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Academic Stress and its Sources Among University Students
Stress has become part of students’ academic life due to the various internal and external expectations placed upon their shoulders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the problems associated with academic stress as transitions occur at an individual and social level. It therefore, becomes imperative to understand the sources and impact of academic stress in order to derive adequate and efficient intervention strategies. The study employed a quantitative research design where participants were screened using Academic Stress Scale (Rajendran& Kaliappan,1991 from four streams namely, commerce, management, humanities, and basic sciences. The five dimensions of sources such as personal inadequacy, fear of failure, interpersonal difficulties with teachers, teacher pupil relationship and inadequate study facilities were further analysed and gender differences were also obtained. Understanding the sources of stress would facilitate the development of effective counselling modules and intervention strategies by school psychologists and counsellors in order to help students alleviate stress.
For the longest time, people assumed that the student population was the least affected by any sort of stress or problems. Stress is now understood as a lifestyle crisis(Masih & Gulrez, 2006) affecting any individual regardless of their developmental stage(Banerjee & Chatterjee, 2016). The only task students were expected to undertake was to study and studying was never perceived as stressful. What proved to be stressful was the expectations parents had for their children, which in turn grew into larger burdens that these children could not carry anymore. According to the statistics published by National Crime Records Bureau, there is one student every hour that commits suicide(Saha,2017). The bureau registered 1.8% students who committed suicide due to failing in examinations and an 80% rise in suicide rates during a one-year time frame. A 2012 Lancet report also quoted that the 15-29 age group bracket in India has the highest rate of suicide in the world (as cited in “India has the Highest Suicide Rate”, n.d.) and these numbers show no sign of dropping.
Academic stress has been identified as the primary cause of these alarming figures.Lee & Larson (2000) explain this stress as an interaction between environmental stressors, student’s appraisal and reactions for the same. It has now become a grave reality that is termed as a “career stopper” (Kadapatti & Vijayalaxmi, 2012). It therefore,becomes a significant cause of concern as it is symptomatic of rising mental health concerns in India (Nadamuri & Ch,2011).
It becomes imperative to also understand that low stress does not necessarily ascertain that students will perform better, but in fact under these circumstances, they would perceive the task as unchallenging and may also get easily bored (Uchil, 2017). Though certain levels of stress push students towards optimum performance, when it is not managed efficiently due to inadequate resources to cope with the stress, it can have dismal consequences for the student as well as the institution.
The stress response elicited by every individual is identical regardless of the trigger causing. For example, marital stress, exam anxiety, work stress, etc. would elicit identical physiological responses from the body. This happens primarily due to the adreno-medullary system, which is part of the sympathetic division of our nervous system and the adrenocortical axis (Bourne & Yaroush, 2003) resulting in the “fight or flight” reaction. Some of the physiological changes that can be observed in the body are changes in heart rate(HR), blood pressure (BP), respiratory rate, increased blood flow towards skeletal muscles, etc.
While the stress response may be identical, the sources of stress reported by individuals vary. These differences would be seen in the causes, sources and consequences of stressors. Some of the common stressors reported in an academic setting include excessive assignments, poor time management and social skills, peer competition, etc. (Fairbrother & Warn, 2003). These results are consistent with studies conducted in India as well as reported by Sreeramareddy, Shankar, Binu, Mukopadhyay, Ray & Menezes (2007).
Other individual specific factors include problems in financial management, changes in living atmosphere, difficulties managing personal and academic life, etc. (Byron, Brun & Ivers, 2008; Chernomas & Shapiro, 2013; Goff, 2011; Jimenez, Navia-Osorio & Diaz, 2010; Moscaritolo, 2009).
The educational system also plays an enabling role subsequently leading to increased stress levels experienced by students. Some of the sources include overcrowded lecture halls, semester grading system, inadequate resources and facilities (Awing& Agolla, 2008), vastness of syllabus (Agrawal &Chahar, 2007; Sreeramareddy et al., 2007), long hours and expectations of rote learning (Deb et al., 2015). Parents and institutions relentlessly instill the fear of failure which affects their self-esteem and confidence. Ang & Huan (2006) reported increased expectations as one of the factors responsible for increased stress levels.
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When sadness and depression become unmanageable it can be a sign of a mood disorder, which affect 1 in 5 children. While experts can identify many reasons why mood disorders occur in children, such as parents getting divorced, loss of a loved one and emotional trauma, stress can be a trigger. In addition, coping with stress can exacerbate symptoms, increasing the pressures associated with having a mood disorder. Here are some examples of mood disorders related to stress and links to more information.
Primary symptoms of continued sadness and hopelessness that interfere with the ability to function and last longer than two weeks. Other symptoms of depression may include irritability, changes in sleep, loss of appetite and mood swings.
Excessive worry and fear that interfere with normal activities. Children and young adults with GAD commonly feel anxiety over past or future events involving family, peers and school which can also present as physical symptoms.
Sudden, unexpected episodes of intense anxiety. People who suffer from panic disorder may feel shortness of breath, sweating and heart palpitations as well as an overall feeling of loss of control.
Sleep disorders occur when abnormal sleep patterns interrupt emotional, mental and physical health. Stress and anxiety can cause sleep disorders such as Excessive Sleepiness, Insomnia and Sleep Apnea, among others.
Young people with social anxiety disorder experience an overwhelming fear of social situations. They also have difficulty when performing in front of others or being the center of attention at school or during sports activities.
PTSD can occur after a stressful or traumatic event. While the symptoms (anxiety, intrusive thoughts, difficulty functioning) are normal reactions to trauma, PTSD occurs when they negatively affect the ability to function. A less severe form of PTSD is Acute Stress Disorder, which is also triggered by a stressful event but is short-term.