The importance of occupational balance

In this module we describe how a balance between different activities can be beneficial for us humans. After that we present scientifically based tips on what you can do to achieve a balance between, for example, studies and leisure time.

Coffee by the computer
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occupational balance

Resting is doing something else for a while. These are the words of the so called Enköping doctor, Dr. Ernst Westerlund, as early as at the end of the 19th century. Students who visited him from Uppsala to seek help for worry and anxiety were prescribed card games or needle pointing, depending on their interest and disposition. By doing something completely different that required concentration, the students were able to take a break from their worries and persistent thoughts about the next semester and then return to it with renewed strength. To read more about Dr. Westerlund's recommendations and way of thinking, click here.


More about occupational balance

Introduction: occupational balance

Today we call Dr. Westerlund's way of thinking occupational balance. Occupational balance is a wide term. In summary, research has shown that occupational balance in relation to health and well-being can be defined as:

A subjective experience of having the right variation and the right amount of day to day life activities in relation to

  • areas of activity - for example the balance between work activities and leisure activities, or activities that we do for ourselves and activities that we do for other people,
  • activities of different character - for example a balance between challenging and relaxing activities or activities that we perform by ourselves and activities that we do together with other people,
  • use of time - for example having sufficient time for rest or sleep or sufficient time for oneself

(Wagman, et. al 2012)

Tips: Stop and reflect on what you are doing = the first step towards change

What does your day to day life look like? It might be useful to reflect on what your pattern of activities looks like (in other words what sort of activities form your day to day life) and how you perceive your occupational balance. It is your own experience of occupational balance that should govern your behaviour - research has shown that it can vary greatly between individuals.

  • Areas of activity: How is your balance between studies, leisure time, home and family?
  • Different types of activities: Do you have activities that you can relax with and charge your batteries, so that you can take on, for example, challenging study tasks with renewed energy? Or perhaps it's the other way around, that you lack real challenges in life where you are able to use and develop your skills, abilities and experiences?
  • Time expenditure: Do you have enough time to do things for yourself or is almost all of your time spent on doing things that other people decide for you or expect from you?

Remember Dr. Westerlund's words that rest is doing something else. Both quantity and variation are important factors in order for you to experience balance in day to day life activities.

Participate in Student Wellbeings webinar Psychological sustainability for students to get tips on psychological self-care and how you can stress-proof yourself for the future.

References: Occupational balance

Jonsson, H. (1998). Ernst Westerlund - a Swedish doctor of occupation. Occupational Therapy International, 5(2), 155–171.

Jonsson H, Persson D. Towards an experiential model of occupational balance: An alternative perspective on flow theory analysis. J Occup Sci. 2006;13:62–73.

Wagman P, Håkansson C, Jonsson H. Occupational Balance: A Scoping Review of Current Research and Identified Knowledge Gaps, J. Occup Sci, 2015;22:160-169, DOI:10.1080/14427591.2014.986512

Wagman P, Håkansson C, Björklund A. Occupational balance as used in occupational therapy: a concept analysis. Scand J Occup Ther 2012;19:322–7.

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