Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Managing Perceived Stress among College Students: The Roles of Social Support and Dysfunctional Coping

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Managing Perceived Stress among College Students: The Roles of Social Support and Dysfunctional Coping

Article excerpt

The author examined the conditions (i.e., social support and dysfunctional coping) under which perceived stress predicted psychological well-being in 459 college students. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated a significant 2-way interaction (Perceived Stress x Social Support) and a significant 3-way interaction (Perceived Stress x Social Support x Dysfunctional Coping) predicting well-being. Low social support deteriorated the association between stress and well-being. Only the frequent use of dysfunctional coping exacerbated the association between stress and well-being across high and low social support. Implications for counseling college students are discussed.

Keywords: stress, coping, well-being


For college students, life is full of stress (Roberti, Harrington, & Starch, 2006). Life often throws students off track with unexpected breakups, difficult tasks beyond their capabilities, and other situations that suddenly force them to make decisions about their future. All of these events can stress them enormously. College stressors have wide varieties, from academic work to uncertainty about the future, from difficulties in interpersonal relationships to dating problems, from self-doubt to family issues, and the list goes on. Recent reports show that college students' stresses have increased in severity (Benton, Robertson, Tseng, Newton, & Benton, 2003). For students to manage their perceived stress, positive social support is as essential as good soil is to plants. Besides, useful coping is a tool to handle stress. Specifically, although students typically live under stress, some seem to manage stress better than their peers do. In the face of stress, they naturally seek support from families and friends and execute their coping to maintain well-being.

Although many researchers have reported that social support and coping are positively associated with well-being (Ben-Zur, 2009), there are two pitfalls in applying these associations to students. First, social support has been decreasing in the past decade (Arria et al., 2009); thus, it is inevitable to see how low social support may change the association between stress and well-being among students. Second, not all coping strategies are effective (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989), because coping can be functional or dysfunctional. Almost all the previous literature considered only positive coping. Consequently, researchers' one-sided consideration misses the fact that an increasing number of college students actually use dysfunctional coping (e.g., avoidance) to manage stress (Carver & Scheier, 1994). Thus, if low social support and dysfunctional coping are not taken into consideration, it is difficult to understand how some college students handle their perceived stress. Because of the necessity of adding the two concepts to more accurately describe students, the purpose of this study was to examine the moderating roles of social support and dysfunctional coping on the association between stress and well-being.

Social Support and Well-Being

If asked about how they manage stress, many college students would mention seeking support from people or the environment. Indeed, social support shows a long list of benefits (Ben-Zur, 2009; Lundberg, McIntire, & Creasman, 2008) contributing to happiness and satisfaction with life. Social support has been found to be negatively related to mental problems (Brown, Alpert, Lent, Hunt, & Brady, 1988), which are associated with stress. The relationship between social support and the well-being of college students has been well documented by numerous studies (e.g., Solberg & Villareal, 1997; Wang & Castaneda-Sound, 2008). However, because social support has decreased in the past decade (Arria et al., 2009), what is missing is a consideration of how low social support affects the management of stress (Curran, Totenhagen, & Serido, 2010). …

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