It’s getting that time in the semester where a lot of college students face an insurmountable amount of stress. Exams coming back lower than we anticipated, many assignments due, and just overall college is getting everyone stressed out. This is something that I personally am suffering with these blogs, much like some of you. I didn’t do well on blog period 1, and now I’m stressed at every sentence in my blogs to make sure they’re good enough for a good grade. The question I keep asking myself is, is this stress making me worse off?
Looking at this from a scientific perspective, we have either the null hypothesis (stress is not affecting our health or over-all well being), or the alternate hypothesis (stress is indeed affecting our health or over-all well being). Reverse casuation is also something that could be possible here, as I know our grades or health may affect our stress levels, but in this blog we’re specifically looking if being stressed out will further advance the downward spiral that started when you got stressed, and how it affects things like our eating, sleeping, or exercise patterns.
Now, here is a quick video about how stress may affect our body:
Background: After a good bit of searching on the topic, I came across this study done in 2006 in the New York area that tested how stress affected mood, self-esteem, and a person’s daily habits. Before I get into what the study was and what it found, I want to share some earlier this article shared and what those studies found before they explained their findings. First off, women in college are more likely to experience more amounts of stress than men, according to these studies the journal mentioned (Mallinckrodt, Leong, & Kralj, 1989; Cahir & Morris, 1991; Toews, Lockyer, Dobson, & Brownell, 1993; Nelson, Dell’Oliver, Koch, & Buckler, 2001). Likewise, those who worked a lot of hours outside of their studies experienced a massive stress increase over those who didn’t work said hours. This is related to the same names and studies listed above. Likewise, it should be noted that these studies were based on of doctorate programs, which entails higher levels of work, and therefore higher levels of stress than us in the undergraduate level.
The Procedure: So these studies showed what kinds of emotions people were experiencing due to stress and the likelihood of getting stressed, but they never went far enough to see how this affected people’s lives. This is where the New York study comes in. In this study, the participants were 65 graduate students. Of those 65, 49 were female and 16 were men, with the age ranging from 22-49. Using a questionnaire, the researchers asked the participants to first assess their stress using the Student Stress Scale created by Insel & Roth in 1991. In this study, stress was assessed by a number between 1-100 (minor stressful events get a lower score, more stressful events lead to a higher score). The participants looked at the 31 potential events that the Student Stress Scale measured, and wrote down the events that happened to them recently.
Then, the participants went through more questions asking about their daily habits, from a 1-5 scale (1 being not at all, 5 being daily). Questions like alcohol/tobacco use, eating patterns, and proper sleep was analyzed through these questions. High scores meant that there was a big shift from the normal, and low scores meant a little/no shift from the normal. Likewise, mood was also tested with the same 1-5 scale, being asked how often they were in positive moods in the last month. This was based on 20 variables The higher the score in mood, the better the person’s mood was. Finally, students were asked to base their self-esteem on the SD-SA scale (SD meaning strongly disagree, SA meaning strongly agree) after being asked multiple questions about their self-esteem. The higher the score on this, the better the self-esteem.
Results: Before saying the results of the study, it should be mentioned that the participants filled out the questionnaire at home, then mailed them anonymously to the researchers so the researchers would be blind to who wrote what questionnaire. So, although this wasn’t an observational or experimental study, it was a blind one. Therefore, things like independent/dependent variables were not put in place and measured. As we know from class, observational and experimental studies are far more likely to actually find the answer to the hypothesis than just asking them, as personal bias’ may make it hard for them to be truthful. Therefore, you may want to take the results of this study with a grain of salt.
Likewise, I’m not going to include the data of the study on the blog, but feel free to look at the data on this journal. According to the results, interestingly enough, the graduate students mostly experienced low stress and were somewhat satisfied in themselves. Changes in eating habits, positive moods, and both smoking and alcohol habits were not related to higher levels of stress. However, both sleeping, negative moods, and exercise was greatly related to stress. That means that these graduate students felt more stressed with more exercise (!!!) and less sleep, along with negative mood. Surprisingly, however, eating habits, drinking/smoking, and positive moods were not affected by the stress.
So, the study does indeed conclude the alternate hypothesis-stress does indeed affect our health and well-being, albeit less than one might originally have thought. This is due to it not affecting positive moods, eating habits, or drinking/smoking as one would think it would. However, some possible other explanations for these results could be geographical (only choosing students from New York), the oversampling of women over men, and the fact that the study was neither an experimental or observational. Therefore, the alternate hypothesis was the conclusion of this study, but be wary of a false positive that more studies might find. So next time you’re feeling stressed out, maybe try to meditate, breathe, or take your workload one thing at a time, before you let it affect your well-being. And always remember, stress is a temporary thing and, although we all feel it right now, it will get better soon.