The Difference between Tired and Burnt Out

Published by Imani Benjamin on

The Difference Between Tired
and Burnt Out

Stress is something we’re all familiar with; it’s a natural part of life. It kept our ancestors on their toes, pushing them to find food, water and shelter in a dangerous landscape. Today we still have the same stressors, with a little extra spice.

Our problems aren’t as immediate or apparent as running from predators. Instead they’re prolonged – work, bills, your relationships, and they don’t go away if you turn tail and run. Our modern-day problems aren’t likely to eat us, like a saber-toothed tiger, but we can’t run from them either. They’re low-level stressors that are a part of our daily lives.

Stress and burnout go hand in hand. 

All those low-level stressors sneak up, pile on, and suddenly you don’t have the energy or patience to deal with anything. We snap. The snap is burnout. 

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. It’s entirely possible to be stressed, and not experience a burnout. 

Stress can be great. It helps with motivation and completing goals. It might even help you complete tasks efficiently. Despite the wonders it might work getting late papers done, too much stress is a problem. Too many projects, stretching yourself too thin, and not enough rest is what leads to burnout.

Dealing with too much of everything, a lot of college students experience burnout. High school is very demanding and many feel it is not an adequate preparation for a transition into almost adult life. It’s a potent mix of bad habits, pressures and misconceptions of college, work and independent life. Some believe high school can create a culture of stress that follows us and makes sure that we aren’t entirely prepared to deal with problems in the future.


Katie Pearson

21 • Biology major • Class of 2020 • Georgia State University

Courtesy of Katie Pearson.

What is burnout to you?

“It’s like trudging through a mud pit, but you lost your boots a mile back. You don’t have the physical or mental energy to start or continue a project.”

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“No. It depends. AP classes taught you how to study and handle a bigger workload to transition into college classes. Honors and CP classes allow you to skate by academically. They didn’t help or prepare you for a college workload.”

When was your first experience with burnout in college?

“In my freshman year. I was working eight hours a day and going to classes. It was my first job ever, and I was trying to do way too much. I hated every minute of the first two weeks of classes. I called my parents to tell them I hated it.”

How do you deal with stress as a senior, independent and on your own?

“It’s part of living in the Lofts with a kitchen and a bedroom. It wasn’t just a bedroom that we left to go to the meal hall. It forced us to cook and clean up. I turned to cleaning to help with my anxiety. If I could do an easy task, I could get a harder one later. When I wasn’t able to finish something, I got stressed. My mind still needed that active workout to help do things properly like study for hours.”

What’s a myth about burnout that you know isn’t true?

  1. “That you can work through it. You just have to push through it, and you can because someone else did.”
  2. “Everyone feels stress the same way. Just because you aren’t doing five classes, an internship and going to school full time doesn’t mean you can’t feel burnout. I work, go to school and commute. I felt burnt out before I was commuting. Once I started commuting, it felt worse. I felt like I couldn’t deserve to feel that way because I wasn’t doing enough to achieve burnout.”
  3. “If you just lessen your schedule or just take away a certain class, it doesn’t help prevent burnout. There’s no solution to it.”

What’s your burnout status?

“I am a piece of coal.”

Danielle Ajagbe

21 • Art major – Studio concentration  • Class of 2020 • Georgia State University

What is burnout to you?

“Even if I have rationalized and planned out everything in my mind as to what I’m going to do, how I’m going to do it, I physically cannot do it. My body and my mind, even though I’ve made the list and made the preparations, won’t do it or rationalize why I shouldn’t do it right now.”

Danielle Ajagbe with her mother. Courtesy of Danielle Ajagbe.

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“No. High school prepared me for doing all-nighters up to junior year. It did help me communicate with teachers. I was always in afterschool clubs with teachers that I knew. It wouldn’t be hard to communicate with them. They saw me more often, and I felt more comfortable discussing my issues with them and seeing if we could work around them.”  

How did you deal with stress/burnout as a freshman?

“I asked others for help. I’m more likely to do my work when I’m with people.  I feel that when I’m with people, I’m more likely to do my work. There was social pressure to be studious. I dealt with burnout in the beginning by reorganizing my mind and putting myself in a place where I have to work. It was mental and a change in environment. It’s harder to do work in a familiar setting.”

How do you deal with stress as an independent student and on your own?

“I recognize what burnout is. I initially saw it as laziness and didn’t realize I did too much. I recognize what burnout is and pace myself.”

What’s a myth about burnout that you know isn’t true?

“I thought you would be tired… only tired. It’s more than being tired, it’s being unfocused. You physically can’t do anything. You got your eight hours today, but you haven’t gotten your eight hours for the past three years. You can’t do anything because it still feels like you’re catching up. You don’t have to be aching, sore or at wits ends.”

What’s your burnout status?

“Me with a sword and shield fighting a dragon named Burnout. It has my degree, and I have to fight it.”

Khalid Hylton

21• Kinesiology major • Class of 2022 • Fresno City College

Courtesy of Khalid Hylton.

What is burnout to you?

“Burnout to me is being overworked and exhausted. You can be mentally overworked because of your class and work schedule, and physically you can be exhausted.”

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“High school did not prepare me to deal with burnout. The average high school student doesn’t have the workload they’re going to receive when they go to college. Some might have honors and AP classes that might prepare them but the average student doesn’t get anything close to the work of a full-time college student.”

When was your first experience with burnout in college?

“My first experience was dealing with football practice and getting through the day. I’d have to wake up and go to a class, starting at 7 a.m., get done at 2 p.m and then get to the stadium at 3 p.m. to get ready to meet with coaches. The day was just too long. I wouldn’t get done until 7 in the evening.”

How do you deal with stress as an independent student?

“It’s better time management. I pick better class schedules and I’ve been able to adjust to college life.”

What’s a myth about burnout?

“People saying that it isn’t as hard as athletes make it seem. They might say you’re on scholarship it’ll be alright. People think we’re overexaggerating and say, ‘You can’t be that tired.’ You don’t have off days when you’re in season, you don’t have free time to yourself. You have a twelve hour shift when you’re in season.”

What is your burnout status

“My burnout status is low. I’m not burnt out because I’m not in season right now.”

Selina Cui

21 • English major, Spanish minor • Graduate • Georgia State University

Courtesy of Selina Cui.

What is burnout to you?

“Burnout is when your physical body is sending signals to say mentally, you’re worn out.”

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“High school could benefit from teaching us about how to deal with burnout. In high school I experienced burnout, but I never found out how to deal with it. It hit me senior year of high school. I was taking five AP classes and after the exams I could not do anything. I couldn’t study, I couldn’t read and I had no ability to do anything productive because everything I had went to the AP classes.”

How did you deal with stress/burnout as a freshman in high school and college?

“In high school, I powered through it or just ignored it. In college, I started to express my emotions. I would let it out or talk to people. I let people close to me know what was going on, take a small break and do something I enjoy.”

How do you deal with stress as a senior, independent and on your own?

“I overloaded myself early on trying to cram it all in. It caused me to crash and burn. I realized that it was better to have less on my plate and go at a steady pace than [to] do it all at once and crash and burn.”

What’s a myth about burnout that you know now isn’t true?

“I thought burnout wasn’t a thing, and it was an excuse to not work. I didn’t treat it as something important to take care of. Acknowledging burnout is a real thing.”

What’s your burnout status?

“I recognize that I am burnt out, but I’m building my momentum back up.”

Shannon Johnson

21 • Spanish major • Class of 2020 • Georgia State University

Courtesy of Shannon Johnson.

What is burnout to you?

“Feeling like no matter what you do, you can’t catch up and you lose it all.’’

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“No. They didn’t teach us any strategies, but I found self care and study groups.”

How did you deal with stress/burnout as a freshman?

“I figured out in high school how to deal with stress. It was a workload problem. I had more to do, but I powered through it.”

How do you deal with stress as a senior, independent and on your own?

“I’ve lived with other people and we were there to support each other. I’ve realized the importance of being kind to yourself, having a support network, and knowing when to work and take a break.”

What’s a myth about burnout that you know isn’t true?

“You can’t work through burnout, and you have to take care of yourself. Plan how to tackle the problem.”

What’s your burnout status?

“I’m not burnt out. I’m okay and comfortable with where I am. I have a plan, and I’m not stressed out about it.”

Enyi Chuma-Okere

21 • Computer Science major, Japanese minor • Class of 2020 • Georgia State University

Courtesy of Enyi Chuma-Okere.

What is burnout to you?

“When it feels like I’m at a blockade with too many things to do and not enough time. Being stuck makes what I’m feeling worse.”

Did high school prepare you to deal with burnout?

“Burnout in high school was worse than college. There wasn’t anyone to talk to about it. We were encouraged to increase our workload to prepare us for college.”

How did you deal with stress/burnout as a freshman?

“In high school I dealt with stress and burnout, and I dealt with it by ignoring it, as well as ignoring my work.”

How do you deal with stress as a senior, independent and on your own?

“I dealt with burnout more. I felt more exhausted, but I found ways to make schedules, plan and take breaks so I could work.”

What’s a myth about burnout that you know isn’t true?

“If you stay on top of your work, you won’t experience burnout. You could stay on top of your work and still have so much to do that it won’t matter.”

What’s your burnout status?

“It’s the beginning of the semester; I’m not feeling burnt out yet.”

Nicole Colon-Rivera | Avant-Youth

The Symptoms of Burnout

Stress affects everyone differently. Sometimes, it’s great. A little bit of stress helps us focus, move a little faster and get our work done in a timely manner. More or less. 

The problem is that we live in a culture of stress. We’re constantly plugged in and ready to go without any regard as to how it drains us. The little bit of stress that helps us get our work done usually becomes a big ball of stress that weighs us down. 

It doesn’t help that our conversations about stress don’t happen until – well – we’re burnt out. Even if you get to talk about it, this doesn’t assure that you’re going to get help. I am consistently reassured that I can just sleep it off, or flat-out told that I can’t be stressed. 

We need to change the way we look at burnout and get started early. High school probably isn’t the first place to look, but it might be the best. It’s where most of our misconceptions about our futures start. High school is sometimes a breeding ground for bad coping habits for handling stress and taking on ridiculous work loads. 

You’re encouraged to do the absolute most in high school because, for the most part, you can. Six classes, three clubs and two after school sports may not be the craziest high school schedule out there. Managing time and juggling responsibility is easier because it’s convenient. There’s not much to worry about when your parents take care of cooking, cleaning and putting a roof over your head. 

The problem is once you’re out of high school, with its crazy schedules and insane hours, you find that taking on more and more work like you used to isn’t a viable option. It’s not okay to get your feet kicked out from under you, especially when the world is suddenly operating by different rules. High school needs to be the place we learn and practice the rules or at least how to play by them. 

Family members, mentors and educators need to step up too. No one comes to the conclusion they need to work themselves to exhaustion on their own. We need to stop perpetuating the idea that working beyond your limits is the only way you can achieve your goals or be happy. You can’t achieve anything if you can’t work at all. 

It’s time we sit down, take a breath and chat. 

As long as we continue to pretend we’re superhumans who don’t need rest, we’ll continue to view burnout as laziness or an excuse to get away from work. The more we talk about it – what stress looks like, how to recognize and avoid burnout – the less likely we are to crash and burn.

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Imani Benjamin

Imani Benjamin-Wharton is a graduate from Georgia State University with a degree in English. She’s an aspiring novelist hoping to write the next great American novel. In her free time, she learns the secrets of survival from her favorite horror movies.


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