Academic Stress and College Students

Academic Stress and College Students

College days are crucial in any student’s life. One’s career and future is determined by how well they perform in their studies while in college. However, amidst the increased pressure of being successful and a competent professional, academic life has become highly stressful for students in the present scenario. College time is stressful for many students as it is that stage of the life where they are exposed to new educational and social environments.

As defined by Gupta and Khan in 1987, academic stress is the mental distress related to anticipated frustration, associated with academic failure. Academic stress is one of the significant predictors of decreased academic performance and personal wellbeing in college students. Let's explore some of the potential academic stressors and strategies for its effective management.

Major Academic Stressors

The significant academic stressors affecting students’ lives could be categorized as personal issues and academic issues.

Personal issues mainly deal with internal and external locus of control. Emotional issues such as self-imposed stress, frustration, and fear of failure, as well as motivational problems like low motivation, hightened expectations, and poor time management arise from their own thoughts and feeling and thus affect them internally. Apart from issues emerging from one’s own intellect, conflicts with significant others like high expectation from parents, unfair treatments from relationships, financial issues, competition with peers, adverse teacher -student relationships, and adjustment or communication problems in team works are also potential academic stressors that negatively impact one’s external locus of control.

Another major causal factor of academic stress among students comprises of academic factors like academic overload, college environment, and insecurities about career and future. Academic overload occurs when students are bombarded with excess information when their processing abilities are below than what they are exposed to. Academic overload can lead to decreased academic performance and decision accuracy in students. Additionally, examinations, overburdened assignments and presentations, and high weightage components contribute to academic overload. Parental force on students to score high in exams also becomes a major source of anxiety for students. The students have to work very hard to complete their assignments on deadlines and stressful schedule causes a lot of academic pressure. Furthermore, the college environment can also act as a stressor because of inadequate resources, lack of facilities for research, and different educational setup.

Academic Stress Management

Previous studies have mainly focused on managing academic stress caused by personal problems using CBT and behavior modification techniques. However, other stressors are not well managed in spite of the findings that those factors contribute significantly to academic stress as well. Thus we require a comprehensive stress management system where each stressor could be managed using appropriate strategy.

Internal problems under personal issues could be managed using cognitive-behavior therapies like REBT, cognitive restructuring, self-monitoring, cognitive hypothesis testing, stress inoculation technique, cognitive-affective stress management training, and emotion-focused coping.

Behavior modification techniques such as reduction of breathing rate, Jacobson progressive muscle relaxation (JPMR), development of alternate emotional responses to threatening stimulus, laughter technique, and super brain yoga could also be used for academic stress management. On the other hand, external problems under personal issues could be managed using peer counseling, holding realistic expectations, faculty advising, and by maintaining a social network and good relationship with friends and peers.

Regarding academic factors, academic overload could be managed using reactive strategies including personal discipline and schedule, and reactive strategies including training and technological assistance. Besides, college environment could be made more favorable by making the college less competitive and student friendly as well as by incorporating peer counseling and stress management training as part of the curriculum. Finally, stress caused by career and future insecurities could be managed using counseling and vocational guidance, and problem-focused coping.

Development of less competitive college environments, regular and periodic extracurricular activities, obtaining feedback from students, and addressing their complaints enable to build more student friendly environment inside the college campus. Stress management education could be incorporated as part of curriculum since it is found to be an effective technique to reduce academic stress by Waghachavare et al. in 2013.

Unrealistic and higher expectations from teachers, parents, and students themselves should be reduced and made more realistic according to the student’s academic performance.

In today’s competitive world, extreme academic stress is responsible for causing learning problems in majority of students. If academic stress is left without consideration, it not only decrease the academic efficiency of students, but also adversely impact their personal wellness and physical as well as psychological health. Thus, management of academic stress is inevitable in students, especially college students as they are more prone to societal pressure and career orientation.

Self-management and perseverance is necessary to motivate and manage oneself among students. Apart from that, institutions have to maintain well balanced academic environment for better learning, with the focus on the students’ personal needs. Students differ on their expectations and goals which they want to achieve and their success is possible only if their motives are aligned with that of the institution. Academic stress among college students is highly prevalent and challenging, that it necessitates the development of effective and efficient programs for stress management

About the Author

Parvathy Viswanath
Post Graduate Student (Psychology).

I'm Parvathy Viswanath, M.Sc Psychology student from Indian Institute of Psychology and Research, Bangalore, Karnataka, India. I hail from Thrissur

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