Mental Health

Prescribing your time to achieve a work-life balance

“It’s not good enough,” is one of the most consistent phrases that cycles through my head.

It’s not good enough that I only got through one chapter tonight, or I didn’t make it into gym today, or I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have… the list goes on and on!

I find as the semester progresses and my workload gets heavier, these thoughts (like an alarm) slowly grow louder and louder inside my head. My problem is, I don’t know how to shut them off.

I place all this pressure on myself to try and maintain a work-life balance, because after all it’s healthy isn’t it?

We’ve all been guilty of logging onto social media to see friends out having coffee or taking a day off to go on an adventure and find ourselves thinking, “All I ever do is study and work… I should find more time for myself. What I’m doing is not good enough” But when we try and prioritise our mental and physical health, we come back to what feels like a ceiling high load of work on our desk. We look around and see our peers already halfway through the pile because they chose to work instead. Then the guilt sets in. “I’ve spent too much time on myself, I should have studied.”

And the cycle goes on and on…

I’ve noticed that the veterinary field attracts a lot of overachievers and perfectionists. We love being organised, making lists, getting things done, and feeling productive! But at the same time, we want to be able to enjoy our lives and not feel “punished” by just working or studying 24/7.

I’ll admit—I’m a perfectionist. In my first few years at university, I wore it as a badge of pride. I put in all the work, and my results reflected this. But further into my university career I noticed my mental health wasn’t nearly as good as it could be. Yes, spending endless hours on study produced results, but it wasn’t the best fit for me long term. And so, last semester I chose to consciously and regularly take more time for myself. Which was working well, until exam season when my old habits (i.e. the inner study-monster-mode) re-emerged. I became stressed about how “behind” I was. (And by “behind” I mean not on the road to getting 100% in exams. Remember, I’m a perfectionist). I found my brain telling myself yet again, my efforts weren’t good enough. I passed all of my exams with flying colours, but noticed my grades weren’t as high as last year. I started to beat myself up a little for not doing as well. I knew I could do better.

My current struggle is here: finding balance between self-care and being a perfectionist as a student.

I don’t regret for a second prioritising myself. My physical and mental health over the past year has improved notably since 2019, and I love the person I’m growing into. Conversely, I would still prefer to not have felt so stressed about my grades at the end of the semester. I believe over time I’ve gotten better at accepting balance, which for me, means not having perfect grades, but it’s still something I’m working on being content with.

Work-life balance only works after all, if you’re truly happy with the end result.

So, instead of focusing on getting top grades, exercising all the time, and having an interesting social life 24/7, I think it’s more important to sit down and think; what is most important to you?

Is it feeling on top of class work to a level of understanding? Getting outside once a day? Touching base with a friend? Or something else?

Whatever it is, it needs to be something you can accept. Your life won’t be perfect. But it needs to be enough to stop the voice alarm inside your head from telling you otherwise.

The time you have is enough. It’s just how you choose to spend it.

Sophie Bolton is a third-year veterinary student at the University of Queensland in Australia. She has always had a love for animals, but only decided that the veterinary field was for her mid-way through her first year of Biomedical Science. After graduation, Sophie aspires to work in mixed-practice to gain experience with a variety of different species. She loves to help both people and animals, and is excited that her degree will help her to do so. Outside of university, Sophie likes hiking, horse riding, beach trips, and spending time with friends.


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