It’s getting around that time in the semester! The time where we, as college students, get unbelievable amounts of stress due to assignments, finals looming, and trying to raise our grades in time to salvage this semester. Previously, I wrote a blog about how stress can affect us as college students and how it affects our well-being. Well, being someone who is super stressed trying to make grades right, I had an important question to find the answer for: how do we cope with this insurmountable amount of stress? Obviously, everyone is different, and so is their individual way of coping, but have there been studies looking to what are the scientifically best ways to cope with stress? This is what I aim to find out. We have some hypotheses that we can test: the null hypothesis is that these methods don’t change stress at all, while the alternate suggest that it does change our stress levels, for better or worse.
After looking for a while, I found an observational study done in 2002 looking at how both male and female nursing students cope with stress, both in their studies for 12 months and their 13-14 training cycle. This shows not only the stress of schoolwork that we are all dealing with now, but also how they deal with working with patients so soon, and even dealing with the death of patients. This is important to study, as one day soon when we graduate, we will have stressors that don’t involve school and grades, but other stressors that we too need to learn how to handle. Because of that, looking at both stress in school and in their field is far more valuable for us to learn from and figure out.
It was found that things like experience and self-esteem are instrumental in how well you cope with stress. This is relatively obvious for most of us, because we know that our self-esteem and mental health can drastically change our stress levels and success. However, it’s still something to take into consideration for how to decrease stress levels in the future.
Moving forward with how the study was conducted, we can see that it was done using a questionarre asking a population of nursing students at the first, second, and third year levels of their major (the same 101 students across three years). These questionarres were anonymous, hoping to avoid selection bias of the researchers. After recieving the questionarre back, the researchers came to these conclusions: the farther you got into the major, the higher the mean of transient stress (or short-term stress). However, things like chronic stress (long-term) and low self-esteem do not increase, but rather stay the same. This is a suprising finding, as it would seem that you add onto stress the farther you get into your major, likewise turning down your self esteem. On the other hand, you could also argue that in the breaks between semesters, students unwind themselves enough to decrease their stress levels before they start the new school year. Likewise, students may learn new and better studying habits as they go through college, combating the increase workload that moving up entails. And the farther they get into college, the closer they know they are to the end, so long term stress doesn’t affect them as much.
This can be argued to show that stress has an effect not over time, but over difficulty of the subject material, making these nursing students worse off the longer they’re in school (the perception is that junior year is the hardest for most college students). This can be argued to be due to increases in responsibility and the addition of in hospital work, but still show how stress can affect you. Likewise, this being only a questionarre, you can argue that the study doesn’t rule out third-party variables and thus can be viewed as less trustworthy in the process. Reverse causation, or stress causing the subject material to become harder over time, is not a factor, and thus can be ruled out.
Looking forward to how they coped with these stressors, the best coping factors given in the questionarre were things like problem solving, exercise/sport, social support from peers and family, and tension reduction (drinking, smoking, yoga, meditation, etc.) Problem solving is a given, as we usually try to come up with solutions to our stress and better manage our time. However, the other ones are incredibly interesting as coping factors! These are things that a lot of us push away when we’re stressed, spending the time we’re usually working out , being with friends, or drinking cramming for that test next week. Without these things in our life, our stress levels spike and can make us far worse off come test time. By using both problem based (what we usually use) and emotional based (what we don’t usually use) problem solvers, they significantly increase the likelihood of coping with stress.
After looking through both studies, you can see that stress is indicative our our situations, but doesn’t affect us long-term for the most part. Humans are an incredibly resilient species, being able to bounce back from almost anything and adapting to almost every situation. This includes stress, as we can figure out ways to destress and solve the problems. The studies show that the best ways to cope with stress are not only looking for problem based solutions, but also focusing on our emotional health. As we went through school, we were always told to focus on studying and let hobbies and our social lives take a back seat for a while. And while that may be something you should do to a degree, you also need to continue doing these behaviors in order to properly combat stress. Without it, we just become more and more stressed, which we all know can lead to worse grades, health issues, etc. In conclusion, don’t be afraid to take some studying breaks every once and while! It’s good for you, and will help you do better on the exam due to the decrease in stress you’ll get from continuing these behaviors.