Academic journal article College Student Journal

Stress Carry-Over and College Student Health Outcomes

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Stress Carry-Over and College Student Health Outcomes

Article excerpt

Objective: Using a stress carry-over perspective, this study examines the relationship between stress stemming from school and family domains and physical and mental health outcomes. Methods: The study sample included 268 undergraduate men and women from a Midwestern university. Participants completed an anonymous online questionnaire. OLS regression was used to analyze stress and health outcomes. Separate equations were estimated for men and women. Results: Men and women report higher school than family stress spillover, and women report higher school stress spillover than men. Regression models show that both men and women report more days of poor mental health when school spillover is high. Sleep hours are negatively associated with school spillover for women, and with family spillover for men. Conclusions: It appears that the carryover of stress operates both similarly and differently for college men and women, affecting at least one physical health outcome and perceived mental health.

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The transition from adolescence to emerging adulthood is a time of great change (Arnett, 2000), and often, of great stress (Towbes & Cohen, 1996). This is particularly true for young adults who choose to attend college. Many students find their university years to be a stressful experience (Pierceall & Keim, 2007) and report being "overwhelmed" with responsibilities--which may begin even before the school year (Pryor, Hurtado, DeAngelo, Palucki Blacke, & Tran, 2010). Stress among college students is on the rise (Sax, 1997, 2003), with recent studies reporting the highest level of stress among college freshmen since data collection efforts on this topic began (Pryor et al., 2010).

The process of stress is one that is highly subjective, though shaped by outside forces. Stress is defined as a demand, either internal or external, that results in emotional arousal and requires a change of behavior (Holmes & Rahe, 1967; Ragheb & McKinney, 1993). These demands, or stressors, may be physical, psychological, social or environmental; take the form of a life event or chronic strain (Pearlin, 1989); and are largely dependent upon individual perception (Lazarus, 1966, 1977). Previous work by Mendoza (1981) and Rocha-Singh (1994) indicated that college students perceive stressors existing along multiple dimensions, including academic, financial, familial, personal, and environmental domains. Generally speaking, college women report higher levels of overall stress than college men (Brougham, Zail, Mendoza, & Miller, 2009; Dusselier, Dunn, Wang, Shelley II, & Whalen, 2005; Hudd et al., 2000; Pierceall & Keim, 2007). Women also report experiencing greater academic pressure than men (Misra, McKean, West, & Russo, 2000), but mixed findings exist for family-generated stress. Some studies have reported no gender difference (Dyson & Renk, 2006) and others have indicated that college women experience a higher level of family stress (Brougham et al., 2009). Freshmen and sophomores report higher academic stress than upperclassmen (Misra et al., 2000).

From a stress "carry-over" perspective (Thoits, 1995), the experience of stress may spill from one domain or role to another, one person to another, or across stages of life. Strain at home may lead to stress in school; stress felt by one roommate may increase the demands felt by another; and stressors felt during college years may influence health later in life, for example. The first of these forms, intra-personal spillover of stress from one domain to another ("spillover" or "cross-domain stress"), is a form of carry-over that often leads to role conflict--the existence of conflicting roles that produce competing demands for one's time and energy, and that may both result from and create chronic strain (Hudd et al., 2000). While we know a great deal about the spillover of stress across domains for working adults (e.g., work stresses affecting family experiences), we know less about spillover in the lives of college students. …

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