Stress, Strain and Coping Mechanisms: An Experimental Study of Fresh College Students

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Stress is something that all of us experience from time to time but have difficulty defining it. Different ideas were given to explain the word stress. This ranges from simple physiological definition into more interpretative processes. Researchers proposed that the stress response is mediated by covert or overt cognitive appraisal of events, impinging on the individual that interprets same as either threatening or not; and concomitantly assesses the individual's ability to handle the stressor (Ronald & Jason, 1994). This paper is divided into six sections. Following this introduction is the theoretical framework and model. This is followed by the research design, research findings, discussion, and conclusion respectively.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Stress is a term that almost everybody from all walks of life knows and uses, yet understanding and assessing stress is a complex task. It is often loosely used to refer to any situation that evokes negative thoughts and feelings in a person. The same situation is not evocative or stressful for all people, and all people do not experience the same negative thoughts and feelings when stressed (Whitman, 1984).

Many people may not be aware that they are undergoing stress; few recognize that events such as pregnancy, retirement, marriage, death of a close family member, divorce, and writing exams or a number of smaller events, overload the adaptive system of the body, which causes high levels of stress (smith, 1999).

McGrath (1970) defined stress as a substantial imbalance between environmental demand and the response capability of the focal organism. Whereas, Kaplan (1983) defined stress as subject's inability to forestall diminish perception, recall, anticipation, and imagination of disvalued circumstances, those that in reality or fantasy signify great and/or increased distance from desirable (valued) experiential states, and consequently, evoke a need to approximate the valued states.

THEORETICAL MODEL

The person-environment model is useful in understanding stress among students. According to one variation of this model, an individual can appraise stressful events as "challenging" or "threatening" (Lazarus, 1966). When students judge their education as a challenge, stress can bring them a sense of competence and an increased capacity to learn. When education is seen as a threat, however, stress can elicit feelings of helplessness and a foreboding sense of loss.

College life can be very stressful in one way or the other. Generally, we idealize the college experience and remember it as that idyllic time when we had few worries or responsibilities. To students currently attending college, however, the process is often stressful and frustrating. The competition for grades, the need to perform, peer relationships, fear of failure, career choice, and many other aspects of the college environments are real life challenges that manifest as mental stress.

In one early attempt to define coping, Folkman and Lazarus (1980) suggested that coping is all the cognitive and behavioral efforts to master, reduce, or tolerate demands. It makes no difference whether the demands are imposed from the outside (e.g. by family, friend, job, school) or from inside (e.g. while wrestling with an emotional conflict or setting impossibly high standards). Coping seeks in some way to soften the impact of demands.

Lazarus and Folkman concentrated on two types of coping strategies: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. In the problem-focused coping, efforts are made to change the stressful situations through problem solving, decision-making and/or direct action. In emotion-focused coping, attempts are made to regulate distressing emotion, sometimes by changing the meaning of the stressful situation cognitively without actually changing the situation (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985).

Recent study done by Richaudde & Sacchi (2001) indicated that coping includes behavior and thoughts employed by the individual to manage the stressing situation. …