"Burnout" or the syndrome of being burnt out at work

“Burnout” or the syndrome of being burnt out at work: how to prevent it and distinguish it from depression

Avoiding chronic stress is “an individual responsibility, but also of the leadership”, remarks the vice-dean of the Official College of Psychology of Catalonia, Dolors Liria

Feeling stuck at work. This is what happens to people who suffer from ” burnout”, a syndrome that, since January 2022, the World Health Organization has classified as a disease. “It is a state of demotivation and exhaustion in response to a situation of chronic stress, as a result of the characteristics of the job and the organization”, that is to say, of the company, as defined by the vice-dean of the Col· Legi Official Psychology of Catalonia, Dolors Liria. 

“The person feels that their situation and the discomfort it generates cannot change. It is very characteristic to feel that you cannot change, that you are as if trapped,” he adds.

It is this feeling, rather than work overload, that also generates stress, which makes it possible to distinguish a person who has “burnout”.

This can affect self-esteem and can translate into individualistic behaviors, loss of empathy towards others, and lack of possibility to work in a team. Being able to work with other people “is a protective factor for mental health”, remarks Liria, who specializes in occupational health. 

Psychologist Francesc Quer, also a member of the Organizational and Work Psychology Section of the Official College of Psychology of Catalonia, summarizes “burnout” as a stress that has become chronic over time:  “It is a mental wear and tear, physical and emotional that has been worsening more and more and the person has not had enough capacity to deal with it”.

Which also refers to being burned out at work as “the mental health pandemic affecting businesses today” and lays out “appalling” data: 

“There are studies in the Anglo-Saxon world that say that eight out of ten companies suffer burnout rates of over 50%. It’s a lot. And the situation is even more serious because the data usually contradicts the facts. And it’s a real situation, I see it, who work every day with companies.” 

It is estimated that 7 out of 10 people have suffered, are suffering, or will suffer “burnout”. 

Although, initially, this pathology was associated with professions in the health sector or education, nowadays, psychologists think that it can affect everyone. ” No one is exempt from it. We can even be burned by things that have nothing to do with work. We have to be aware of our emotions”, remarks Dolors Liria.

Large or small companies, self-employed… There is no single profile, but everyone can be affected. “It has more to do with the pressure of the job itself and how each professional environment is organized,” points out Francesc Quer.

Also with each person’s personality. “People with a sense of perfectionism, who have very high goals and a lot of self-demand, or who need constant recognition from their environment and have low self-esteem are more predisposed to suffer from it,” he explains. 

Symptoms of “burnout”

You can end up burnt out at work due to different situations, such as: 

  • feeling that the work has no path, that you cannot perform as you wish, or that you have no opportunities
  • you think that to do your job well you need resources that you don’t have. If you ask for them and see that there is no way to get them, you are at risk of burning out
  • you experience interpersonal conflicts that cannot be resolved

All this generates emotional discomfort, which can manifest itself in many ways. Not only psychologically, with the sadness, lack of motivation, lack of empathy, and discomfort from having to go to work, but also physically. Insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, headache. It can have many somatic manifestations. 


“Burnout” is a very progressive phenomenon, an accumulation of discomforts that we can internalize, often because it is normalized within the culture of the workplace until they become so great that we can no longer cope with them. 

So should we worry if it’s Sunday and we feel sick about having to go to work the next day? The key is to observe whether it is a one-off or chronic event, as Dolors Líria points out: 

“If it’s very often, it affects us and we can’t sleep… Any of the symptoms, occasionally, is normal. Maybe one day you can’t sleep because the next day, at work, you have to face a situation unpleasant or difficult. But, if all this continues over time and ends up being a limitation in our daily life, it can affect us in the way we carry out work.”

It’s important to identify the symptoms, ask ourselves what’s going on, and see what we can do about it “because if we don’t, we can end up with really high anxiety or depression,” he warns. 

Can burnout be confused with depression? 

It is clear that burnout affects a person’s life and has a high prevalence, but can it be confused with depression? 

The line between one thing and the other can be thin. “A person with burnout  can end up deriving into depression if measures are not taken,” says the vice-dean of the COPC, who, however, clarifies the differences between one situation and the other:

"Burnout" or the syndrome

“The symptomatology has patterns that are similar, but ‘burnout’ is caused by a very specific situation, linked above all to work. And when the person distances himself from this situation, most of the time he gets better, while someone with depression, even if it improves his life, it must be treated because depression is a clinical picture.” 

Francesc Quer agrees with the idea that the situation of being burned out is different because it originates at work, but it can be aggravated in such a way that it can be confused with a state of anxiety or depression, because we will have a state of low spirits, we will lack energy and have professional dissatisfaction. “If, in addition, we experience tremors, sweating, hyperventilation…, it can lead us to think that there is a more aggravated syndrome,” he clarifies. 

If we are burned out enough, we will find a way to release the stress. “We have to see if by going out with friends, practicing our hobbies, playing sports, the person sees himself as able to channel this stress or if it is too high and he cannot get over it. From here it would already be a pathology of wear and tear, which affects his professional life”, points out the psychologist. 

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