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Stress and Anxiety amongst Students


Stress is a part of every life on earth and each one has their own stress management strategies. Students especially the teenagers are considered to experience stress and most of the time they take stress to be negative and are unable to tackle it.

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There are studies that suggest stress is usual and can keep a student on track with schoolwork. But if the stress is not taken in a positive attitude, it can be detrimental. Researchers have classified stress into physiological, social and psychological stress. The symptoms of these stresses are also classified into physical, emotional, and mental.

Teenage depression or tensions experienced by students while they are growing further increases to the academic pressures. If they are incapable to adapt to the transition and change, teenagers often carry huge amount of anxiety, negative personal traits and can suffer from massive attention problems.

Besides, it is also noted that over scheduling a student’s life can put them under stress. Anxiety reduction and time management together with leisure activities may be a helpful approach for reducing academic stress among the college students. This paper discusses some of the major sources of Physiological, Social and Psychological stress and anxiety in students. Additionally, it also provides intervention strategies and recommendations to manage stress.


Education is one of the most fundamental needs of mankind as it is responsible for the advancement of our civilization. It is difficult to put a price tag for education. Apart from the basic knowledge on various subjects, education brings about several intangibles.

For instance, it gives individuals the experience and the confidence that they will be able to use in many life situations. A good education is basis to financial, professional, and personal success.

While acquiring knowledge is a large part of school, and as far as most think, the main purpose of education include learning culture, developing social skills, refining the use of language, and developing problem solving skills and logical reasoning are all very important.

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Students are learning more than reading writing and arithmetic as they are learning how to function in society and be successful in life. With the increasing complexity in education today it is considered a major source of developing stress and anxiety in many students.

The education system have turned out to be an endless stream of papers, assignments, exams, midterms etc. which is a never-ending flow of information that needs to be processed (Ditkofsky, 2004). “Stress can be defined as the biological reaction to any undesirable internal or external stimulus in the form of physical, mental or emotional stability that have a tendency to disturb the person’s homeostasis”.

If the person is not able to tolerate the stress reactions, they may lead to disorders. Stress is considered positive if it is able to stimulate people to grow professionally and personally, learn or improve. Therefore it is an essential part of our lives (George, et al. 1986).1

Researchers suggest that stress is normal and can keep a student on track with schoolwork, but if this purpose is not solved and is preventing them from focusing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle it can be detrimental. This paper discusses some of the major sources of Physiological, Social and Psychological stress and anxiety in students. Additionally, it also provides intervention strategies and recommendations to manage stress.

The amount of stress a person can take comfortably varies from individual to individual. It depends on factors as personal health, amount of energy or fatigue, family situation and age. Stress tolerance generally decreases with age, when a person is ill and also when they have problems with sleep (Rada and Johnson-Leong, 2004).

If we look at the sources of stress, it is numerous. In the case of students, stress may result from a variety of sources both within and outside the school campus, from intense workload and trouble managing their time to economic problems and intricacy with family. There is no answer to this question, as how a student reacts to stress as it is as different as the individual.

In general, the symptoms of stress can be classified into physical, emotional, and mental. Physical symptoms include headaches, stomach upsets, heart pounding, sweaty palms, sleeplessness, and uneasiness. These factors may most likely prevent one from attending class.

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Emotional symptoms include being short-tempered, feeling dejected, restless, intimidating, and nervous. These are factors that inhabit or make it difficult for a student to work with others. Mental symptoms of stress are expressed as absentmindedness, loss of concentration, poor judgment, incompetence, uncertainty, and negative self talk (Ditkofsky, 2004).

There are several studies that have reported a disturbing tendency in college student health due to excessive stress (Sax, 1997). Researchers have also classified the stressors affecting students as academic, financial, time or health related, and self-imposed (Goodman, 1993; LeRoy, 1988).

In general academic stressors comprise the student’s insight of the broad knowledge base necessary and the perception of an insufficient time to develop it (Carveth, Gesse, & Moss, 1996).

Several studies have found a general pattern of time when the students report experiencing academic stress and these are predictable times in each semester. The peak sources of academic stress result from taking and studying for exams, grade competition, and when there is large syllabus to cover in a small amount of time (Abouserie, 1994; Britton & Tesser, 1991).

For example, if a student was not able to attend regular classes due to some illness, the student will find it very difficult to study the syllabus completed when they were absent. This creates an immense mental stress. It is also possible that students may think they’re simply overstressed when in fact their condition has progressed to serious problems of anxiety or depression.

It is important for parents and teachers to recognise the symptoms of stress and take necessary actions. Otherwise stress can build and develop into outbreaks of depression and anxiety. It is also possible that students under depression can also be more directly triggered by subsequent stressful or traumatic event (Coping with Anxiety and Stress in Everyday Life, 2008).

Studies have estimated that anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect about 19 million Americans (Regier, et al. 1998). In students these anxiety disorder are bound together by the common topic of extreme, irrational fear and fright. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused stressful events in the life of a student, anxiety disorders are chronic and harsh and can grow increasingly worse if not treated (NIMH, 2004).

Physiological stress

There are several physiological stress students undergo. It varies between the genders, age, physique etc. In general growing up itself can be a difficult experience for both males and females. A boy has a distinct set of likings, friends, etc. than a girl. The major difference is seen among the teens.

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During this period, several physical transitions demand changeover in a student’s mental make-up, its approach towards people and situation. Several researchers have pointed out that children in general are often unprepared to handle stress through these transitions from a child to pre-adolescence, and from pre-adolescence to adolescence phases.

For pre-adolescents and teens, an individuality crisis, the threats of peer communication, recognition and denial of—circumstances, persons and ideas are in general a regular source of stress and teenage depression.

This is the stage when most of the teens think in terms if “Where do I stand?” and “How do I compare to others?” These are the key apprehension for this age group. This is also a stage where some of the most risky behaviours such as drinking, smoking, drugs and sex are faced by individuals. And these choices are common stressors.

Student-life corresponds with adolescence and stress can be evident in children as a response to the alterations in life which is in addition to academic pressures. And this is stage sometimes becomes the most stressful stage in a students life.

Students become more self-aware and insecure, and their thought process turns out to be more critical and difficult. Simultaneously, this is the stage when some of them become defocused from their academics. They often lack in educational motivation and performance, as their concentration is divided among a lot many things, particularly creating an identity for themselves (Life Positive Foundation, 2008).

When stress is perceived negatively by a student or becomes too much, students experience physical and psychological impairment (Murphy & Archer, 1996). As mentioned earlier the differences in genders are also a major point of difference between the students.

For instance, studies found that female students had more successful time management behaviours than males, at the same time they also experienced elevated academic stress and anxiety.

It was also found that males gained more than females from spare time or leisure activities. “Freshmen and sophomore students had elevated reactions to stress when compared to juniors and seniors in the same institution.

Researchers found that anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction all had an impact on the academic stress. Many of then suggested that anxiety reduction and time management together with leisure activities may be an useful approach for reducing academic stress among the college students” (Misra, 2000).

Social Stress

Social stress and anxiety disorder is considered the fourth most common psychiatric disorder. Devastating effects of social anxiety extend way beyond an individual feeling of distress in social situations, as those who undergo will demonstrate.

Social anxiety disorder is now and then referred to as social phobia which in general affects academic success, social situations and personal relationships among the students. “According to a study among college students it was found that around 40 per cent are under the vicious habit of alcohol consumption” (Kennard, 2007).

In yet another study, the association between anxiety, social stress, substance use, and gambling behaviour was examined. With a sample size 1,044 high school students from grades 7-11, this study has brought out important observations.

The researchers examined the adolescents state, trait, and generalized anxiety, social stress, substance use, and gambling behaviour. Results of this study disclosed facts such as “probable pathological gamblers report more daily and weekly alcohol consumption, use more uppers, downers, and hallucinatory drugs, and smoke more cigarettes every day when compared with non-gamblers, social gamblers, and gamblers at-risk for serious problems.

The study also revealed that probable pathological gamblers likewise reported greater levels of state anxiety, trait anxiety, and social stress compared with non-gamblers, social gamblers, and at-risk gamblers. Further they established through the study that adolescents with the highest state and trait anxiety scores had more severe gambling and substance abuse problems” (Ste-Marie et al. 2006).

There are also some contradiction results from some studies. For instance, recently published research by Ham et al (2007) was aimed at revealing the relationship between social anxiety and drinking, particularly within a college student population.

They found that social anxiety was truly unconnected to alcohol-related problems. Furthermore, social anxiety was largely unconnected to student’s motives for drinking alcohol.

Only individuals with high or moderate social anxiety appeared more likely to use alcohol as a motive for coping. Where as according to a recent report by the National Institute of Health (NIH), it was found that anxiety is a psychological risk factor connected with heavy or problem drinking among college students (Repich, N.D.).

Racial-ethnic differences that increase social anxiety are another cause for social stress among college students. According to a study it was found that social anxiety was lower for White American when compared to Hispanic American and Asian American students.

It was reasoned that racial-ethnic differences in social anxiety might be ethnically linked and precipitated by diverse concerns for racial-ethnic minority groups (Lesure-Lester and King, 2005). For example, Joseph, a 1st generation Korean American student faces serious psychological stress and depression.

Though he was a student with excellent track record in his previous educational programs, he is presently facing a serious challenge in both health as well as his grades. This is more of a psychological problem which could be helped out by using good counselling program. Similar problems are faced by many other students who migrate from different places for higher studies.

A good counselling at his high school counselling centre could be of great help not only to him but also for such similar cases. Students with emotional disturbance frequently require services from counselling that apply different eligibility criteria. The teenagers of the age of Joseph are quite diverse in terms of their needs and strengths.

The students present with a complex range of disabilities, from conduct disorder to schizophrenia. Teenagers who feel as if their ethnicity, culture, values, learning styles, and interests are not in synchrony with the evident services and mission of the college they attend are placed at risk for underachievement and for leaving -either seeking transfer elsewhere or forsaking higher educational study altogether.

Psychological stress

Researchers have found that most causes of psychological stress are perennially linked to emotional and psychological disorders. In fact students may feel the stressful situations, whether long-term or short-term, in a numerous emotional symptoms.

It may vary from individual to individual and can set forth a series of symptoms such as a feeling of behaviour disintegration, fear, nervousness attacks, unfocussed attention or distractions, high levels of emotional responses and psychological agitation such as gloominess, uncertainty, burn out etc. Some of these stress and anxiety may turn out to be life threatening in the form of vehicular accidents.

Students in general during their academic life face these psychological stress situations and experience anxiety. In fact researchers have found that almost all anxiety attacks and stress linked mind-body illnesses are known to cause sleep disorders.

These may include problems such as sleep apnea, overdue sleep phase syndrome, and even oversleeping even in the class rooms. In intense cases these stressors can even cause insomnia.

It is proven that students with Attention-Deficiency Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type (ADD) show signs of six or more symptoms of lack of concentration and less than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity.

They typically display some of the following symptoms such as lack of concentration, distractibility, incompetence, vagueness, lack of insight, negligence, lack of memory, lack of enthusiasm, lack of determination, and procrastination.

It is a fact that regular stress can damage one’s spirit, slowing down the enthusiasm to lead a significant life. Under these situations the student may fall into compulsive, obsessive behaviour and fear. Stressed out children seem to be easily attracted towards negative habits of procrastination, addiction to alcohol, smoking and substance abuse. All these incapacitating mental traits arise from a loss of confidence and inner strength (Life Positive Foundation, 2008).

Researchers have also found that several psychological signs of stress manifest themselves as physiological responses. For instance in a study on dental students it was found that the physical disorder reported most frequently by dentists is lower back pain.

Besides, they often feel physical manifestations such as headaches and intestinal or abdominal problems also. Though in most cases these disorders may not be so severe that they require intervention, they may interfere with the dentist’s professional performance and quality of life (Gale, 1998).

Psychological stress is often created by parental pressure to perform and to stand out among other children. When the students fail to rise up to that expectation, or during the process of meeting it, they may suffer from frustration, physical stress, aggression, undesirable complexes, and depression.

Besides, students who are under-performers, increase negative traits such as nervousness, unfriendliness, envy, and may move away into their own world to become introverts (Life Positive Foundation, 2008).


Remarkable advances in the 21st century in the field of information technology have revolutionized modern education. The educational systems must focus on for certain issues such as character development, moral formation, discipline, safety, protection from drugs and early sex in the schools etc. These issues are as important as the subject knowledge.

Therefore it is essential that the instructors and the parents together need to look into these aspects more seriously. Stress is a part of student’s life and can have both positive and negative feelings. Therefore if is most important to seek appropriate intervention programs in schools and community.

Exercise is one clear type of stress management that can help students to use up or take up some of the sympathetic tone that is the “fight-or-flight” response to stress. It is one of the most important interventions strategies to combat stress.

It helps to check the increased heart rate and the high amounts of insulin and other hormones in the body system. Besides, it gives natural mood enhancing substances known as the endorphins which counter the stress response as well. Regular exercise can have positive impact on student’s life.

Developing a positive mental attitude is one of the most important parts of stress management. Emotional and mental health is addressed by exercise but it also needs to be addressed in terms of some of the behaviours that we choose in the day to day life and correct harmful stress response.

Students need to find correct ways of thinking rather than use substances like alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs to combat stressful feelings. It becomes necessary to train the minds of students to think positively (Coping with Anxiety and Stress in Everyday Life, 2008).

Having a healthy diet is another aspect that students need to act on. Balanced nutrition is important. A proper diet will go a long way to reducing stress levels among the students. Children when they are stressed they eat junk food to comfort themselves.

This has lead the serious problems as obesity, cardiac problems etc. at a very young age. Students need to be taught to be careful in their diet, drink plenty of water and reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol. All these will go a long way to helping the children cope with stress naturally.

Only then will we be approaching stress management in a healthy and life extending way. Meditating on a regular basis is quite normal and studies have shown that it is very useful in dropping stress levels as well as often helping to decrease your blood pressure.

It is also very important to get enough sleep as this is the time the body uses to repair and renovate itself. Students after the stressful routines need to take adequate rest. Many students have taken up habits such as depending on alcohol and drugs as a night cap.

This actually makes the sleep patterns worse. Long hours of reading at night and stay up too late can have serious health problems. Simple techniques like taking a long, soothing bath before bed is way to support the body to go to sleep. Taking short breaks from the routines is a good way to distress individuals. Even a weekend away will help. Taking a short break will allow the student to recharge and let the stress drain away.

Some institutions offer group therapy for people with social anxiety, which provides an opportunity to learn how to overcome fears in a safe environment with people who understand the personal feelings of children. Researchers have demonstrated that alcohol in fact triggers the fight-or-flight response by stimulating the release of stress hormones such as corticosterone and adrenaline.

Increase the sense of control over social anxiety by learning anxiety reduction techniques is an important intervention strategy. Further, nutritional strategies for reducing anxiety, deep breathing, guided imagery, and cognitive-behavioural strategies are just a few examples of anxiety reduction techniques that need to be included in the intervention program.

For instance, “NIH studies indicate that cognitive-behavioural therapy can be as successful as medication in treating anxiety, and even more effective than medication at preventing long-term reappearance of anxiety” (Repich, N.D.).

Counselling centres in the school campuses endeavour to support the personal and professional growth of students. It is the responsibility of counselling centres to support as many students as possible by facilitating the mental health with the resources available to them. Many counselling centres are multifaceted, offering students direct services, personal, career, and group counselling, and broader outreach programming and consultation.

Counsellors in the schools work individually and with other educators to meet the developmental needs of students, including those with special needs or learning disabilities. This program should focus on the academic, career, and personal/social developmental needs of students, including those with special needs of students.


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