Stress, Strain and Coping Mechanisms: An Experimental Study of Fresh College Students
Baqutayan, Shadiya Mohamed S., Mai, Moukhtar M., Academy of Educational Leadership Journal
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.
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.
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. Moreover, according to him, Folkman and Lazarus' theory defines two coping principles: the first category, being problem focused coping, refers to strategies employed to alter or manage source of stress. The second category, emotion focused coping, has to do with the strategies used to manage emotions. Since this study focuses on the stress, strain, and coping among students, it aims to test the applicable way to cope with academic stress. As stated earlier, the study will examine the effectiveness of coping mechanisms in managing academic stress by the research subjects.
This inquiry examines the existing relationship between stress, strain and coping mechanisms among fresh college students. It expresses in descriptive and quantitative terms the degree of relationships between dependent and independent variables, as well as their magnitude. In line with Vockel and Asher (1995), these highlight the usefulness of a correctional study strategy in situations where experimental research seems difficult.
METHOD AND PROCEDURE
H1: There is a statistically significant relationship between stress, strain and coping mechanisms.
H2: There is a statistically significant mean difference in the level of stress among students at the beginning and the end of the semester.
H3: There is a significant mean difference in ways students cope with academic stress beginning and end of semester.
H4: There is a significant mean difference between experimental group and control groups in stress, strain and coping mechanisms.
The research population includes all three levels of the Matriculation center. However, the fresh students are deemed most appropriate sample.
The sample of 120 male and female students was randomly selected with the help of Admissions and Record (A & R) office. Consequently, each first year student's name and accommodation room number in relation to his/her program was taken from the (A&R) computer system. Hence, every sample in the population had an equal and independent chance of being selected.
The experiment of this study lasted four months, during which classes, advices and guidance on stress coping mechanisms were provided to only the experimental group. Members were counseled how to cope with academic stress. Fisher and Hood (1987) argued that all students group studied shared increased levels of depression, obsession symptoms and absentmindedness within their first six weeks of university life. To this end, first year students are most venerable. This justifies their choice as the researched sample.
Previous studies used the following four instruments (Hodeges & Felling, 1970; Dov, 1982; Turner, Frankel, & Levvin, 1983; and Allport, 1967):
* Stressful Situation Questionnaire (SSQ)
* Role Strain Measures (RSM)
* Student Problem Questionnaire
* Coping inventory (COPE)
These measures showed significantly high reliability and validity in previous studies. However, the Student Problem Questionnaire (SPQ) failed the reliability and validity test.
This questionnaire consists of five sections as follows:
1) Demographic information regarding age, gender (sex), nationality, year of study, course (major), hostel's name and room number (Students' accommodation inform of sharing rooms), religion, marital status, etc. The format of this section consisted of both multiple-choice class division and open-ended questions.
2) Academic Stress instrument is a 20-item questionnaire made-up of apprehension in classroom and speech situations (ACSS--13 items), and apprehension of social and academic failure (ASAF--7 items), adapted from Hodeges and Felling (1970).
3) Students' Problem Questionnaire focuses on the causes of stress (stressors), scaled by (Hafeez, 1974). This is a 40-item checklist of yes/no responses directed at specific stressors.
4) Role Strain is 21-item rated on a 5-point scale ranging from "never true" (1) to "very often true" (5) (Dov, 1982). This evaluates respondents' milieu of different situations.
5) COPE is a 60-item inventory developed by Carver (1989). It measures a wide range of dispositional coping tendencies such as, Active Coping, Planning, Seeking Instrumental Social Support, Seeking Emotional Social Support, Suppression of Competing Activities, Religion, Positive Reinterpretation and Growth, Restraint Coping, Resignation/Acceptance, Focus on and Venting of Emotions, Denial, Mental Disengagement, Behavioral Disengagement, Alcohol/Drug Use, and Humor.
All the 120 first year students were requested to complete the research questionnaire, whose results were grouped into experimental and control groups of 60 students each. Pre-test and post-test (quasi-experiment) was administered to both groups. The experimental group was subdivided into three teams of twenty students with (high stress, middle stress, and low stress) based on pre-test result. Group one was given classes only on emotion-focused coping, some methods like using social support for emotional reason, positive reinterpretation and growth, religious orientation etc. the 2nd group was groomed only on problem-focused coping, such as social support for instrumental reason, planning, active coping, behavioral disengagement, and so on. The third batch was schooled on both emotional and problem focused coping mechanisms. Weekly 2 hours lessons were delivered to the experimental group for 16 weeks. At the end of the semester, the same questionnaires on stress and coping mechanism were administered on both experimental and control groups to comparatively evaluate their academic stress coping strategies.
The data were analyzed by using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS). The researchers employed an exploratory, descriptive approach in analyzing the data involving frequency counts and percentage analysis. The descriptive statistics was used to summarize and describe the prevalence of academic stress, strain, and coping mechanism, and the relationship between them.
Level Of Stress
In this study, the majority of the respondents in the four test groups of pre-experimental, pre-control, post-experimental, and post-control maintained moderate level of stress. However, the number of low stressed students jumped by 6% of the sample in the experimental group. On the contrary, the high stressed group raised by 12% in the controlled group, hence, a cumulative impact of counseling stands at 18%.
[FIGURE 4.1 OMITTED]
These results could be good outcomes, because the students in post-experimental group learned to control their level of stress through the guidance of the researcher, therefore, at the end of the semester, the time when stress was very high, some of them were low stressed. To this end, it is highly recommended to counsel fresh students on academic coping mechanisms.
Level Of Strain Among The Students
As illustrated in figure 4.2, here is no significant difference in strain in this study between groups due to its natural attributes.
[FIGURE 4.2 OMITTED]
Causes Of Stress (Stressors)
Generally, hostel's rooms (accommodations), equipment, books, teacher's attention and environment seem to be a major source of stress in the case study. Therefore, there is a need to pay urgent attention to these basics. Students' learning time, library services, and food rank second in causing stress to the students. These enumerated fundamental needs to be strategically managed. This is to enhance the pedagogy through appropriate instructional system commensurate with students' peculiarities
[FIGURE 4.3 OMITTED]
Students' Coping Mechanisms
The chart (figure 4.4) shows that the experimental group tended to gain enhanced emotional balance, in spite of challenges associated with the later part of the semester. However, the control group emphasis on problem focused mechanisms with insignificant mean differences through out the semester. Unfortunately, this short term major could not meet their academic needs.
[FIGURE 4.4 OMITTED]
A follow-up study a year later indicated the experimental group scored high mean results in the Matriculation examination than the control group. Moreover, a second follow-up (after four years) shows that 28 out of 60 students in the control group withdrew. On the contrary, only 9 out of 60 students withdrew from the university. Out of the balance of 83 students, the experimental group shows superior academic ability over the control group.
[FIGURE 4.5 OMITTED]
This study presents a stress coping counseling program based on series of lessons and personal interactions with fresh matriculation students, to investigate the effectiveness of coping mechanisms in managing stress and strain. In this study, a sixteen-week stress coping program based on emotion and problem focused was administered to an experimental group. Emotion-focused coping showed significantly reduced stress levels, while stress levels in a control group significantly increased over the same period. Study participants experienced the stressful situation of starting pre-university life and experienced increased psychological tension during this period, but those participating in the stress coping program had decreased stress level. Emotion-focused meditation was particularly effective in stress reduction by reducing repetitive and persistent thinking (Jain et al., 2007). In addition, Paul et al. (2007) reported that an eight-week coping meditation program reduced stress and increased college students' sense of control, which is consistent with the results of the current study. The results of this study were consistent with those of similar previous studies, suggesting that a meditation-based stress management program is effective in stress management. Also, the results of this study showed that the developed program significantly reduced the stress score in the experimental group. The control group's mean stress score increased, and there was a significant difference in mean stress levels between the two groups after controlling for pre-experimental values. This is consistent with the study of Kabat-Zinn et al. (1992) in which the MBSR was applied to patients with anxiety disorders to reduce their anxiety and panic symptoms. There were also positive results reported in Bae and Chang's (2006) study in which six-weeks of stress coping mechanisms meditation was performed in college students experiencing an examination period. However, the level of depression was not significantly different between the two groups after application of the program. The depression score decreased significantly in the experimental group after participating in the program; however, there was no significant difference between depression scores before and after the program in the control group, suggesting only a partial effect of the program.
There are a few domestic studies applying meditation-based stress management programs. Kim et al. (2004) reported that psychosocial intervention in nursing students reduced the subjects' perception of their stress level, but this was ineffective toward anxiety and depression. On the other hand, the program applied in this study effectively reduced stress levels and anxiety. Shapiro et al. (1998) reported that medical students who performed mindfulness meditation improved their psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, increased sympathy, and that these results were maintained even during the examination period. In a study in which a stress reduction program with a combination of breathing, meditation, exercise, stretching, and relaxation was applied to patients with anxiety disorders, the program significantly improved the subjects' anxiety and depression (Lee et al., 2007). Rosenzweig et al. (2003) reported that mindfulness meditation helped to improve both stress and negative emotions of medical students.
This study verified the effectiveness of stress coping program based on emotion and problem focused coping in fresh students and showed the significance of a counseling meditation program as a part of academic intervention. However, a further limitation of this case study was the small sample size. However, further studies in a larger sample size are required for the results to be generalized.
Pre-degree education can be a stressful experience for some individuals, and may impact negatively on emotional their well-being and academic performance. Psychological stress, strain and coping mechanism not been investigated extensively in fresh teen aged matriculation students. This research illustrates of the nature of stress experienced in College life. While adults' vivid remembrance of their student days generally symbolizes challenges overcome in their respective success; the youth who are currently passing through that vital stage of life, experience academic stress posed by peer competition for grades, self motivation to attain greater height, defining peer relationships, failure apprehension, and career choice dilemma. Cumulatively, all these culminate into mental stress. Failure to arrest mental stress among the youth could lead such victims to take to substance abuse, whose public health effect could be disastrous.
The results of this study confirm that a stress coping program based on counseling lessons is effective in reducing stress and strain among fresh students. Based on the results of this study, a meditation-based stress reduction-counseling program can be instituted among fresh students. It also verified the effectiveness of emotion cum problem focused coping mechanism, as well as counseling meditation intervention in the academics. Hence, the study concurs with person-environment model of Lazarus (1996). The results highlighted the emotional vulnerability of a significant proportion among fresh students, with academic and environmental factors being the greatest concern. While personal causes of stress such as stressful events and anxiety are more difficult to control, programmed academic counseling seem to be an inevitable remedy to students stress.
Bae and Chang (2006). The effect of MBSR-K program on emotional response of college students, The Korean Journal of Health Psychology 11 (2006), pp. 637-688.
Fisher, S. 1993. Stress in academic life. London: British Library.
Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1980). An analysis of coping in middle-aged community sample. Journal of health and social behavior, 21: 219-239.
Folkman, S., Lazarus, R. S., Gruen, R. J., & Delongis, A. 1986. Appraisal, coping, health Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1985). If it changes it must be a process: A study of emotion and coping during three stages of a college examination. Journal ofpersonality and social psychology; 48: 150-170.
Hamilton, V. L., Hoffman, W. S., Broman, C. L., & Rauma, D. 1993. Unemployment, distress, and coping: A panel study of autoworkers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (2): 234-247.
Hopkins, K. D., Hopkins, B. R., & Glass, G. 1996. Basic statistic for the behavioral science. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Hobfoll, S. E. 1986. Stress, social support, and women. New York: A Member of the Taylor & Francis Group.
Jain, S.L. Shapiro, Swanick S.,. Roesch S.C, Mills P.J., Bell I. and G.E.R (2007). Schwartz, A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: Effects on distress, positive stress of mind, rumination, and distraction, Annals of Behavioral Medicine 33 (1) (2007), pp. 11-21. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (44)
Kabat-Zinn J., Massion A.O., Kristeller J., Peterson L.G., Fletcher K.E., Pbert L., Lenderking W.R. and Santorelli S., (1992). Effectiveness of a medication-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders, American Journal of Psychiatry 149 (1992), pp. 936-943. View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (325)
Kidder, L. H., Judd, C. M., & Smith, E. R., 1986. Research methods in social relations. New York: Rinehart and Winston.
Kim, H.K. Hur, D.H. Kang and B.H. Kim (2004). Effects of psychosocial stress management on stress and coping in student nurses, Journal of Korean Academy Nursing 16 (1) (2004), pp. 90-101.
Lee S.H,. Ahn S.C, Lee Y.J., Choi T.K., Yook K.H. and. Suh S.Y, (2007). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress management program as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy in patients with anxiety disorder, Journal of Psychosomatic Research 62 (2007), pp. 189-195. Article | PDF (211 K) | Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (10)
Pergola, Joe and Suzanna Smith. (2006). Stress Management: Strategies for Individuals. EDIS. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. FCS2077A, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FY515
Richaudde Minzi, M. C. & Sacchi, C. (2001). The effect of inapplicable items in the factor structure of the ways of coping questionnaire. Psychology reports, 88,115-122.
Rosenzweig S., Reibel D.K., Greeson J.M., Brainard G.C. and Hojat M., (2003). Mindfulness-based stress reduction lowers psychological distress in medical students, Teaching and Learning in Medicine 15 (2) (2003), pp. 88-92. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (51).
Selye, H. 1956. The stress of life. New York: McGraw Hill.
Shapiro S.L., Schwartz G.E. and Bonner G., (1998). Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students, Journal of Behavioral Medicine 21 (6) (1998), pp. 581-599. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (205)
Witman, N. A., Spendlove, D. C. & Clark, C. H. 1984. Student stress: Effect and solution. George Washington University, Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.
Shadiya Mohamed S. Baqutayan, University Technology Malaysia
Moukhtar M. Mai, University Technology Malaysia…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Stress, Strain and Coping Mechanisms: An Experimental Study of Fresh College Students. Contributors: Baqutayan, Shadiya Mohamed S. - Author, Mai, Moukhtar M. - Author. Journal title: Academy of Educational Leadership Journal. Volume: 16. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2012. Page number: 19+. © The DreamCatchers Group, LLC 2008. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.