Student Stress: Effects and Solutions. ERIC Digest 85-1.
Stress is 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.
One model that is useful in understanding stress among students is the person-environmental model. According to one variation of this model, stressful events can be appraised by an individual as “challenging” or “threatening” (Lazarus 1966).
When students appraise 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.
A critical issue concerning stress among students is its effect on learning. The Yerkes-Dodson law (1908) postulates that individuals under low and high stress learn the least and that those under moderate stress learn the most. A field study and laboratory tests support the notion that excessive stress is harmful to students’ performance.
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Mechanisms that explain why students perform badly under stress include “hypervigilance” (excessive alertness to a stressful situation resulting in panic–for example, overstudying for an exam) and “premature closure” (quickly choosing a solution to end a stressful situation–for example, rushing through an exam).
WHAT IS STRESSFUL FOR UNDERGRADUATES?
Students react to college in a variety of ways. For some students, college is stressful because it is an abrupt change from high school. For others, separation from home is a source of stress. Although some stress is necessary for personal growth to occur, the amount of stress can overwhelm a student and affect the ability to cope.
Since World War II, changes in American higher education include growth in the size and complexity of institutions and increased diversity among students. A consequence of that rapid growth has been a loss of personal attention to students. One measure of excessive stress, or distress, in college students is the use of mental health services. Symptoms commonly reported by campus psychiatrists portray a general picture of school-related stress, for example, the inability to do school work and the fear of academic failure.
A second measure of distress in college students is the dropout rate. Although nationwide figures are difficult to obtain, an estimated 50 percent of entering freshmen do not finish college four years later (Hirsch and Keniston 1970).
Studies of college dropouts associate dropping out with the aversive side of the “fight or flight” formula; that is, students, feeling a mismatch between themselves and their college, wish to distance themselves from the source of stress, the college environment (Falk 1975; Hirsch and Keniston 1970; Katz and others 1969).
Solutions suggested for reducing distress in college students include “stress inoculation” — for example, informing students in advance of what difficulties they might face and encouraging them to develop their own strategies to achieve personal goals. Other suggestions include improving campus mental health services and organizing peer counseling and self-help groups.
STRESS IN COLLEGE Everybody experiences stress in their lives. There are many stressors in college that start with college work. College is a big source of stress for a variety of reasons, and poor planning often leads to crisis situations. The stress of every day life in college shows itself in different ways: the expectations of making an A in every course, the fear of doing poorly on tests, ...