University student stress

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Due to the continually changing nature of the university environment students can potentially experience high levels of stress that can affect their health and academic performance (Hamaideh, 2011). Indeed, an increasing number of university students appear to be experiencing significant mental health issues.[1] In addition, the proportion of people enrolling in university is increasing.[2] These trends indicate that stress and mental health issues are likely to become an even more notable phenomenon amongst university students.

This page is intended to be an informative resource about stress experienced by university students. Currently it consists of notes developed for the purposes of:

  1. summarising existing measures of university student stress and
  2. developing a new measure of university student stress for use in psychological research studies.

Existing measures[edit]

Main themes[edit]

Two main approaches to measuring university stress are evident - ratings of the amount of stress from different sources (stressors) and ratings of degree of different types of stress responses (reactions). Some measurement instruments measure both these aspects (Gadzella, 1991). In addition, university-related stress is measured in some studies globally (overall).

Summary of the main university student stress factors measured by the identified instrumentation:

Sources of stress (stressors)
  1. Interpersonal conflicts, Self-esteem problems, and Money problems (CCLSS; Towbes & Cohen, 1996)
  2. Environmental, Academic, Family/Money (GSI-R: Rocha-Singh, 1990)
  3. Time constraints, Feedback from specific faculty, Financial constraints, Help from faculty, Emotional support from friend, Feedback with regard to status in program, Administrative issues, Psychology Students Stress Questionnaire (PSSQ; Cahir & Morris, 1991)
  4. Time constraints, Feedback from specific faculty, Financial constraints, Help from faculty, Emotional support from friend, Feedback with regard to status in program, Administrative issues (PSSQ; Cahir & Morris, 1991)
  5. Frustrations, conflicts, pressures, changes, and self-imposed (SSI; Gadzella, 1991)
  6. Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Academic, Environmental (SSS; Shannon, 1990)
  7. Academic, Time, Environmental/Social (USS; Burge, 2009)
  8. Assessment, Work, Family, Study balance, Campus/administrative, Interpersonal relationships, Transitional process, Teaching quality and support, Financial expenses, Other (Burge, 2009; these themes were derived from content analysis of open-ended responses)
Responses to stress (reactions)
  1. Affective, Behavioural, Physiological, Cognitive. (LASRS; Lakaev, 2006, 2009)
  2. Physiological, Emotional, Behavioral, Cognitive Appraisal (SSI; Gadzella, 1991)

Summaries of measurement instruments[edit]

Academic stress[edit]

  1. Struthers et al. (2000)[3]
  2. Students' stress associated with their introductory psychology course was assessed with three items concerning how worried, helpless, and stressed they felt about their performance.
  3. Each item was assessed with a 10-point Likert scale. The anchor labels for the scales were (1) not at all and (10) a great deal."

College Chronic Life Stress Survey (CCLSS)[edit]

  1. Towbes & Cohen (1996)[4])
  2. Measures the frequency (per week) of chronic stressors in the lives of college students. Focuses on items that persist across time to create stress, such as interpersonal conflicts, self-esteem problems, and money problems. (Ross et al., 1999, [1])

Graduate Stress Inventory-Revised (GSI-R)[edit]

  1. Rocha-Singh (1990)[2][5].
  2. 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from (1) not at all stress to (7) extremely stressful
  3. Oriented towards measuring stress for doctoral students of color
  4. Factor structure and design has parallels with Burge (2009):
  5. 21 stress items, 3 factors
    1. Environmental stress (23.9% of variance explained)
      1. Peers treating you unlike the way treat each other (73)
      2. Faculty treating differently from your peers (67)
      3. Trying to meet peers of your race/ethnicity on campus (59)
      4. Finding support groups sensitive to your needs (56)
      5. Living in the local community (46)
      6. Adjusting to the campus environment (49)
      7. Participating in class (44)
      8. Meeting with faculty (43)
    2. Academic stress (7% of variance explained)
      1. Handling the academic workload (-90)
      2. Meeting deadlines for course assignments (-76)
      3. Fear of failing to meet program expectations (-47)
      4. Fulfilling responsibilities at home and at school (-44)
      5. Taking exams (-39)
      6. Handling relationships (-36)
      7. Writing papers (-37)
    3. Family/Monetary Stress (5.7% of variance explained)
      1. Family having money problems (66)
      2. Paying monthly expenses (52)
      3. Arranging childcare (52)
      4. Being obligated to participate in family functions (40)
      5. Being obligated to repay loans (43)

Lakaev Academic Stress Response Scale (LASRS)[edit]

  1. Lakaev (2006;2009)[6][7]
  2. Respondents rate how much of the time they experience symptoms on a 5-point Likert scale (Lakaev, 2006) with the anchors None of the Time (1), A Little of the Time (2), Some of the Time (3), Most of the Time (4), and All of the Time (5).
  3. Items were generated from a review of the general stress and academic stress literature, with 21 out of 27 original items selected after using exploratory factor analysis corresponding to 4 factors (Affective, Behavioural, Physiological, Cognitive).
    1. Affective (4; \alpha= .82)
      1. My work built up so much that I felt like crying .83
      2. I felt emotional .82
      3. My emotions stop me from studying .50
      4. I yelled at family or friends .43
      5. I felt emotionally drained by university .37
    2. Behavioural (8; \alpha= .82)
      1. I felt I was lazy when it came to university work .74
      2. I procrastinated on assignments .63
      3. I was distracted in class .62
      4. I was unable to study .53
      5. I had trouble concentrating in class .51
      6. I avoided class .50
      7. I used alcohol or drugs .47
      8. I have trouble remembering my notes .35
    3. Physiological (5; \alpha= .85)
      1. I couldn’t breathe .80
      2. I had difficulty eating .75
      3. My hands were sweaty .71
      4. I have had a lot of trouble sleeping .67
      5. I had headaches .64
    4. Cognitive (4; \alpha= .89) - Worry?
      1. I felt overwhelmed by the demands of study –.71
      2. I felt worried about coping with my studies –.53
      3. There is so much going on that I can’t think straight –.50
      4. I felt emotionally drained by university .37 (repeated)

Psychology Student Stress Questionnaire (PSSQ)[edit]

  1. Cahir & Morris (1991)[8]
  2. Designed to assess the occurrence and severity of academic, emotional, and financial stressors during graduate training.
  3. Students first were asked whether they had experienced each of the stressors (yes/no). If they had, they were asked to rate the severity of the stressor on a 5-point rating scale on which zero indicated “not stressful” and 5 indicated “high stress.”
  4. 30-items; 7 factors - %variance
    1. Time constraints 19.5
    2. Feedback from specific faculty 8.8
    3. Financial constraints 7.7
    4. Help from faculty 6.5
    5. Emotional support from friend 6.2
    6. Feedback with regard to status in program 5.4
    7. Administrative issues 4.9
  1. Student-life Stress Inventory (SSI) (Gadzella, 1991[9]): "designed to assess the students’ perceived academic stress and reactions to stress. There are 51 items arranged on a Likert response format (1=never true to 5=always true) that assessed five categories of academic stressors (frustrations, conflicts, pressures, changes, and self-imposed), and four categories describing reactions to stressors (physiological, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive). Validity and reliability... (Gadzella, 1991; Gadzella, Masten, & Stacks, 1998). The items were summed for each subsection to get a total score in all nine categories. A higher score was indicative of greater stress and reactions to stress. Internal consistency estimates ranged from 0.69 to 0.82 on the nine categories in the present study." (Misra & McKean, 2000[10]). The actual items are copyrighted and are not readily available.
    1. Stressors (like hassles)
      1. Frustrations
      2. Conflict
      3. Pressure
      4. Change
      5. Self-imposed
    2. Reactions to stressors (like stress)
      1. Physiological
      2. Emotional
      3. Behavioural
      4. Cognitive appraisal

Student Stress Survey (SSS)[edit]

  1. Based on the Student Stress Scale (Insel, & Roth, 1985), the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (Taylor, 1953), and other potential sources of stress identified by the researchers.(Ross et al., 1999[11])
  2. Respondents checked each item they had experienced during the current school year."
  3. 40 items, 4 categories
    1. Interpersonal sources (6 items): interactions with other people, such as, a fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend or trouble with parents
    2. Intrapersonal sources (16 items): internal sources, such as, changes in eating or sleeping habits
    3. Academic sources (9 items): school-related activities and issues, such as, an increased class workload or transferring schools
    4. Environmental (10 items): problems in the environment, outside of academics, such as car or computer problems.

University student stress (USS)[edit]

  1. Burge (2009).
  2. 22-items, 3 factors
  3. Academic-related Stress (6 items; M = 3.09/5, \alpha = .74)
    1. Sitting examinations .84
    2. Studying for examinations .80
    3. Oral presentations .48
    4. Essays/assignments .41
    5. Expectations from self to do well .38
    6. Waiting for results/grades .36
  4. Time-related Stress (6 items; M = 2.82/5\alpha = .81)
    1. Lack of time for family and friends .88
    2. Lack of free/leisure time .86
    3. Time pressures/deadlines .71
    4. Academic workload .69
    5. Amount to learn .46
    6. Unclear coursework requirements .37
  5. Social/Environmental-related Stress (9 items; M = 1.98/5\alpha = .79)
    1. Transportation .70
    2. Using campus facilities .70
    3. Socialising on campus .66
    4. Using technology .63
    5. Working with peers .57
    6. Expectations from others to do well .48
    7. Learning new skills .47
    8. Attending classes .43
    9. Thinking about the future .41
    10. Financial expenses

General stress[edit]

  1. Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)': Cohen et al., 1983). The 10-item scale measures an individual's perception of stress. Each item was designed to identify how unpredictable, uncontrollable or overloaded the respondent has found his or her life to be within the last month, preceding completion of the instrument. Responses were assessed on a 5 point scale, with '0' = 'never' and '4' = 'very often'. The PSS is the most widely used psychological instrument for measuring an individual's perception of stress (Cohen, 1994).[12]

Proposed measure[edit]

The proposed measure of university student stress consists of three parts:

  1. Open-ended reporting of university stressors
  2. Global ratings of overall university stress, coping and satisfaction
  3. Ratings of individual stress items

Open-ended[edit]

  1. What are the main stresses you experience as a university student (e.g. exams, finances, lecturers and tutors, assignments, etc.)? (based on Burge, 2009; Gallagher, 1990[13])

Global ratings[edit]

Global measure of university stress, coping and satisfaction (see Burge, 2009; Neill, 2010; Struthers et al.):

  1. Overall, how stressful are you finding university?
      • 1 = Not at all stressful
      • 2 = A little bit stressful
      • 3 = Moderately stressful
      • 4 = Very stressful
      • 5 = Extremely stressful
  2. In general, how have you been coping with your university-related stress?
      • 1 = Not coping at all
      • 2 = Coping a little
      • 3 = Coping satisfactorily
      • 4 = Coping well
      • 5 = Coping extremely well
  3. Overall, how satisfied are you with university?
      • 1 = Not satisfied at all
      • 2 = A little bit satisfied
      • 3 = Moderately satisfied
      • 4 = Very satisfied
      • 5 = Extremely satisfied

University student stress items[edit]

This draft set of items has been developed from Burge's (2009) closed-ended stressors, with revisions based on secondary exploratory factor analytic results, other reviewed academic stress instruments, and also the responses by participants to Burge's open-ended question about other university stressors.

There are nine proposed factors:

  1. Academic
  2. Time/Balance
  3. Work
  4. Intrapersonal/Self
  5. Relationships/Interpersonal/Social
  6. Family
  7. Teaching quality/Relations with teachers/Support from teachers
  8. Financial
  9. Environmental/Campus/Administrative/Transition

With regards to studying at university, how stressful do you find each of the following?

Academic
  1. Handling the academic workload
  2. Studying for tests and exams
  3. Sitting tests and exams
  4. Writing essays and assignments
  5. Doing oral presentations
  6. Meeting deadlines for academic assessment
  7. Keeping up with reading
  8. Attending classes
  9. Amount of material to study
  10. Getting good enough grades for graduate study
  11. Contributing to class discussions
  12. Achieving my academic goals
  13. Understanding academic material
  14. Learning the material
  15. Lack of clarity about assessment task requirements
  16. High pressure periods, when lots of assessment is due
  17. Assessment items which have heavy weightings
  18. Group-work assignments
Time/Balance
  1. Not being able to manage my time effectively
  2. Managing all my different responsibilities
  3. Balancing allocation of my time
  4. Performing well at both study and work
  5. Finding time for both university and leisure activities
  6. Being too tired to study properly
  7. Finding a balance between study and work
  8. Trying to live a balanced lifestyle
  9. Inconvenient timetabling
  10. Lack of time for my family
  11. Fitting everything in
  12. Getting everything done
  13. Juggling work, study and personal life
  14. Fitting study in around work
Work
  1. Getting enough work to support my studies
  2. Finding work that is flexible enough to allow me to study
  3. Not being able to find enough paid work
  4. Working too many hours
  5. Getting work that is relevant to my career-goals
  6. Handling the work pressure from my employer(s)
Intrapersonal/Self
  1. Trying to feel OK about myself
  2. Fear of failing
  3. Feeling like I don't belong at university
  4. My study skills
  5. My lack of motivation
  6. Dealing with my personal issues
  7. Feeling overwhelmed
  8. Feeling out of my depth
  9. Not being able to think clearly
  10. Feeling like I'm not intelligent enough
  11. My procrastination and laziness
  12. Not being sure whether I'm studying the right degree
  13. Lack of self-discipline
  14. Loneliness
  15. My physical health
  16. My mental health
  17. My writing skills
Family
  1. Fear of disappointing my family
  2. Dealing with my family responsibilities
  3. Lack of support from my family
  4. Family members' lack of understanding about university
  5. Dealing with family conflict
Relationships/Interpersonal/Social
  1. The way fellow students treat me
  2. Handling my personal relationships
  3. Trying to make friends on campus
  4. Finding support groups sensitive to my needs
  5. Getting along with fellow students at university
  6. Personal relationship problems
  7. Competing with other students
  8. Not having enough support from others
  9. Making new friends
  10. Getting along with others in my household
  11. Maintaining friendships
Teaching quality/Relations with teachers/Support from teachers
  1. Attitude of teaching staff towards students
  2. The way teaching staff treat me
  3. Approaching teaching staff for help
  4. Understanding the expectations of teaching staff
  5. Lack of support from teaching staff
  6. Accessing learning materials
  7. Disorganisation of teaching staff
  8. Lack of knowledge of teaching staff
  9. Delays in marking and feedback
  10. Lack of relevance of learning tasks to my career
  11. Lack of feedback from teaching staff
Financial
  1. Supporting myself financially
  2. Paying university fees
  3. Limited work opportunities while studying
  4. Earning enough money to pay for university
  5. Managing my weekly budget
  6. Family finances
  7. Financial burden of studying
Environmental/Campus/Administrative/Transition
  1. Adjusting to the campus environment
  2. Paying weekly expenses
  3. Transitioning to university
  4. Find out how the university works
  5. Lack of flexibility in the study options
  6. Lack of campus facilities
  7. Dealing with university administration
  8. Getting access to computers and the internet
  9. Availability of parking on campus
  10. Lack of helpfulness of administrative staff
  11. Lack of communication from the university
  12. Quality of university buildings and equipment
  13. Finding somewhere to live
  14. Lack of after-hours access to university facilities
  15. Lack of university resources
  16. Lack of recreational activities on campus
  17. Reputation of the university
  18. Commuting to and from university
  19. Compatibility of home and university computer systems
  20. Having to hang around in-between classes

References[edit]

  1. Healy, G., (2010). http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/more-students-need-support-for-mental-health-issues/story-e6frgcjx-1225880086459 More students need support for mental health issues], The Australian, 16/6/2010.
  2. Lane, B. (2010). Enrolment grows ahead of 2025 target, The Australian, 16/6/2010.
  3. Struthers, C., Perry, R., & Menec, V. (2000). An examination of the relationship among academic stress, coping, motivation, and performance in college. Research in Higher Education, 41(5), 581-592.
  4. Towbes, L. C., & Cohen, L. H. (1996). Chronic stress in the lives of college students: Scale development and prospective prediction of distress. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 25, 199-217.
  5. Rocha-Singh, I. A. (1990). Doctoral students' perceptions of stress and support: Implications for the retention of targeted students of color. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara.
  6. Lakaev, N. (2006). Development of a stress response inventory for university students. Unpublished manuscript. Queensland University of Technology, Australia.
  7. Lakaev, N. (2009). Validation of an Australian academic stress questionnaire. Australian Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 19(1), 56-70.
  8. Cahir, N., & Morris, R. D. (1991). The Psychology Student Stress Questionnaire. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 47(3), 414-417.
  9. Gadzella, B. M. (1991). Student-Life stress inventory. Commerce, TX: Author.
  10. Misra, R., & McKean, M. (2000). College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction. American Journal of Health Studies, 16, 41-52.
  11. Ross, S. E., Niebling, B. C., & Heckert, M. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal, June.
  12. Cohen, S., Kamarack, T., & Mermeistein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385-396.
  13. Gallagher, D. J. (1990). Extraversion, neuroticism and appraisal of stressful academic events. Personality and Individual Differences, 11(10), 1053-1057.
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See also[edit]

External Links[edit]