Researchers Find Ways to Combat Student Stress

With the American College Health Association citing stress as the top reason for poor academic performance, it's no small wonder that colleges and universities are searching for ways to help students cope with the myriad of problems and responsibilities they face every day. The Education Insider takes a closer look at the results of current research on student stress conducted at the University of San Diego and Columbia University in New York City.

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By Harrison Howe


Identifying Stressors

While Columbia and San Diego approached the subject of student stress from a different angle, both agreed that identifying and understanding stressors were important for assuring student success. Both schools also came to the conclusion that there doesn't seem to be any single answer when it comes to combating student stress. It is, they say, a complex problem requiring a many-pronged solution.

In the studies, students were asked to list the top things that were likely to cause them the most stress. Listed stressors varied; they included academics, housing and finances, but also less-expected responses like lighting in dorm rooms, availability of healthy food choices on campus and distance between classes. Stressors were then sorted into lists: highest to lowest ranking, most to less frequent and from most to least severe.

Columbia University then chose to look at students according to academic unit, while the University of San Diego factored in demographics such as race, sex and employment status. As a result, top stressors differed between the institutions. Students at San Diego tended to have more stressors relating to racism and other campus climate issues, while Columbia students placed administrative processes and cluttered dorms high on the list.

But whatever the stressors, both universities then realized that, once they were identified, the ball was in their respective courts.

Helping Students Fight the Good Fight

Basically, the findings seem to indicate that in some cases there needs to be institutional interventions or changes depending on the type of stressors most affecting students. It's up to schools to provide students with coping methods, or put in place strategic plans for combating stress. At the University of San Diego, changes in response to the study are already underway. For instance, an action committee was formed to devise ways to improve the campus climate for gay, lesbian and bisexual students. A restructured tutoring service will also help stressed students whose academics are suffering.

Columbia University, meanwhile, has concentrated on helping students formulate coping methods when it comes to stress. The goal of this study was to create a more positive atmosphere to emphasize the university's mission statement to 'advance knowledge and learning'. Columbia hopes to relieve stress through health promotion and awareness. Agendas with coping messages printed on the front covers have been made available to students for free. These messages were selected by students.

In the end, both schools urged other institutions to conduct similar studies, as each institution may need to tailor programs to meet specific needs. 'Stress is a popular topic,' Margaret Baker told in June 2011. Baker formerly worked in health promotion at the University of San Diego and began the stress study in 2007. She added, '(Students) love to talk about it. . .and building that awareness can lead to actual outcomes that are far-reaching and beyond.'

Just starting off in college can be a stressful time for many; get some helpful tips on how to cope during your first semester as a college freshman.

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