Sources of Stress among College Students

Article excerpt

The Student Stress Survey (SSS) was used to determine the major sources of stress among college students. The scale consisted of 40 potentially stressful situations. The scale addressed interpersonal, intrapersonal, academic, and environmental sources of stress. The items in the scale were also classified as either daily hassles or major life events. Participants were 100 students at a mid-sized, Midwestern university and varied in year in school, age, gender, and major. Overall, daily hassles were reported more often than major life events, with intrapersonal sources of stress being the most frequently reported source. The top five sources of stress were; change in sleeping habits, vacations/breaks, change in eating habits, increased work load, and new responsibilities. The findings from this study may be further used to examine which sources of stress cause the highest levels of stress among college students, and may be helpful in creating stress management programs.

College students, especially freshmen, are a group particularly prone to stress (D'Zurilla & Sheedy, 1991) due to the transitional nature of college life (Towbes & Cohen, 1996). They must adjust to being away from home for the first time, maintain a high level of academic achievement, and adjust to a new social environment. College students, regardless of year in school, often deal with pressures related to finding a job or a potential life partner. These stressors do not cause anxiety or tension by themselves. Instead, stress results from the interaction between stressors and the individual's perception and reaction to those stressors (Romano, 1992). The amount of stress experienced may be influenced by the individual's ability to effectively cope with stressful events and situations (D'Zurilla & Sheedy, 1991). If stress is not dealt with effectively, feelings of loneliness and nervousness, as well as sleeplessness and excessive worrying may result (Wright, 1967). It is important that stress intervention programs be designed to address stress of college students. However, in order to design an effective intervention, the stressors specific to college students must be determined (Wright, 1967).

The dynamic relationship between the person and environment in stress perception and reaction is especially magnified in college students. The problems and situations encountered by college students may differ from those faced by their nonstudent peers (Hirsch & Ellis, 1996). The environment in which college students live is quite different. While jobs outside of the university setting involve their own sources of stress, such as evaluation by superiors and striving for goals, the continuous evaluation that college students are subjected to, such as weekly tests and papers, is one which is not often seen by non-students (Wright, 1964). The pressure to earn good grades and to earn a degree is very high (Hirsch & Ellis, 1996). Earning high grades is not the only source of stress for college students. Other potential sources of stress include excessive homework, unclear assignments, and uncomfortable classrooms (Kohn & Frazer, 1986). In addition to academic requirements, relations with faculty members and time pressures may also be sources of stress (Sgan-Cohen & Lowental, 1988). Relationships with family and friends, eating and sleeping habits, and loneliness may affect some students adversely (Wright, 1967).

Assessment of stress levels in college students is a topic often examined by researchers. For example, Towbes and Cohen (1996) created the College Chronic Life Stress Survey in which they focused on the frequency of chronic stress in the lives of college students. This scale contains items that persist across time to create stress, such as interpersonal conflicts, self-esteem problems, and money problems. They evaluated these stressors in relation to how many times a student had to deal with them on a weekly basis. …