Effectiveness of Student-Led Stress Reduction Activities in the Undergraduate Classroom on Perceived Student Stress

By Tollefson, Michelle; Kite, Bobbie et al. | College Student Journal, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Effectiveness of Student-Led Stress Reduction Activities in the Undergraduate Classroom on Perceived Student Stress


Tollefson, Michelle, Kite, Bobbie, Matuszewicz, Emily, Dore, Amy, Heiss, Cindy, College Student Journal


Introduction

The father of stress research, Hans Selye, defined stress as "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it" (1976, p. 137). Higher education is a demanding and transformative time for students. As a whole, undergraduate students experience higher levels of stress than the general population (Adlaf, Gliksman, Demers, & Newton-Taylor, 2001). However, the higher education environment creates varying degrees of stress for individual students. A recent multi-institutional American College Health Association (ACHA) 2016 survey found that the overall stress level experienced by university students was self-reported as no stress for 1.9%, less than average for 7.2%, average for approximately 50%, more than average for 43%, and tremendous stress for 11% of students. In addition, 86% of university students reported feeling overwhelmed by life demands and 59% reported feeling overwhelming anxiety at some time during the previous year.

The prevalence of stress is increasing in higher education and impacts many facets of student life (Gallagher, 2012). Students cognitively evaluate and interpret the stimuli in their environment that are sources of stress (Lazarus & Folkman. 1984). Environmental, psychological, biological, and social factors can cause stress (Kai-wen, 2010), which detrimentally impacts mental health and physical health, especially when the stressors are chronic (Toussaint, Shields, Dorn, & Slavich, 2016; McEwen, 2002). Behaviors that negatively impact health such as meal skipping, tobacco use (Pelletier, Lytle, & Laska, 2016), and unhealthy eating patterns (Mikolajczyk, El Ansari, & Maxwell, 2009) have been linked to stress in college students. Academic performance, post-graduate planning, and pressure to be successful are major stressors for university students, especially for transfer students and students living off campus (Beiter et al., 2015). A review of 40 qualitative studies on college stressors identified eight primary areas of stressors including relationships, lack of resources, expectations, academics, environment, diversity, transitions, and other stressors (Hurst, Baranik, & Daniel, 2012, p. 282). Stress also impacts academic performance, with 22% of students reporting lower exam grades, 9% reporting lower class grades, and 2% receiving an incomplete or dropping a class in the last year due to stress. Seventy-three percent of higher education students want their academic institution to provide them information on stress reduction, indicating that students identify stress as an issue that needs to be addressed (American College Health Association, 2016).

Stress reduction modalities have a positive impact in the university setting. Meditation improves knowledge retention (Ramsburg & Youmans, 2014). Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, physical activity, cognitive-behavioral strategies, interaction with animals, and mindfulness are among the stress reduction modalities that have been successful in reducing student stress and increasing student engagement in the classroom environment (Flinchbaugh, Whitney, Moore, Chang, & May, 2015; Verhulst, 2007; Dolbier & Rush, 2012; Nair & Meera, 2014; Baghurst & Kelley, 2014; Morgan, 2017; Haggerty & Mueller, 2017; Flinchbaugh et al, 2015; Ferrer et al., 2014). In addition to being utilized in the traditional classroom environment, stress management can also be incorporated in online classes (Hintz, Frazier, & Meredith, 2015) and through mobile apps for college students (Crandall, Steward, & Warf, 2016).

Rather than having faculty members lead students in stress reduction techniques in the classroom, students could study stress reduction techniques and present what they learned to the class, developing expertise in the stress management technique they researched. Student presentations of the technique each researched would allow all students to learn about a variety of stress management techniques so that they could find technique(s) that they could incorporate into their lives that work for them. …

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