Perceived Stress on Students Impact

The Impact of Perceived Stress on Students and The Differences Between College And University Students’ Age and Gender

1.0 Introduction. 3

2.0 Research Questions. 5

3.0 Research Hypothesis. 5

4.0 Stress Perceptions by the Students. 6

5.0 Stress differences in various age groups. 10

6.0 Stress differences across gender 11

7.0 Stress coping mechanisms. 12

8.0 Hope, resilience and optimism as a means of reducing stress. 17

References. 20

1.0 Introduction

Life of university and college students is full of stress (Roberti, Harrington, and over demanding. Stress happens when someone is faced with a situation that is challenging or overwhelming, and the person cannot cope or handle the situation (Agola and Ongori, 2009). Stress is also described as any one factor that acts either within or outside which makes adapting to the environment difficult. Stress also triggers increased energy on the person to maintain a state of equality between himself and the outer environment (Humphrey, Yow, & Bowden, 2000).

In recent years, stress is seen as an important subject in the academic circle because life itself is surrounded by many stresses. Among university and college students, stress is seen as positive and negative experiences that often affects their school performance and their lives in general (Jogaratnam & Buchanan, 2004). This stress is as a result of academic work. Normally the encounter of stress among college and university students is regarded as normal but if it is prolonged or persistent, it can lead to low academic performance. Stress can also interfere with the ability of the student to contribute to activities done in the campus and add the probability of the student engaging in potentially dangerous behaviors (Richlin-Klonsky & Hoe, 2003). Academic institutions operate in unique work settings as equalized to non-academic institutions, and this explains why the source of stress in these two environments is very different.

The transition effect from high school to college or university is associated with changes in values and lifestyles of young people. Stress is a common element of all individuals regardless of race, gender, religion or even ethnicity (Garrett, 2001). As Seaward (1994) cited, how we perceive stress is very important to our wellbeing. Since much of the stress, we experience in day to day life has to do way with the way we perceive the stimulus that surrounds us. Also, the degree to which we perceive them can be life-threatening. We live in a World with different activities, and this makes us be linked to them. The way students respond to the stressor; the way they perceive it and the ability to adapt to the stressor are vital in the way they perceive stress.

People differ in the way they encounter stress and in their ability to coping with it. Stress in students who are in institutions of higher learning is seen as an increasing phenomenon. Bazeley and Thyer (1993) asserted that many of the stressors encountered by the students are inevitably caused by the anxiety associated with the many educational programs. These programs include passing assignments, exams, and the probability of proceeding to the next level. Research has also proved that there is a difference between female and male students with female students experiencing more stress as compared to their male counterpart according to McDaniel (2005). Another study done by McDaniel (2005) indicated that students in lower levels experienced more stress levels than those at higher levels despite being in the same environment. Chen, Wong, Ran, and Gilson (2009) stated that university students’ stress is a result of students adapting to multiple changes in the university and its surrounding environment. This environment has four sources: social, environmental, cognitive and physiological.

University students develop high-stress levels due to financial pressures, academic commitments, and lack proper time management skills according to Marcos and Tillema (2006). Sarafino and Ewing (1999) found that high-stress levels among college or university students will contribute to increased unhealthy behavior among them. Sarafino and Ewing (1999) also found that the establishment of university and college counseling centers are of paramount necessity to decrease stress and its adverse effects to university students.

2.0 Research Questions

The following research questions were designed to guide this study. To describe perceived stress levels as experienced by the students. Also to determine if there are differences in the correlation between college and university students who perceived higher stress scores. To assess whether there are differences in the age groups and gender on perceived stress scores between university and college students. To determine if the copying process helped to make changes in their situations. The last question was to determine whether hope, resilience, and optimism are means of bouncing back in a positive way.

3.0 Research Hypothesis

The research hypotheses for this study were as follows:

  1. There is a relationship between university and college students on how they perceive stress.
  2. There is a difference in the levels of perceived stress on academic life and academic workload among different age groups and gender.
  3. There is a relationship between good coping mechanisms and hope, resilience, and optimism as a means of reducing stress.

4.0 Stress Perceptions by the Students

American university students always report high levels of stress in greater numbers than there before (American College Health Association, 2004). Stress on college and university students is high. Studies done by Piarceall and Keim (2007) indicate that 75% to 80% of the university and college students while 10% to 12% are severely stressed. According to Towbes and Cohen (1996), college students must manage a greater number of stressors associated with college life. Students should be taught the best methods or coping mechanisms they are supposed to be used to counteract this threatening burden called stress. Students face challenging academic hurdles, time pressures, financial obligations, the need to set priorities right, making of new friendship and the hassle of trying to adjust to the new environment (Greenberg, 2002). These challenges deplete the students’ coping resources and many fall victim of stress.

In another study done by Stader & Hokanson (1998), 60% or more of the students reported high or increased levels of stress. In this study, stress among college students arises from the many lifestyle adjustments students are supposed to make and the course work of academic load. Stader & Hokanson (1998) also found alcohol use among college students is associated with high-stress levels with reduced coping mechanisms. Stress has the potential of affecting memory and learning. Although optimal stress is useful for learning too much stress causes mental and physical problems to affect academic performance and even lower the self-esteem of the students (Kaplan & Sadock, 2000). According to Kaplan & Sadock (2000), these stress pressures that students face should be relieved or managed early because of their adverse effects. If they are prolonged or unmanaged they can lead to helplessness, stress, and depression thereby placing the academic future of the affected students in jeopardy.

Smith and Renk (2007) stated that family and social support were important factors that either increased or reduced the way stress is perceived by college and university students. Smith and Renk (2007) found that family support did not have much impact as compared to support from significant others that include the romantic partners who are always there for them in their daily life. Social support from the significant others served as a good coping mechanism and this lead to increased academic performance. These social supports help students to deal with academic-related stress. According to Smith and Renk (2007), academic problems have been mentioned as the most causes of stress in college and university students. They observed that the most stressful daily hassles were school-related stressors such as constant pressure of studying, writing term papers, too little time, plans, taking tests and the boring instructors. Exam or taking tests was identified as the main cause of academic stress, and most of the students find themselves vulnerable to examination.

Another perception of stress by students in institutions of higher learning is having a lower grade than they expected. Academic-related stress has been shown to have adverse effects on the health of the student consequently contributing to poor academic performance as stated by Smith & Renk (2007).  In another study carried out by Greenberg (2002) found sleeping too much, not getting enough sleep, class attendance, problems with girlfriend and boyfriend. Also, not exercising at all or over-exercising and the problem with a roommate were seen as the main perception of stress by the students.

Mahat (1998) stated that many of these students perceived interpersonal relationship especially with their instructors as the most stressing thing. He also found that ethnic students in institutions of higher learning encounter increased stress than others, and it is evident from those students who come to the university from low-income families and they are less academically prepared. Mahat also revealed that ethnicity, gender, and race constructs influence perceived stress among university students. Lazarus (1999) conceptualized the whole concept of the stress process which includes subjectively evaluating the stressful circumstances, environmental demands, and stress-linked emotional responses. Present conceptualization terms stress as part of a chronological process in which the objective environmental situations are evaluated by the individual.

The perceived stress of several stressful occurrences can present potential threats, change, and danger or challenge someone’s wellbeing or survival. The perceived stress often presents or manifests in outward behavior or even in emotional states. These perceived stress thereby suggest that there is an association between the individual perceived stresses in college students. Also, the personal values, negative-positive emotions, interpersonal relationships, and social values are seen as their sources of psychological satisfaction (Lazarus 1999). Marcos and Tillema (2006) identified a few of the emotional problems that college students encounter including anxiety, depression, and aggression. Marcos and Tillema (2006) found that negative and positive emotions contribute to the students’ perception of stress.

According to Marcos and Tillema (2006) recent research and analysis of concepts have proved that these positive and negative emotions contribute to mental health disorders. Negative emotions include hostility, anger, resentment, regret, shame, blame, fear, hatred, grief, and apathy. Positive emotions include curiosity, empathy, action, laughter, boredom, enthusiasm and interests. These positive and negative emotions are seen as special adjustments in the blueprint of human genesis. Also, Marcos and Tillema argued that they are used as indicators of illness and wellbeing and that they induce approach behavior (Marcos and Tillema 2006). Kahle (1983) found out that personal values also play a major role in the perception of stress by college and university students.

Kahle stated that values can be broadly grouped into the external and internal center of controls in which an individual perceive that he has the control of the environment surrounding him. He identified three external oriented personal values and six internal oriented personal values. Internal values include self-respect, fulfillment, warm relationship with others, self-fulfillment, excitement, fun, and enjoyments. The external include security, sense of belonging and being well respected. It is, therefore, anticipated that personal values as a person resource plays a major role in the perceived stress by university and college students.

According to Cobb (2001), social support is any information that makes an individual believe that they are loved, cared for, valued, esteemed and that they belong to a communication network. In essence, social support can be defined as the process by which people feel cared for, valued and belong to a group of people. Students with this high perceived support often rely on these people for assistance during times of trouble. They believe that people around them are willing to help them out of any problem they find themselves into including stress as stated by Cobb (2001). For attachment theory support provision and support seeking have been found to be vital in the survival of human beings. The support of teachers and instructors serve as a large source of social support in academic settings and this help college and university students to cope effectively. Therefore, the students’ perception of their social support from the teachers, instructors, parents, significant others and childhood attachment affect students’ stress perception according to  Cobb (2001).

The causes of stress according to Lazarus (1999) include chronic pressures, life changes, and daily hassles that interact with the environment on a day to day basis and are usually negative. The way we perceive stress is very important to our wellbeing since much of the stress we experience is related to the way we perceive the stimulus around us. Also, the way we perceive these stimuli can be threatening. Once we live in a World with a wide range of activities it’s important for us to understand how we have connected to these activities Lazarus (1999). This scenario suggests that the way we perceive stressor and the way we can adapt to the stressor are vital in the way we perceive stress. According to Lazarus (1999), emphasized the importance of individual perception of stress or appraisal of the environment.

The meanings we give to events we encounter in day to day life and the contentment we derive influence the stressful impacts of changes we are supposed to make in our lives. This example of the exam scenario can be related to the flight mechanism where the body produces adrenaline to help cope with a threatening situation, but an excess of this chemical can be dangerous to us (Justice (1987). Therefore, the perception of the situation and its interpretation depends on the physiological reactions on how we perceive the threat of the situation. Also on how much control we believe we possess to help us control the situation as stated by (Justice (1987).

5.0 Stress differences in various age groups

A study was done by McDaniel, (2005) indicated that students in lower levels experienced more stress levels than those in higher levels despite being in the same environment. The University of Leicester (2001), a postgraduate postal survey found that the issues that were causing the research students to be so much stressed were related to finances, housing, careers, studies, and self-esteem. In comparison to second-year research undergraduate, students expressed an increased need to communicate with their departments and the administration, choice of their units and the general anxiety level. Research students indicated that they were receiving lower grades due to personal and psychological problems while undergraduate students said they were getting lower grades due to illness and financial problems. This scenario indicates that the perception of stress levels is different when we compare different age groups.

In a study done by Cohen and Williamson (1988), found that age was significantly inversely correlated the perceived stress level (-0.18), implying that perception of stress tends to decline as age increases. In another study done by Mahat (1998), found that the nature of stress changes with age from acute or episodic to chronic that consequently affects the appraisal to the environment and coping mechanisms.

6.0 Stress differences across gender

In a study done by Matheny, Roque-Tovar and Curlette (2008), both genders of students did not differ in the perceived stress or life satisfaction. However, male students score on overall coping resource scale was significantly higher than that of the female students. Male students reported greater acceptance of themselves and others, more confidence, better physical fitness, greater physical health and greater problem-solving as compared to the female students. In summary, male and female students did not differ significantly on perceived stress and life satisfaction. However, male students reported increased coping resources because there was not even a single time did female students score higher than male students.

In another research that was carried out by Greenberg (2002) found a significant gender difference in the stress coping mechanisms. Female students scored higher than male students that implied that they have better stress coping mechanisms. Research has also proved that there is a distinct difference between female and male students with female students experiencing more stress as compared to their male counterpart according to McDaniel, (2005).

Cohen and Williamson (1988) found that sex affected the way stress is perceived by students. In another study carried out Kaplan & Sadock (2000), found out that women displayed more optimism than men and reported lower levels of perceived stress. This study also found out that men are more susceptible to stress-related illnesses as compared to women. Women are more predisposed to depression due to their everyday life hassles as a result of their social status, and their roles relative to men and these strains can lead to depressive anxiety. McDaniel (2005) found that increased sympathoadrenal responsiveness in men contributes to their aggression and immune responses. In women, the phase menstrual cycle and pregnancy were found to contribute to physiological stress responses. This research, however, found out that there was either no gender difference in the stress reactivity or women display increased cortisol production than males when social rejection task was adopted as the stressor instead of the achievements tasks.


In a research carried out by Hopfoll (1989), found out that female college students experienced stress related to test pressure, failing a test, financial problems, rejection from the loved ones, depression, dissolution of relationship and feelings of low esteem. On the contrary, Wichianson (2009) conducted research on college students and found common sets of stressors that were common to both the female and male students. The events students associated with stress included a change in sleeping and eating habits, heavier workloads, new responsibilities, and breaks.



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