It's considered a legitimate diagnosis in the WHO's International Classification of Diseases.

By Allie Strickler
Asian woman sitting at desk working in front of laptop pushing her hair out of her face looking away and down
Credit: Shutterstock/Bangkok Click Studio

"Burnout" is a term you hear practically everywhere—and perhaps even feel—but it can be hard to define, and therefore difficult to identify and remedy. As of this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not only amended its definition, it's also determined that burnout is a real diagnosis and medical condition.

While the organization previously defined burnout as "a state of vital exhaustion" that falls under the category of "problems related to life-management difficulty," it now says that burnout is an occupational syndrome that results "from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." (Related: Why Burnout Should Be Taken Seriously)

The WHO's definition goes on to explain that there are three main symptoms of burnout: exhaustion and/or depleted energy, a feeling of mental distance from and/or cynicism about one's job, and "reduced professional efficacy."

What Burnout Is and What It Isn't

There's a common theme in the WHO's description of a burnout diagnosis: work. "Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life," reads the definition.

Translation: Burnout can now be medically diagnosed, but only as a result of significant work-related stress, rather than a packed social calendar, at least according to WHO. (Related: How Your Gym Workout Prevents Work Burnout)

The health organization's burnout definition excludes medical conditions related to stress and anxiety, as well as mood disorders. In other words, there's a clear difference between burnout and depression, even though the two may seem really similar.

One way to tell the difference? If you usually feel more positive outside of the office when you're doing other things—exercising, grabbing coffee with friends, cooking, whatever you do in your free time—you're probably experiencing burnout, not depression, David Hellestein, M.D., professor clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and author of Heal Your Brain: How the New Neuropsychiatry Can Help You Go from Better to Well, previously told Shape.

Similarly, a way to distinguish between stress and burnout is to recognize how you feel after taking time off from work, Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., a New York-based psychologist who specializes in mood and anxiety conditions, told Shape. If you feel recharged after a vacation, you're probably not experiencing burnout, he explained. But if you feel just as overwhelmed and exhausted by your job as you did prior to the PTO, then there's a serious possibility you're dealing with burnout, said Dobrenski.

How to Address Burnout

As of now, the WHO has not stated the appropriate medical treatments for work-related burnout, but if you're genuinely worried that you're suffering from it, your best bet is to speak to a medical professional ASAP. (Related: 12 Things You Can Do to Chill Out the Minute You Leave the Office)

The good news is it's a heck of a lot easier to address a problem when it's clearly defined. In the meantime, here's how to avoid the burnout you might be heading for.