Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Effective Lifestyle Habits and Coping Strategies for Stress Tolerance among College Students

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Effective Lifestyle Habits and Coping Strategies for Stress Tolerance among College Students

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

College years have been deemed as one of the most stressful times in a person's life. (1) Younger college students navigating the transition from high school to college face the most difficult tasks of all. (2,3) College freshmen are expected to handle a more difficult academic workload at a faster pace than they are used to while simultaneously adapting to a new social situation with little supervision or structure. (2) The new social environment of college creates pressure to make friends and build meaningful relationships. These demands can be difficult when students are used to receiving guidance and direction, which is often not available in a college climate. (3) In addition, many students are being given more responsibility for their own finances. (2) All of these new expectations combined with the student's search for identity, autonomy, and purpose, creates an incredible amount of pressure and stress. (4)

Every person encounters stress, understood as the nonspecific response of the body to a demand made upon it. (5) Any type of stress elicits the same biological response, understood as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). (6) The brain becomes more alert, heart rate increases, breathing quickens, adrenaline is released, and, because the digestive and immune system are nonessential in a crisis, they are shut down. (5) This stress reaction, also known as "flight or fight," can be stimulated by anything from slipping on a wet floor to the death of a loved one. Even eustress, defined as a positive stress event, educes the GAS syndrome. When the stressor is no longer present, the body's parasympathetic nervous system returns the body to homeostasis. (7) Major problems arise when a long-lasting stressor is present. The body does not shut the stress response off, which can lead an individual to exhaustion and breakdown. (70 It is estimated that a long lasting stressor can compromise the immune system for up to a year. (1) Constant stress is linked to physical and mental illnesses. The significance of the impact of stress can further understood through quantification. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that 1 in 2 Americans are annually diagnosed with a mental disorder. (8) Furthermore, the National Center for Health Statistics attributed 46 million physician office-based visits in 2003 to mental disorders. (8) Although stress is not considered a mental disorder, stress has been reported as a contributing factor or comorbidity of mental illnesses. Stress can lead to suicidal ideation and depression in young adults. (9) Suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students, and over 44 percent of college students reported feeling symptoms of depression. (10) In a study conducted by the American College Health Association, 63% of college students felt "hopeless" at times, and 94% reported feeling "overwhelmed." Forty-eight percent of females and 39% of males reported that they felt so depressed it was difficult to function. (11)

When faced with similar stressors, not all people react the same. The variance in ability to handle stress can be attributed to stress tolerance. (12) The natural differences in psychological and biological traits between individuals allow some to thrive under pressure and cause others to crumble. (13) The Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health stated "understanding variability among individuals to stressful events is a major challenge to research." (14) The question is how some people can seemingly handle large amounts of stress while others are crippled with much less. This phenomena is defined as stress tolerance. (12)

Stress tolerance can be affected by a number of things, including genetics, lifestyle habits, and coping strategies. Results from research studies have revealed that the factor most strongly associated with high stress tolerance is a strong social network, (15,16) which many young college students lose upon their initial transition to college. …

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