Stress refers to the body’s mental and physical responses to the demands made upon it (Stinson 2010). It results from a person’s reaction to the outside events, but not necessarily the event itself. Research shows that not all stress is bad. People need some stress in order to get their daily activities done. Too little of stress can cause boredom and “rust out” while too much of it can produce a “burn out”. This paper critically evaluates the health psychology of a university student in relation to stress that he or she comes across when in the university. It also encompasses on the source of stress to students, their effects on both social and academic life, individual strategies of coping with stress and the institutional interventions as far as ensuring students leads a happy life at the university is concerned.
Stress being an inevitable part of student’s life is associated with taking a toll on the students’ emotional well being, physical health, and academic success unless they are appropriately managed. According to Puhr (2011), the term stress “refers” to a non-specific body response to any demand attributed to change. University students experience stress as a result of lifestyle changes, increased workload, interpersonal relationships and new responsibilities. Stress at extreme levels can hinder the effectiveness in the work and lead to poor academic attrition and performance. University students experiencing stressful events in life are reported to have worse health status and reduced quality of life. Successful coping strategies should be introduced to help students avoid experiencing destructive strategies as a result of excessive stress.
Types of stress
Acute stress/ fight-or-fight responses
It refers to the immediate reaction of the body to a significant challenge, threat or scare (Everett 2014). Such a stress that has an immediate and intense response and in certain circumstances it can be thrilling. Acute stress can be caused by job interview, an exhilarating ski run or a fender brender. Severe acute stress can lead to mental health problems like physical difficulties such as heart attack and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Its response is more subtle than the response of acute-stress, with more problematic and longer lasting effects. For better stress management, both chronic and acute stress has to be identified and properly managed.
Sources of stress to university students
Poor eating habits
We have all heard this slogan “freshman 15.” It is not a myth. University students are either too busy studying for their exams or with their friends. This makes majority of them lack the means or the time to eat a well-balanced diet. Research shows that the diet of university freshmen consists of ramen noodles, take-out and candy bars. Many are unaware that sticking to a healthy diet can help in aiding their levels of stress. Some foods such as Yogurt, avocados, asparagus, oatmeal and salmon are foods with good mood that helps in reducing stress.
This is another major source of stress to university students. Many try to get into the best graduate programs, law or nursing school or other specialized programs. Such a competition can really get over the university student’s head mostly when it takes over the mental processes (Crew 2009). When students are working for good grades, it is good for them to give their brain a break and stay connected with other people to avoid developing stress.
Many university students fail to realize that this is not a high school. In the university, students are on their own, and they are going to be faced with much greater workload compared to high school. This workload leads to stress to majority of students as they are unable to manage all what they are expected to do. The important aspect to avoid stress is to do their work little by little and avoids planning to do all of it on the same day. This creates a big problem to new university students as they try to do the whole task once but fails to get everything done.
Relationships and social stress
The evidence shows that it is easy to say something than doing it, but it is important to balance so as to prevent stress. University students fails to know that school becomes the first priority and social situations the second. Many university students say, “I am just going out, and I will wake up tomorrow in the morning and attend classes,” which probably fails to happen and ends up in stress. Students should have time for friends, but ensure that they respect themselves and their educational endeavors.
University is a very expensive institution. Students are typically engaged in low paying jobs that are not enough in meeting expenses such as commuting, tuition, fees, books and boarding (Jones 2013). Though students get financial assistance from financial aid agencies or parents, financial stressors together with other obligations becomes tough to handle. In order to avoid such stressful situations, students with problems of paying university fees and meeting other expenses, they should consider seeking for a work-study program at the university.
Time becomes a big issue for university students to manage. They like doing everything which becomes hard to accomplish due to the shortage of time. Many students do not want to miss going out for all the scheduled funs but at the same time they have to work and attend classes. Majority finds themselves being stressed on how to manage such activities and ensure that all goes on well.
Failure to be organized
The most common cause of stress to the university students is being unable to organize their priorities and work properly (Ready 2010). Many new university students find it being difficult to be organized. Being on their own without parents and teachers keeping them on their toes, new university students sometimes seems unable to get it together.
Possible effects of stress to students
Research indicates that 63% of university students procrastinate when faced with academic stress, 47% fails to perform as well as they could do in school, and 40% responded that they do not enjoy learning (Absi 2009).
Personalities of many university students leads them to be perfectionists, hence causing them to worry about their grades that they are not good enough, or they desire to get into the best university.
Loss of sleep
One effect of procrastination and stress is sleep loss, and when students becomes seniors at the university many feel that they are not having enough sleep each night. A student survey conducted in one of the international universities indicates that 73.51% of the students claimed that stress leads to loss of sleep. While 60% of students claimed that they were not getting enough sleep every night. Study shows that students who may cram for a test late at night may experience more academic problems compared to those who do normal studies (Tucker 2008). This night cramming before the day of exams is not as effective as many of students might think.
Opinions of the university students on whether they get enough sleep or not.
Loss of sleeps results to academic problems to students and shows the impacts on the student’s interactions with one another. This perhaps becomes part of exhaustion vicious cycle and still tries to perform well around peers and in school.
Depression and Anxiety
A students’ survey conducted in the University of Illinois indicated that 41% of the students lash out in case they are stressed. Another 45% of the students become depressed when confronted with stress. When students are depressed, they start having negative attributions concerning their abilities and ends up feeling that they are not good at anything. This lowers their self-esteem and students starts underestimating themselves on how good they are at school which affects their performance negatively (Sandler 2011). The emotional and physical effects of stress have no impact on the university climate. Stressed students lash out at each other where many become depressed as they are overwhelmed by the social interactions and the homework load.
An academic stressful life can make a student to escape extracurricular activities in order to keep up with the demand of the university homework. A survey conducted in a university indicated that, 35% of the students claimed that they less participated in extracurriculars when they are stressed (Korn 2009).
Effect of stress in academic that is surprisingly prevalent at the universities is that students no longer enjoy being in school. The impacts from the survey conducted concerning the students showed that about 40% said that they have lost their learning motivation as a result of academic stress (Landsberg 2011). Majority of students come to the university desiring to learn in a rigorous setting, but this desire gets lost just after attending the university. Rodolph (2008) stated that stressed people experience emotional symptoms such as depression or anxiety. The depression or anxiety interferes with the learning thus interfering with students’ motivation. It affects the concentration and learning ability of students as well as their motivation. University students are not only faced with academic stress, but they are also faced with social stress that comes from teachers and classmates interaction.
Obsessed and stressed
University students are required to thrive academically through trying new things and exploit traditional curriculum. Such a vision fails to be met if students are paralyzed by academic stress. Academic and emotional stress causes health problems to many students, thus making it harder for them to enjoy their time at school.
Individual strategies of coping with stress
Among the coping strategies, “planning, religion, active coping, and acceptance” were found to be the most used axioms by students (Kalish 2010). Notably, strategies of coping with stress relating to “venting,” “humor” and “denial” were least applied by the students. Individual strategies of coping with stress compared between female and male students revealed a significant difference. Particularly, mechanisms of coping with stress such as self-blame, denial, and behavioral disengagement significantly varied among gender distribution. Other strategies of coping with stress include:
Avoid unnecessary stress
The fact is that not all stress can be avoided as it is not advisable to avoid situations that require to be addressed. In order to avoid unnecessary stress, the following strategies can be used by a student so as to cope with stress.
Avoid people who may cause stress in your life. Students should ensure’ they avoid engaging with stressors through limiting the amount of time spent with them or entirely end the relationship.
Have your to-do-list. If the stress is as a result of heavy workload, have an analysis of your schedule containing the daily tasks and responsibilities. If you have to do, distinguish between the “must” and the “should”. The unnecessary tasks should be at the bottom of the list, or they should be eliminated.
Alter the situation
If the stressful situation cannot be avoided, try to alter it. Strategize on what to do in order to have things changed as a way of preventing the problem to present it again in the future. The situation can be altered through: being more assertive about your own life. This anticipates on dealing with problems head on, and ensuring you do your best to prevent and anticipate them. Have proper time management. Most students are stressed due to lack of a better time management.
If it becomes hard to change the stressor, it is better for the student to change him/herself. A student can adapt to situations that are stressful and regain a sense of control through changing his or her attitude and expectations. Students can achieve this strategy though reframing the problems that brings stressful situations and view it in a more perspective way. They can also avoid stress through focusing on the positive things and adjusting their standards as a way of coping with stress.
Some sources of stress to students are unavoidable. Some stressors such as death of a very close friend and serious illness cannot be changed or prevented. In such situations, the best way for the student to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Though accepting such situations may be difficult, it is easier in the long run rather than railing against unavoidable situation (Marrison 2012).
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Physical health helps in increasing stress resistance. This can be obtained through having a regular exercise which helps in preventing and reducing the effects of stress. Eating a diet that is healthy enables the body to cope with stress (Heart 2008).
Possible institutional interventions that can make students have a happy life
1. Have an institutional culture recognizing stress as a source of social and academic impairment. The environment of the university has been termed as “a system of practices, policies, and pressures intended to influence students’ development towards attaining higher educational goals. Therefore, the institutional culture of the university has the power to guide the priorities and attitudes of its students.
2. Improve the promotion and coordination of stress management resources. There exists numerous opportunities for students to manage or reduce stress within the surrounding community and the university. Research indicates that many students are unaware, and they do not subsequently use the available resources.
3. Enhance availability of physical spaces and university-wide infrastructure to promote and support stress reduction.
4. Diversify and expand evidence-based therapeutic interventions for management and prevention of stress-related consequences.
5. Increase opportunities for social, academic, and financial support.
6. Obstacle reduction to the successful navigation of the systems of university.
Literature illustrates clearly that stress has become an almost academic feature of the daily life of students. It is also an aspect of the life of students that have largely gone unaddressed. Though little stress is important as it presses students to perform their daily activities, severe stress should be avoided due to the consequences associated with them. Universities and colleges should create a favorable environment in order to enhance students’ learning. Students should be advised to follow the above mentioned strategies in order avoid severe stress which affects their academic performance negatively.
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