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Finding Work Life Balance Amongst the Pressures of University

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Exeter chapter.

Everyone hears the phrase “work life balance” thrown in conversation whilst at university. Although we all superficially know what this entails, achieving this idealised balance is often a much harder accomplishment, especially with the ever-building pressures on university students. I recently read the results of the Natwest Student Living Index 2023, which found that number of hours studied increased compared to previous years. And the areas that were sacrificed? You guessed it: socialising and hobbies!  This understandably is having a detrimental impact on young adults’ mental health. So, in this age of building pressures to be the best, get the top grades and succeed in finding a job in an ever-reducing job market, how do we find this much needed balance?

My own experiences with work life balance (or lack of) began throughout my undergraduate degree, where constant reminders from university professors that we must work until we are the best (and then keep going… because no work is enough?) lay into me a deep guilt every time I attempted to do anything for my own care. Being pushed to achieve our best is not negative, we need that positive push to get to our full potentials academically and personally, but when this becomes past motivating to achieve our own potential, and instead becomes a necessity to beat everyone else, problem arise. I remember the feeling that no matter how many hours I relentlessly studied, I would never be enough, and it has taken me, and still takes me, strength to believe that my academic achievement does not define me. With this guidance at hand, I powered through hours upon hours of study, past the point of breaking myself and my body’s limitations. My undergraduate experience was not balanced. Looking back, I have now come to untrain my brain from associating university with constant work, pressure and feeling of overwhelm. When I first started my postgrad in Exeter, I was terrified that these old habits would be let loose once more, and I’d succumb to the necessity to work every hour of the next year. Not only does this have zero benefit for me academically, but a huge impact to my social life.

University should be one of the most liberating times of a young adult’s life, allowing you to find independence, your people, and thrive in an academic envrionemnt in a sustainable manner. My past experience with university pressures led me to almost give up on the career pathway that I am most passionate about, because I came to associate anything during that time of university with the feeling of being completely overwhelmed and drowning in pressures that I had come to hate. My goal this year in my masters is to let go of these associations, and actually start to live.

University, yes, is for the end goal of attaining a degree. But it is so much more. It is the place to find friends, to learn to live independently, to make memories and to find the path you want to take after graduation. So, here I am on a new path to attempt to be balanced- but what am I actively doing to achieve this?

Be Strong

My wired brain set to a default mode of “work” would take time to untrain. Old habits do not slip easily! From my experience, I knew coming to university my urges to value work over my mental health would become overwhelming again. However, every day I try to remind myself that this is not true.

Mindfulness: Breath, Breath, Breath

I start my day by doing a quick 10-minute meditation to help me relax my brain. This might not work for everyone, but I find it resets any anxiety I often wake up already feeling stressed and overwhelmed. If meditation is too much for you at the moment, start with some relaxing music, and gradually build up to meditation practice.


Balance is the key word here – university is lonely without people. I trapped myself in my room many more times than I should have, feeling too guilty to leave the study frenzy I was in. This meant work was often prioritised over going out (which would have been far better for my mental health). Taking breaks to enjoy yourself is not something anyone should feel guilty for, and I found it actually benefited my academic achievements to have a break.


I have recently started journalling and have found it immensely helpful. Telling myself things about balance and letting myself enjoy my life is fine, but personally I feel writing it down makes it more believable, and I am more likely to stick to any challenges I have set myself if they appear concrete on paper. So, my advice? Treat yourself to a nice journal, with a cover you love and get doodling your thoughts!

Take a Break

If you are sat at your desk feeling overwhelmed by the work or the number of upcoming deadlines, stop; breath. A minute will not impact your grade or your workflow. But it will give you clarity and a chance to reset your mind.

Enjoy your Weekends

Unlike myself, who came out of undergraduate forgetting that the weekend existed, you can take a day off. Study does not, and should not, rule over your life every single day of the week. Some days are meant to be for you. Allow yourself time to see friends, family and partners and spend the day doing exactly as you wish. Some courses may require weekend work, but this should not be a fixed standard that you feel you have to abide to.

Reach Out

Apart from the simple daily things I have attempted to try above, if you are struggling with your mental health beyond my daily self-care tricks, then please speak up. Whether that be to a friend or the university, there will be people trying to help.

So, strategies in hand, I am optimistic that I can attain the allusive “work life balance” I’ve been told about. I also hope this articles acts as a helpful toolbox that you can use daily to boost your self-care throughout university. Working yourself to burnout will not help your academic career (trust me!) or your personal life. It is difficult to detach from the pressures but retraining your mind to fully believe you are worth more than just the grade and allowing yourself to enjoy the next few years is so important. The biggest take home from this article is remember to take time for you!

Meg Sullivan

Exeter '24

Hi I'm Meg :) I'm a Psychology Master's student at the University of Exeter attempting to navigate my way through my mental health and letting everyone know that they are not alone on this journey <3. I am passionate about promoting self-care and raising awareness around mental health. I love travelling and all things outdoors but am also a sucker for a cosy afternoon with a good book!