Study Finds Gender Differences in College Student Stress Levels and Coping Mechanisms

According to the “Spring 2019 Health Assessment” by the American College of Health Association, 34.2 percent of undergraduate college students had indicated the top impediment to learning was stress, with 45.3 percent having more than average stress. This stressful environment has left college students vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidality.

A new study led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University has found that among college students women are more likely than men to be affected by stress. University students enrolled in three different undergraduate exercise science courses were assessed. Two instruments, the Perceived Stress Scale and Brief Cope, were administered during the twelfth week of the semester, four weeks prior to final exams. Tests were used to detect gender differences for stress levels and coping strategies.

Overall, women indicated higher levels of stress than their male counterparts. Gender differences were evident in both coping dimensions and individual coping strategies used. Women were found to utilize the emotion-focused coping dimension and endorsed the use of four coping strategies more often than males. These included self-distraction, emotional support, instrumental support, and venting.

“When individuals, such as the female college students in our study, find themselves in undesirable situations that are stressful, they may seek to assign blame to internal or external sources,” said B. Sue Graves, senior author and an associate professor in the department of exercise science and health promotion at Florida Atlantic University. “We found that male college students in our study sought much lower levels of support since they either may lack the social network or may not have developed those skills. Thus, gender was the important component in this study, which should be considered when being mindful in reducing stress in college students.

“Students may need educational interventions to develop effective and healthy coping strategies to last a lifetime. Our study provides pertinent information in order to reduce stress, more specific to gender,” Dr. Graves added. “Possibly, more effective stress management and adaptive sessions could have more emphasis incorporated into classes, especially at the freshman and/or sophomore level. Faculty and other university officials may want to highlight and understand these various factors to protect the students’ well-being in their classes.”

Dr. Graves holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. She earned a doctorate in exercise physiology and biomechanics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The full study, “Gender Differences in Perceived Stress and Coping Among College Students,” was published on PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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