watch out for tasks that once seemed easy but now feel insurmountable. Are you procrastinating more than usual? Are you finding it difficult to concentrate or complete tasks on time?

Decreased motivation may manifest as a lack of enthusiasm for work or personal interests. You might find yourself constantly counting down the hours until the end of the workday. These feelings are indicators of a loss of interest and motivation.

Tips for Recognizing These Signs

  • Keep a journal: Write down what you do every day and how you're feeling. If you notice a consistent drop in productivity and motivation, it's a sign to take some action.

  • Ask for feedback from colleagues or loved ones. Sometimes, they can pick up on changes in your behavior and performance that you might not notice.

  • Compare how you are now to a time when you were more motivated and productive. Take a good look at the differences and try to figure out what has changed.

Warning Sign 3: Emotional Detachment and Cynicism

Understanding Emotional Detachment and Cynicism

Emotional detachment refers to a sense of disconnect from your emotions, colleagues, or loved ones. It may feel as if you're going through the motions, but your heart and mind aren't fully engaged.

Cynicism involves adopting a pessimistic and negative attitude, often directed at your work, colleagues, or life in general. You might find yourself doubting the sincerity of others or losing faith in the value of your efforts.

Identifying and Addressing Emotional Changes

Recognizing these emotional changes is essential for early intervention. Here are some strategies to help identify and address emotional detachment and cynicism:

  • Self-reflection: Take time to assess your feelings and attitudes. Are you feeling increasingly detached or cynical? Be honest with yourself.

  • Talk to a trusted friend or therapist: Sometimes, an outside perspective can provide valuable insights into your emotional state.

  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: These can help you reconnect with your emotions and reduce cynicism.

  • Set realistic expectations: Reevaluate your expectations and set achievable goals to reduce the pressure contributing to emotional detachment and cynicism.

Warning Sign 4: Physical Symptoms and Ailments

Exploring Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can include headaches, stomach problems, muscle tension, and even an increased vulnerability to illnesses. These physical issues often pop up as a result of chronic stress and emotional strain.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Persistent physical symptoms: If headaches, stomach issues, or other physical problems persist, it's time to consult a healthcare professional.

Severe or unusual symptoms: Any severe or unusual physical symptoms should be assessed by a doctor to rule out underlying medical conditions.

When physical symptoms affect your daily life: If these symptoms interfere with your ability to work or maintain a healthy daily routine, it's essential to seek help.

Warning Sign 5: Social Isolation and Withdrawal

Social isolation involves distancing yourself from social interactions and becoming increasingly isolated. You might find it challenging to engage with colleagues, friends, or family members. This can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness and sadness.

Withdrawal is when you actively retreat from social activities or gatherings you once enjoyed. You might cancel plans, avoid social events, or spend most of your time alone.

Warning Sign 6: Changes in Sleep Patterns and Appetite

Understanding Changes in Sleep Patterns and Appetite

Sleep disturbances can manifest as difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, or early morning awakenings. Changes in appetite may lead to overeating or loss of appetite, resulting in unintended weight gain or loss.

Recognizing and Addressing These Changes

  • Keep a sleep and food diary: Monitoring your sleep and eating habits can help you identify irregular patterns and their potential triggers.

  • Consult a healthcare professional: If sleep disturbances and changes in appetite persist and significantly affect your daily life, seek guidance from a healthcare provider.

  • Establish a consistent routine: Maintain regular sleep and eating schedules, which can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.

  • Practice stress-reduction techniques: Managing stress through relaxation exercises can help alleviate sleep and appetite disturbances.


In the fast-paced world of work, it's crucial to recognize the warning signs that can lead to burnout and depression. These conditions are not just confined to the mind; they manifest in various ways, affecting both your mental and physical well-being. By understanding these warning signs, you can take early steps to prevent or address these challenges.

Your mental health is an essential part of your overall quality of life. By staying vigilant, acknowledging the warning signs, and taking steps to address them, you can cultivate a healthier and more resilient mindset. Remember, you're not alone, and there's always hope for a brighter, more fulfilling future.

Hi! I’m Leeor. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of the group practice, The Therapy Gal! I love creating relatable and funny mental health content on both TikTok (@thetherapygal) and Instagram(@the_therapy_gal), and you can always catch me snuggling with my dog! If you’re in PA or NJ and are interested in therapy, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. :)

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