Executive burnout, depression and addiction: Some things to know

Burnout and depression are like the chicken and the egg – it’s difficult to tell which one came first.

Are you feeling depressed because you’re burned out at work? Or, are you feeling burned out at work because you’re depressed? 

Executive burnout is a tricky issue to spot, but it is an issue, and to resume a happy, healthy and well-balanced life, it’s an issue that needs conquering. 

Recently, we wrote a blog post about how to tell if you’re close to burning out at work (read it here).

Some signs included:

  • Understanding whether or not you’re still excited by work.
  • Whether you’re suffering from physical pain as a consequence.
  • Whether you’re apathetic about life as a whole and not just work.

In this blog, we explore executive burnout further and help you identify the difference between burnout and depression, and what to do if you find yourself using substances to mitigate workplace stress.

Do I have executive burnout, or depression, or both?

24 percent of women and 13 percent of men in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with depression in their lifetime, according to MHFA England.

What’s more, depression often co-occurs with other mental health issues like burnout and is likely a consequence to something else happening in our lives.

The EU estimates that nearly nine in every 10 cases of depression occur in someone of working age, and the Independent newspaper reported that one-third of people are affected by depression and burnout due to the workplace.

There’s every possibility, then, that executive burnout and depression go hand-in-hand with one another, and that, no matter the situation, one always leads to the other. 

But is depression and executive burnout two different things? Or is one a label for the workplace and the other a label for every other part of our lives?

According to : 

‘Burnout is generally defined as an extreme exhaustion after the body and mind have been exhausted and pushed too far.’

Although executive burnout and depression share similar symptoms (like concentration issues, memory issues, sleeping issues, a feeling of exhaustion…), there is a slight difference between the two: depression will likely affect your whole life, whereas burnout will likely just affect your ability to be productive at work.

But, given that one third of our lives is spent working, and because work defines our self-worth more so today than ever before, executive burnout often quickly leads to depression in every other area of our lives.

If you’re feeling burned out at work, then, be sure to remain mindful of your happiness outside of the workplace.

If you’re struggling to find joy in things like your personal relationships as well, it might be time to seek professional help.

Executive burnout and addiction

burnout and stress

‘Self-medication’ is an all too common term that unfortunately causes more problems than it solves. Oftentimes, it is easier to relieve the feelings of unhappiness, stress and exhaustion with drugs and alcohol and to feel a sense of escape by using substances

Drugs can also be used as a way to help those who overwork push through limiting barriers. Cocaine, for example, increases alertness and may help you maintain a short-term level of high performance at work.

But, the issues with using drugs is that the moment you stop, you come crashing down – they are short-term effective. As a consequence, you’ll be left even more burned out, even less happy and addicted to something that will, at some point, take everything away from you. 

There are three big components to executive burnout. They are:

  • A loss of energy
  • A loss of enthusiasm
  • A loss of self-confidence and self-belief

While it’s true that alcohol and drugs will mitigate these three areas of burnout, it will cost you in the long run.  

A better way to handle burnout at work is to manage your time more effectively, rest well and compartmentalise your life.

Productive work is less about how many hours you put in and more how you’re using the hours that you have.

After all, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. 

Self-medication is a slippery slope. What might start as a way to escape the stress associated with work might lead to the destruction of your entire life and the breakdown of your personal relationships. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and burned out at work and you’re using substances to help you handle this, it’s time to seek help.

Speak to your loved ones or seek professional care before it’s too late.

How to tell if you have executive burnout

Executive burnout often exists solely in the workplace. Often, you’ll feel no less happy outside of work and, chances are, you’ll maintain your healthy habits like eating well, sleeping deeply and exercising regularly. 

But if you’re feeling a sense of ‘doom and gloom’ about going into the office and your productivity levels are slipping as a consequence, it’s time to make a change.

Equally, if you feel yourself turning to substances to help you ‘escape’ from work stress, or you’re finding yourself unhappy in the rest of your life, it’s time to act and seek professional help.

Change is our only constant, and work isn’t the only important thing about life.

If you’re feeling like you’re burned out and can’t go on any longer, or you’re considering unhealthy ways to handle workplace stress, contact Camino Recovery today and find out how we can help.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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