Module 3 - Wellbeing and Life Balance

Wellbeing and Life Balance


Wellbeing is a combination of your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health, and is strongly linked to aspects of happiness and life satisfaction. Trying to achieve a balance of these factors is the best way to maintain optimal wellbeing. Each year, a national Student Experience Survey is deployed in Australian universities, which continues to show that maintaining mental and physical health while studying is the number one challenge that students face. While, managing their study/life balance is the second greatest challenge reported each year, which makes this module a must-read!

How will this module help me?

  • Appreciate the importance of optimising your ongoing health and happiness
  • Understand common wellbeing challenges that students face
  • Learn about stress triggers and responses and how to maintain your wellbeing
  • Understand the importance of creating a balanced life through time management

How long will this module take?

30 minutes

Change and challenges

As discussed in the Transition to Uni module, the commencement of higher education involves a lot of life changes, which can be exciting, but also challenging. It is normal to have a range of feelings and emotions as you adjust to your new norm and find your feet over a period of time. Here are a list of common challenges that students face that can impact on their wellbeing:

  • Balancing university with the rest of your life
  • Managing deadlines and responsibilities
  • Understanding academic expectations
  • Financial changes and difficulties
  • Moving away from home
  • Building a new social network
  • Managing carer responsibilities
  • Failing an assessment or subject
  • Breakdown of relationship
  • Lack of motivation
  • Illness or injury
  • Exam anxiety

Stress happens

A certain level of daily stress is beneficial as it can keep you energised, motivated and productive. However, too much can lead to a lack a concentration, impaired memory, inability to make decisions, avoidance behaviours (self-isolation, stop engaging with uni), and health issues. You may also experience physical symptoms, such as an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, muscle tension, nausea, reduce immunity, hot and cold flushes, and trouble sleeping. University involves change, challenges and moving outside your comfort zone, which your mind and body can perceive as threats and over activate your stress levels. These stressors can be cumulative, and too many stressors in a short period of time may trigger a response that begins to cause distress.

Top Tips

  • Accept stress as part of life: Stress can’t always be escaped, but it can be managed.  Stress will be around when you leave university too, so see this time as an opportunity to learn new ways of dealing with it.
  • Know your stress triggers: Everyone has particular things that trigger their stress responses – giving presentations, writing assignments, being in social situations, or being asked to do too many tasks at once.  Knowing your triggers helps you prepare for those situations and activate strategies when your stress levels begin to rise.
  • Know your stress responses:  Are the first signs of your stress response that you begin to chew your fingernails, feel pain in your chest, get a headache or indigestion, lose concentration, eating more or less, or get irritable with yourself or others?  Recognising your stress response is important, so you can implement wellbeing strategies to manage it.

Tips for Wellbeing

Taking care of your wellbeing will help you better cope with everyday stressors, and enable you to be more resilient when faced with unexpected challenges. Complete wellness is not realistic and no one is ever completely well or unwell – it’s about achieving a good balance across all aspects of your health. The JCU Student Equity and Wellbeing team have put together a bank of wonderful short, self-access resources to help with common wellbeing issues that students face, and we encourage new students to look them over.

Be Healthy

  • Consume nutritious food and eat regularly to keep your energy levels up – students often reach for junk foods when they are stressed and it is better to option brain foods instead (proteins, nuts, fruit and veg)
  • Get quality sleep (eight hours a night) your brain needs time to shut down and process new information each day, so you are actually helping your studies as you snooze
  • Exercise regularly or go for a brisk walk every day – it is the best stress reduction technique around
  • Drink plenty of water – your brain is 73% H20, so it is vital for your cognitive functioning as well as your general wellbeing
  • Moderate alcohol and caffeine intake and avoid drugs
  • Take regular study breaks to help your mind and body rest and revive
  • Learn relaxation, mindfulness and meditation techniques
  • Have regular health check-ups with your GP

Be Kind to Yourself

  • Acknowledge you are dealing with challenges and be self-compassionate
  • Challenge negative thoughts and try to replace them with positive, encouraging ones – cognitive distortions or thinking errors (catastrophizing) can intensify when you are stressed or anxious
  • Remind yourself of what’s going well in your study and life to foster a sense of gratitude
  • Focus on your strengths and values
  • Have some ‘me time’ each day and do something that makes you feel good and helps you relax
  • Know it is normal to feel unhappy some times
  • Try and find humour in situations
  • Learn to say ‘no’ – study involves a significant time and financial investment, so you will need to practice prioritising
  • Seek help if you are experiencing persistent homesickness or loneliness, which are common occurrences in first-year students

Be Connected

  • Get involved in university and community activities and events, including joining Peer Assisted Study Sessions
  • Schedule regular time with friends and family and talk about how you are feeling (good, bad and the ugly)
  • Connect with your Student Mentor from your course of study
  • Find people with similar interests and values to you and spend time together
  • Ask another student to be a ‘study buddy’, or just catch up for a coffee regularly
  • Play with your pets (or find a friend with a pet, if you don’t have one) – it is great stress relief

Be in Control

  • Don’t worry about the past and the future as you have no control over them – you can only control the here and now (present moment)
  • Focus on your ‘sphere of control’ – your response to people and things around you
  • Plan your day, week and semester – being organised can help reduce concerns about the future
  • Recognise the difference between a current, real problem and a hypothetical one, so you use your energy wisely
  • Make changes to bring your life more in line with your values and long-term goals
  • Accept that sometimes you need to take action and push yourself, even when you don’t feel great
  • Defuse your thinking – your thoughts are just words and pictures in your mind and you don’t have to believe them or base actions on them all the time
  • Remember that stressful times are usually finite, so they do come to an end – this truism can often help you cope in the moment
  • Try not to make any major life decisions when you are feeling overwhelmed as things often seem worse when you are stressed or anxious.

Important Note:  If your stress or anxiety persists, please contact the JCU Student Equity and Wellbeing service to talk to one of our free, professional counsellors.


Life Balance

As outlined in the introduction to this module, study/life balance is the second greatest challenge facing Australian university students. This balance is often defined as a satisfactory level of involvement/fit between the multiple roles in a person’s life. Learning to manage your time is an important life skill to develop, particularly when you are studying and have many conflicting priorities and deadlines. However, this schedule must also include time for your social, emotional, physical and intellectual wellbeing, as well as your paid work and study. By placing a priority on your wellbeing, your work and study will be more productive.

Time management is important in order to achieve your aspirations and goals with the least amount of stress.  JCU recommends that students allocate a minimum of 10-12 hours/week/subject to study commitments. Around 25% of your time will be spent attending classes/webinars and the other 75% will involve independent study. This self-directed study will include academic reading, reviewing/synthesising notes, completing tutorial exercises, group study, as well as assignment and exam preparation. For a full-time student studying three or four subjects, it is a significant time commitment (36-48 hours/week). It is helpful to create weekly and semester planners (see below) to stay on track and share these with your nearest and dearest (parents, partners, children), so there is a shared understanding of your study commitments.

Weekly Planners

A weekly planner is designed to capture all the things you do at the same time every week, so you don’t have to keep trying to remember all of these items in your head.  It allows you to create a balanced life, reduces your stress levels, and frees up valuable brain capacity for other important work.

Step 1 – Download and save the Weekly Study Planner Template (DOCX, 34 KB) from the JCU Learning Centre, so you can start to build your plan. It is a good idea to create and save these in electronic form as you may need to regularly shuffle the items around until you find the right formula for yourself and your life.

Step 2 – Slot in your scheduled classes on the planner that you must attend for each subject (lectures, tutorials, practicals), as well as any paid work commitments, and carer responsibilities – these are your non-flexible commitments. For your classes, type the name of the subject code and the type of class on the planner (ED1401 Lecture, or PY1001 Tutorial). It is good to use a different colour background highlight for each subject, so you can see all the relevant study responsibilities at a glance.

Step 3 – Add in your independent study hours for each subject (tutorial/practical prep, assessment prep, review/synthesise lecture and subject notes, PASS classes etc) using the subject code and type of activity (ED1401 Tutorial Prep or PY1001 Assessment Prep). You should aim to spend around 7-10 hours/subject/week on these self-directed activities, and they can be scheduled at times that suit you.

Step 4 – Fill in your week with different wellbeing activities, so you are doing something each day to look after yourself and maintain that life balance, including hobbies. See previous Tips for Wellbeing section.

Step 5 – Lastly, slot in all those boring things you need to do in life ie cleaning the house, doing the grocery shopping, washing and ironing, commuting etc.

Step 6 – Review your plan each week on a Friday to see if it needs to be tweaked. Remember, everything takes longer in your first study period, so you may need to lengthen some of your preparation sessions, if you find that you aren’t completing your scheduled activities each week. Everyone’s plans will look different as they are personalised to each individual’s life and priorities, but the most important thing to remember is to stick to the plan you create.

Semester Assessment Planners

A semester assessment planner is designed to be an organisation tool, so you can see all your major study commitments at a glance.

Step 1 – Download and save the Assessment Planner Template for your study period from the JCU Learning Centre website under the 'Planning and managing your time efficiently' section, and type your subject codes in each of the column headings provided.

Step 2 – Review your subject outlines in LearnJCU and identify all your different assessments for each subject, the types of assessments, % value, and due dates and times.

Step 3 – Transpose that information onto your assessment planner for the relevant week (Essay 30% 14/03 – 5pm).  See example Semester Assessment Planner (PDF, 334 KB).  This will give you some idea of when your ‘pain points’ might be with regards to multiple assessments due in the one week.

Step 4 – Start to backward map your plan to meet those different assessment deadlines and add in your preparation activities on your planner.   The rule of 3 is helpful for this – allocate a week for some planning and research, a week for writing, and a week for editing in the lead up to an assessment due date.   The amount of time you spend on these activities will be listed on your Weekly Planner i.e. PY1001 Assessment Prep, so you know which days and times you have allocated for these types of preparation tasks.

Step 5 – Remember that you may have competing deadlines for one subject (as well as others), so you can’t always wait to finish one assessment before you start preparation for another one.   It is important to take particular note of the assessment weights as a percentage of your overall grade as they will guide how much time you spend on each item i.e. you would not spend the same amount of time preparing for a 10% oral presentation as you would for a 30% research assignment.   This is the same for exams – you need to allocate more preparation and review time for your final exams worth 30%-50% versus a 10% in-class test.

Important note

If you would like more information on planning and managing your time efficiently, please go to the JCU Learning Centre website.

The Iceberg Illusion

Success is frequently measured in outcomes and what you accomplish. What rarely gets the recognition it deserves is the effort that has been put in behind the scenes to achieve your goals.  As shown below, there are a lot of challenging factors to overcome at university that are often unseen by family, partners and friends, so they may underestimate the efforts you are expending at times and the impact on your mental and physical wellbeing.  So, be kind to yourself and make your wellbeing a personal priority, especially in your first year of study as you find your feet.

Graphic representing the Iceberg Illusion, the difference between what people see and what they don't see.

Take the Quiz

Test your knowledge of Wellbeing and Life Balance by taking the quiz.

Take the Quiz
What is the number one challenge facing university students in Australia
Is a certain level of daily stress helpful?
What is the minimum number of hours that you should spend on your study commitments/subject each week?
What portion of your workload will be independent study?