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Imagine You Are a Newly Appointed Counsellor At a

University And You Have Been Given the Responsibility of

Providing a Report On the Stresses of Being a Student.
a) Sources of Student Stress.
b) The Possible Effects of Student Stress.
c) Individual Coping Strategies.
d) Possible Institutional Interventions that Might Make a
Student’s Role a Happy One.

Student: Alan Cummins

Student No: 1165236
Lecturer: Dr. Garry Prentice
Course: PSY383
Sources of Student Stress

D'Zurilla and Sheedy, 1991 identified that students, particularly first year students are prone to

high levels of stress. These sources of stress come from internal biological and psychological

factors and from external environmental and social interactions or lack thereof. Sources of stress

generally for students can be: Events that are perceived as threatening or challenging, exams,

assignments, a new social circle, a new part of life, distance from family, a new environment,

financial pressures, lack of social support and isolation. Each individual will perceive a given

situation as stressful and individual vulnerability must be taken into account. Sources of stress

can come from either major or every day events. Kanner 1982 developed The Daily Hassles and

Uplift Scale to determine daily hassles that while minor add to the stress levels and Bolger,

Delongis et al 1989, Brantley 2005 have provided research to correlate daily hassles with higher

propensity to stress and as a source of stress. Individual vulnerability to possible stressors plays a

major part. How a person appraises a given situation will have an effect on whether that situation

is seen as a source of stress or not as discussed in Lazarus, Folkman 1984b, Lazarus, Launier

1978. Equally negative events can be appraised as stressful and it is an individual’s sense of self

that plays a role in determining if a situation is stressful (Sarason, Johnson, Siegel 1978). A

student may become overloaded with work and that can be a stressor (Cohen 1978, Cohen,

Williamson 1988). Wirtz 2006 has shown that thinking about a stressful event that may occur,

even if it never occurs can be a source of stress. Wallston, 1989, discusses control as a mediator

of stress, a student who feels they have a lack of control in a given situation will be more prone

to high stress. High expectations of control where the reality may be that no control is possible or

an event is unpredictable can lead to personal blame and learned helplessness, and increased

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stress. Examinations are a source of stress but similarly to Wirtz 2006, Sausen et al 1992 has

shown that the stress caused by an actual examination is equally as high when purely thinking

about it. Students are under-going a huge shift in their lives moving to a new institution, possibly

a new residence and a shifting and distancing of an already long established social network

(Rabkin, Struening, 1976). Towbes and Cohen, 1996 identified this transitional nature of college.

This requires substantial adjustment and this can cause high levels of stress as Holms, Rahe 1967

discusses. Ross, Niebling and Heckert, 1999 identified the top five sources of stress for students

as change in sleeping habits, vacation, change in eating habits, increased workload and new

responsibilities. That is a mixture of interpersonal, intrapersonal, academic and environment.

Other sources of stress include excessive homework, unclear assignments, and uncomfortable

classrooms as identified by Kohn & Frazer, 1986, relations with faculty members and time

pressures as indicated by Sgan-Cohen & Lowental, 1988 and relationships with family and

friends, eating and sleeping habits, and loneliness, Wright, 1967. Coursework and emotional

state have been identified by Monk, Mahmood, 1999, as causes of stress in students.

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The Possible Effects of Student Stress

The possible effects of stress can be both psychological and physical. Stress can be seen in

positive and negative terms but we are taking Taylor, 2007 definition of stress as being one of

negative outcome and having an aversive effect on the individual. All individuals vary and

factors such as biological predisposition, pre-existing health, and lifestyle choices has an impact

on the effects of a stressful event. UCD, 2007 gives a list stress effects. Short-term effects

include: heightened alertness, dilated pupils, dry mouth, tension in neck and shoulders, faster

breathing and heart rate, higher blood pressure, sweaty palms, feeling sick or having a ‘butterfly'

stomach, increased need to urinate, constipation or diarrhoea. Prolonged exposure to stressful

situations, as can happen for a student over the course of their entire college life can lead to

effects such as: headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, ulcers, hyperventilation, asthma,

palpitations, high blood pressure, heart and artery disorders, sweating more than normal, high

blood sugar, nervous indigestion, disturbed sleep patterns, difficulty swallowing, neck and back

problems, bowel disorders, rashes, allergies and sexual difficulties Physiological effects can

occur and has been researched by Graham, Christian and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2006, Kiecolt-Glaser,

McGuire, Robles, and Glaser, 2002 and do effect an individual even in the short term (Smith,

Ruiz and Uchino, 2000). An individual under stress can have a fight or flight response either

making an aggressive response or withdrawing from society (Cannon 1932, Kemeny 2003).

McLeod, Kessler, and Landis, 1992, researched how under stress an individual can drive people

away via the effects of stress having a negative effect on their mental health. This causes a

worsening of the stressful situation for the individual as one of their coping strategies in terms of

social support is reduced. Despite the numerous source of stress Seyle, 1956, 1976 developed the

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General Adaptation Theory that all stresses produce the same pattern of physiological changes.

Repeated alarm, resistance, and exhaustion, over time, lays the groundwork for disease.

Reactivity measures the degree of change that occurs in autonomic, neuroendocrine and or

immune responses as a result of stress. Individuals, having a genetic-based predisposition, can

become stressed in respond to physiological or environmental threats or challenges (Jacobs

2006). Student stress may have immediate short term psychological and physical effects but it is

worth noting that repeated exposure has a detrimental effect over the long term. This was

discussed by Seeman, Singer, Horwitz, and McEwen, 1997 and was termed allostatic load, that

physiological systems responses fluctuate but over time build up and have long term costs. More

immediate effects include involuntary responses such as distractibility and an inability to

concentrate, with disruption on cognitive tasks as Glass, Singer 1972, Cohen 1980, Shaham,

Singer, Schaeffer 1992 have researched. Stress causing an emotional response can cause

rumination on intrusive and morbid thoughts and that keeps biological stress responses elevated,

further worsening the effects of stress on individuals (Gylnn, Christenfeld, Gerin 2002). Those

who are high in negativity can be more adversely affected by stress as Gunthert, Cohen, Armeli

1999 indicated and effects such as increased heavy drinking, Frances, Franklin, Flavin 1986,

Martens et al 2008, increased levels of depression, Francis, Fyer, Clarkin 1986 and in severe

cases suicidal tendencies as researched by Cross, Hirschfeld 1986 can occur. Negative stressful

events have implications for self-concept, producing a loss of self-esteem and/or erosion of a

sense of mastery or identity. Academic achievement is effected by stress (Vaez, Laflamme,

2008). Psychological stressors have even been associated with suicide (Baca-Garcia et al 2007).

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Individual Coping Strategies

Coping is defined as the thoughts and behaviours used to manage the internal and external

demands of situations that are appraised as stressful (Folkman and Moskowitz, 2004). It should

be noted that there have been short-comings of the effectiveness of coping strategies due to

confound variables in determining stress and adaptational outcomes as discussed in Lazarus,

DeLongis, Folkman and Gruen 1985, and De Ridder, 1995. Folkman and Lazarus, 1988, have

given a coping inventory which includes: confrontative coping, seeking social support, planful

problem solving, self-control, and distancing, positive reappraisal, accepting responsibility and

escape / avoidance of the stressful situation. Carver, Scheier, and Weintraub, 1989, list coping

strategies as: active coping, planning, seeking instrumental social support, seeking emotional

social support, suppression of competing activities, turning to religion, positive reinterpretation

and growth, restraint coping, acceptance, focusing on and venting emotions, denial, mental

disengagement, behavioural disengagement, alcohol/drug use, and humour. Both give negative

and positive coping strategies that individuals may use to cope with stress. Smith, Ruiz and

Uchino, 2000, have shown that having a short term approach based style causes anxiety and

adverse physiological reactivity. Avoiding or minimising threatening events in the short term is

alright (Wong, Kaloupek 1986) but this avoidant coping will lead to psychological difficulties

over the longer term (Silver, Holman, et al 2002, O’Connor, O’Connor, 2003.). Scheier and

Carver, 1985, Fitzgerald, 1993 and Bromberger and Matthews 1996 discussed optimistic versus

pessimistic coping strategies. Optimism makes use of problem focused coping, seeking social

support and emphasizing positive aspects of a stressful situation whereas pessimism is associated

with denial and distancing from event, focusing directly on stressful feelings and disengagement

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from a situation. Positive emotional states increase better mental and physical health Cohen,

Pressman 2006 and optimists tend to seek out social support and positively reinterpret an event

(Scheier, Carver and Bridges 1994, Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton, Tropp 2008, Darling,

McWey, Howard, Olmstead, 2007, Folkman, 2008, Uchinio, Cacioppo, Kiecolt-Glaser 1996),

effectively using resources that they have access to (Segerstorm, 2006, Chang 1998). This makes

transition to college easier (Brisseette, Scheier and Carver, 2002). Cognitive reinterpretation and

problem solving promotes better health and adaptation in college students according to Sasaki,

Yamasaki, 2007 and Lightsey, Jr, 1994 and as such positive problem focused coping strategies

are to be recommended. Those that have a sense of coherence about life (Jorgensen, Frankowski,

Carey 1999) and a sense of purpose (Visotsky, Hamburg, Goss, Lebovitz 1961) will cope more

effectively with stressors. Having positive life events, an opportunity for rest, relaxation, and

renewal allow individuals to cope more effectively according to Bergeman, Bisconti and

Wallace, 2006. Those that have the ability to experience positive emotions even in stressful

situations have an effective coping strategy to hand (Tugade, Fredrickson, 2004). Even simply

having a sense of humour about stressful situations has a major positive impact (Cousins, 1979).

Those who have faith have also been shown to be effective copers as they can fall back to their

faith in times of stress as discussed in Folkman and Moskowitz, 2004. Pessimistic strategies such

as negative mental distancing and venting affects depressive tendencies related to stressful

situations and is not of benefit to the individual (Fauerbach, et al 2002). Which of these strategies

that an individual will use depends on their evaluation, appraisal, sense of control, self-esteem,

situational factors, predisposed coping style, availability of social and financial resources, social

moderators such as religion, gender, socio-economic-status and personality traits. Coping

strategies fall into either problem or emotion focused strategies. The problem focused approach

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looks to find direct action to alleviate the stressful situation (Taylor, Stanton 2007). The emotion

focused approach tries to regulate the emotions that trigger or are triggered by a stressful

situation. Folkman and Lazarus 1980, have identified that typically people use both but that does

depend on the situation (Zakowski, Hall, et al 2001) and that the emotion-based strategies are

used widely (Watson, Sinha 2008) but that problem-focused coping gives best results in

examinations (Cohen, Ben-zur, and Rosenfield 2008). Flexible copers deal well with stress

having the ability to use the most effective strategy for the given situation, Cheng 2003. The

emotional approach to coping tries to clarify, focus on, and work through emotions triggered by

a stressor (Stanton, Danoff-Burg, Cameron, Ellis 1994). This clarification and focus can affirm

important aspects of self, Creswell 2007 but it is important that an individual does not fall into

rumination as this causes harm (Thomsen 2004). Kobasa, 1979 talks about hardiness individuals

have which can cope with stress by seeing the situation as one of challenge that can be

controlled. Taylor, Helgeson, Reed and Skokan, 1991 have identified that psychological control

is an effective coping strategy. Similarly Cohen and Edwards 1989, Masters, Wallston 2005, and

Walker, 2001 have discussed an internal locus of control as an effective coping mechanism.

Individuals use control or a perceived sense of control and self-efficacy to cope with stress

(Ogden, 2000, Bandura 1977, Wrosch, Schulz, et al 2007). Coping can be improved by

enhancing social support, improving personal control, time management, exercising and

preparing for stress. Pierceall and Keim, 2007, identified some of the most often used coping

strategies in students as talking to family, friends, leisure activities and exercising. Coping is

affected by personality, genetics and the environment according to Kozak, Strelau, and Miles,

2005, Repetti, Taylor and Seeman 2002. Those with high self-esteem are less likely to be upset

in response to stress (Shimizu, Pelham, 2004) and self-confident, easy-going people deal with

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stressful events more actively (Holahan, Moos 1990). Social support in the form of tangible,

informational, emotional and invisible support is of great importance in a coping strategy.

Individuals can cope with stress by forming new social connections, Taylor, Klein 2000 and

women especially favour this approach (Taylor, Gonzaga, 2006, Lucklow, Reifman and

McIntosh 1998 and Tamres, Janicki and Helgeson, 2002). Taylor, 2007 has shown that those

with social support experience less stress and deal with it better. However social support

especially from students may adversely affect an individual and they may see increased smoking,

drinking and taking of drugs as an effective coping strategy (Wills, Vaughan, 1989). Spirituality

has been shown to have benefits in terms of coping with stress according to Lynn-Gall et al,

2005 and hypnosis and relaxation can also be an effective coping strategy (Kiecolt-Glaser,

Marucha, Atkinson, Glaser 2001). Whichever coping strategy is used, it should centre on

reducing harmful environmental conditions, enhancing prospects of recovery, positive

adjustment to negative events, maintenance of positive self-image and emotional equilibrium and

continuing satisfying relationships with others (Cohen, Lazarus 1979).

PSY383 - Alan Cummins - 1165236 - Page 9 of 26

Possible Institutional Interventions that Might Make a Student’s

Role a Happy One

Institutions can intervene to aid students in coping with stress in using many methods such as

cognitive and behavioural methods, relaxation, systematic desensitisation, biofeedback,

modelling, cognitive restructuring, rational emotive therapy, stress inoculation, meditation,

hypnosis, stress management, education and support. A multi-faceted approach should be used as

each individual reacts differently to the various treatments. Meichenbaum, Jaremko 1983,

Meichenbaum, 1985 have detailed reports on stress training and inoculation listing the above.

Meichenbaum and Turk, 1982 have suggested that individuals should discover what works best

for them and this will most effectively aid in inoculating against stress. The overall institutional

scheme for stress management should be flexible, open and involve student feedback to

effectively deal with stress. Support should be given in terms of informational, instrumental,

emotional esteem, appraisal and material resources. Alongside specific stress related education

and coping skills acquisition various general educational preventative lectures should be

provided. These include time-management, general health, effective use of all college resources,

assertiveness training, self-esteem training, study guides and assignment support lectures. Such

lectures would help to alleviate some of the possible sources of stress. Adams, 1978 has shown

that good eating habits and social skills reduces stress effectively. Upon arrival at college all

students should be provided with details of the various social support structures that are available

such as peer groups, counselling and advice services. Increased social support groups as

discussed in Taylor, 2007 and internet based social support interventions, Barrera, Glasgow, et al

2002 have been shown to effectively deal with stress. A mentor can be helpful to act as a

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confidant, particularly for male students, Umberson 1987. Student’s family group should be

made aware of the stressful nature of college and advised to keep a close support network open

to students; this allows students to be better able to deal with stress, Valentiner, Holahan and

Moos 1994. Folkman 1991, Lewis and Rook 1999 have shown that encouraging people to

maintain social support in environment helps. Cohen and McKay, 1984 indicate that a Matching

Hypothesis should be used where social support is matched per stressful event so as to not crowd

an individual but provide the relevant support when and if required. Stress management training

involves identification of possible stressors, how stressors personally affect the student,

identification of when and how stressors are triggered, the acquisition of skills to cope with

stress, either to remove or deal effectively with the stressors, and real-world practice of those

skills. Stress management training should help students feel they can predict, modify, or

terminate an aversive event or feel they have access to someone who can influence it. This

allows them to experience any event as less stressful even if they actually do nothing about it

(Thompson, 1981). Providing students with the tools to psychologically control stress reaction is

effective, Thompson, Cheek and Graham 1988 but this must be tempered with what is deemed as

too little or too much control and responsibility. Chipperfield and Perry, 2006 have noted that too

much responsibility can simply lead to increased stress. Thayer, Newman and McCain, 1994

have shown that stress training works. Meichenbaum and Jaremko, 1983 have shown that

effective stress management should involve what is stress, how to identify in one’s own life,

acquisition of skills for dealing with it, targeted practice and monitoring of its effectiveness.

Negative self-talk should be avoided and training can be provided to reinforce this principle. The

stress management skills taught should be constantly updated to acquire new skills, set new

goals, what should be avoided, tolerated and overcome. A student’s sources of stress will shift

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throughout their college life and they alongside college administration should keep track of

personal and public sources of stress. It is not possible to remove stress from a student’s life but

using techniques such as Cognitive behavioural Stress management described by Antoni, 2001

can aid in dealing with stress once it arrives. This scheme disaggregates stress into specific

stressors that evoke specific coping strategies. This gives the student a concrete plan and set of

steps, that they have been assisted in setting up, to deal most effectively with stress using

whichever techniques are most personally preferred. Techniques such as mindfulness training to

self-regulate reactions to stress and negative emotions, discussed in Brown and Ryan 2003,

Bishop, 2002, and relaxation therapy as discussed in Barnes, Davis, Murzynowski and Treiber,

2004 can aid in coping with stress. Expressive disclosure as discussed in Pennebaker and Beall,

1986 can allow the student to find meaning in experience of stress, Lepore and Smyth 2002. And

keeping such directed diary can be an affirmation of personal values, Creswell, 2005, 2007 and

this builds self-esteem which benefits coping with stress. Individual lectures have a

responsibility to reduce stress from exams and assignments to an acceptable level. They should

remove ambiguous events and instructions from their course. This gives the students the ability

to take confrontative action which Billings and Moos, 1984 have shown is associated with less

distress and better coping. Lectures should provide clear feedback about the nature of

performance for the class or specific student to lower levels of stress, Cohen and Williamson

1988 and academic motivation is of much benefit (Thompson, Gandreau 2008). Institutions

should avoid major change during the college year as this can cause stress to students (Rafferty,

Griffin, 2006). Looking at current institutions and their strategies for stress management, UCD,

2007 make use of visualisation techniques to control negative feelings alongside various other

strategies for general well-being, financial and academic situations that aids in preparation,

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planning and dealing with stressful situations. TCD, 2008 provides access to one-to-one

counselling, discussion forums, student-to-student mediations, confidential help-lines, financial

and academic support, stress training and self-help guides to aid students in preventing and

dealing with stress. Specifically they use mindfulness training where participants are encouraged

to learn how to alter their relationship with their own thoughts, feelings and body sensations and

move towards allowing distressing emotions, thoughts and sensations to "come and go" rather

than struggling and reacting to their experience. Taking these two institutions multi-tiered

approach as an example, it is clear that a multi-pronged support and training service would be of

most benefit for stress management and reduction. This should allow students to cope with stress

and make their student-life a happy one. It should be noted that Li, 2008 reports that there is a

high level of resilience in college students and they use active coping successfully in most cases.

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