Level of stress among university students

A Study On Investigating The Factors Affect The Level Of Stress Among University Students



Stress is a feeling which created when we react to particular events and prepare to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. The events that provoke stress are calledstressors. This research is done to study the factors affect the level of stress university students. Our respondents for the research will be University Malaya students from faculty of law, medicine, engineering, business and accountancy and science. They are well-known to have a high tendency to stress exposure. There are several factor that we identified would influence the level of stress among university students consists of coursework and self-expectation, financial status, relationship and family, social support and personality. This study aims to find out the relationship between these 4 factors and reveal the correct manner in coping with stress for them as well.

Background Overview

In Malaysia, the higher education system has been changed. For instance, the public universities are known as research universities via Accelerated Programme for Excellence (APEX) nowadays. The research universities in Malaysia ought to maintain their good grade to obtain further research funding, quality auditing and ranking, high quality of teaching and learning. Therefore, the university students will encounter high pressure with the change of education system. Thus, the exam-oriented system in Malaysia will lead to stress among students because the students claim that getting an “A” in the exam helps them to be a good leader and get a good job in the future. Other than being excel in the coursework, students participate in various sorts of activities organized by faculty or college to gain soft skill which terribly required in workplace nowadays. As a result, systematic time management is vital for a survivor of students in university life.

The majority of the university students depend on the loan from Pendidikan Tabung Pengajian Tinggi Negara (PTPTN) and scholarship to cover the expenses and fees in university. There are certain conditions need to be fulfilled. For instances, students must obtain at least 80% attendance and to be a first class honor. Students must preserve an outstanding grade to accomplish the terms in scholarship or discharge from liabilities to repay PTPTN loan in the future. Adequate finance sources are required to survive and earn a degree in university or else they need to work as part timer to cover up the expenses.

A good living condition is essential for the university students to handle their stress. The administration of the university encourages the students to live in student hostel for the first year because it is a chance to make friends and to get use into university life.

Besides, student welfare officers, student counseling services and the student unions are there to help those who are facing stress in their university life. Orientation week and buddy system are also being introduced to cope with the level of stress among students. New students can be easily adapted to their life in university with the advices provided through the orientation program and buddy system. Last but not least, seminar and stress management campaign are organized to assist students in handling stress with recommendation and tips.

Problem Statement

The past researches have been conducted to understand the factors affect the level stress among students. However there is no any research that tested and compared of the selected important factors towards choosing the dominant factor that influenced the level of stress. Besides, the study before has been conducted only at Europe and Indian country so most of the finding couldn’t be adapt in Malaysia. Therefore, this research has been applied successfully what we have learnt in the student learning environment of the education field with evidence from Malaysia. The outcome of this research showed a comprehensively integrated framework for us to understand the dynamic relationships among dimensions of student coursework and self-expectation, financial status, relationship and family, social support and personality to understand the factors that influence the level of stress among students in University of Malaya. Hence, the problem statement for this research can be generated as:

“What is the dominant factor affect the level of stress among University Malaya students?”

Research Problem

This research has been done to examine and understand how environment generates stress to university students. Besides that, we also inquisitive the most important factor that would influent the level of stress among university students. Through this study, we can discover the factor impact the most towards the level of stress among the university students in either positively or negatively.

As a result, the research problem is formulated as:

The Factors Affect The Level Of Stress Among University Malaya Students

Research Objectives

Here are objectives which to be achieved through this study as mentioned:

1. To find out whether the relationships among four dimensions which is coursework and self-expectation, financial status, relationship and family, social support and personality (four independent variables) would significantly affect the level of stress among university students (dependent variable).

2. To discover the stress difference among demographic factors.

3. To figure out the most dominant stress factor among University Malaya students.

Research Questions

The research problem is too wide to be studied directly. Therefore, research questions are developed to achieve the research purpose for this study as stated below:

1. Is there any significant relationship among four factors of coursework and self-expectation, financial status, relationship and family, social support social support and personality in affecting the level of stress among university students?

2. Is there any significant different between demographic (races and gender) with factors affect the level of stress among University Malaya students?

3. What is the most dominant factor among University Malaya students?

Literature Review


Researchers (Vermunt and Steensman, 2005; Topper, 2007; Ussery, 2007; Malach-Pines and Keinan, 2007) have defined stress as the opinion of incongruity between environmental requirements (stressors) and individual competency to accomplish these requirements. Researcher (Campbell, 2006) defines stress as the unpleasant reaction from people who have to extreme stress. Stress takes place when an individual is handled with a scenario that they perceive as devastating and cannot deal with.

Stress is known as a reaction shown by a variety of external events (Selye, 1976) and can be treated as a constructive or destructive experience. Fontana (1989) describes stress as “an order directed to the adaptive abilities physically and mentally. If these capabilities can manage the request and take pleasure in the incentive concerned, then stress will become a positive force of motivation and vice versa. In different terms, feedbacks to stressor are likely to be different by person and the similar environment can result in various outcomes. While some people may prosper, others may wither under the strain. Cox & Brockley (1984) commented that stress is an insight occurrence which results from a contrast between the demand set and capability of someone to accomplish the mission fruitfully. Unstable circumstances in this means will direct into stress experience and eventually into stress reaction.

Greenberg and Valletutti (1980) said that “whether it is constructive or depressing, stress will trigger a response physically. It has an effect on the cardiovascular, digestive, and musculoskeletal structures of the body. Stress is the key source of headaches, backaches, indigestion, nausea, heart attacks, hypertension, ulcers, colitis, constipation, diarrhea, diabetes, allergies and arthritis. Stress also was relate with psychosomatic illnesses, enuresis, anorexia nervosa, and alcoholism”

Studies on the variation of stress stages between genders are typically performed openly or in a roundabout way. Consequently, the intention of this investigation is to validate the outcome of preceding studies that stated female scholars undergo additional stress than male undergraduates such as the one done by Gadzella and Baloglu (2001) which discover that female students encounter more stress in the different stages of life. While Muhammad Shah (1993) discovered a major distinction between the stress suffered by different gender students and the studies by Mohd Jafri (1991) demonstrates that female students go through more stress when encountering troubles when judge against the male students. From the studies that have been carried out, it is anticipated that a plan can be shaped and implemented to the undergraduates particularly the female students.

Coursework And Self-Expectation

Stress is likely to obstruct with educational performance and influenced nearly millions of students per year (Barker 1987). Whitman (1985) proposes that stress is difficult to determine due its unpredictable consequence on individuals. Goplerud reported that nearly 3.9 stressful during the last six months of graduate education according to students. Stecker (2004) realized that graduate students encountered indication of hopelessness, stress, and matter use. There are many theories to explain the consequences of stress particularly on academic performance (Spence and Spence 1966, Carver and Sheier 1990, Travis and Wade 1993).

Stress in academic institutions can influence student positively and negatively in terms of effects if not well administered (Smith, 2002; Tweed et al., 2004; Stevenson and Harper, 2006). Academic institutions have different job surroundings compared to nonacademic. It is predicted to have differences in signs, factors, and outcomes of stress to students (Elfering et al., 2005; Chang and Lu, 2007). It is significant to the society that students should be trained and gain the essential knowledge and competencies to prepare them to contribute positively to the growth of the universal economy of any country. However, the complicated academic atmosphere occasionally create great health problems to the students’ life (Danna and Griffin, 1999; Dyck, 2001; Grawitch et al., 2007; Ongori, 2008) that tend to go against the affirmative gains that one would anticipate after graduating from University. These scholars claim needs to pay close attention to formulate the effective and efficient stress management in university. Therefore, university ought to maintain fit balanced academic surroundings beneficial for enhanced learning which is suit according the students’ individual requirements. Personality of students poses different level of expectations to students. Moreover, students’ backgrounds impact on how one distinguishes the situation around him/her. There are various kinds of expectations, ambitions, and standards for students which they pursue to achieve at the university. It is possible to be recognize only if their expectations, ambitions, and standards are integrated with what have been offered in the university (Goodman,1993).

People are stressed and leads to nervous and hinder with individual’s performance based on the ‘drive theory’ (Spence and Spence 1966). Carver and Sheier (1990) have faith that people who are confidently deal with stress by implementing continually task-focused whereas those who are lack of confidence are usually anxious by mind-set of sorrow and use self distraction practice, such as off-task view.

Upon additional analysis, we figure out the personality character of a distinctive graduate student as an internal stipulation that contributed for additional stress. Graduate students who are always highly dedicated, persistent or firm, display perfectionist trend, set high standards of quality, reveal enthusiasm for their ground, and are achievement-oriented. These individuality can assist graduate students in completing their course work, but challenge to put the equivalent attempt and brilliance into all aspects of their lives can result in irritation, over-commitment, and be exhausted. (Evan H. Offstein et al.,2004). However, stress are not dependable in the purpose circumstance of environmental or personality basis but the view or the perception of the person (Baltas and Baltas, 2000).

Hewitt and Flett (1991) stated perfectionism as a multidimensional occurrence that encompasses self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed perfectionism (cf. Frost et al., 1990). Self-oriented perfectionism describes the trend of a person to target and achieve splendid work. Other-oriented perfectionism is about the habits of someone who always anticipate that the others ought to perform ideally in their tasks. Socially prescribed perfectionism is about the practice of someone to always think that the public anticipate flawlessness from him or her.

At least one investigation on self-regulation schemes of obsessive academy scholars in a societal environment implies that perfectionism (deliberated by the Hewitt Perfectionism Scale) is linked with targeting an elevated goal for a discussion and estimating an individual’s presentation regularly in the communication (Alden et al., 1994). Likewise, perfectionism calculated by the Hewitt Perfectionism Scale in communally disturbed individual is associated to targeting advanced benchmarks before a discussion (Bieling & Alden, 1997). These results show that perfectionists aim for harder objectives for themselves. Besides, obsessive institution students ponder more about blunders they did, suffer more stress when finishing an challenging job, and work with lesser efficiency on a laboratory-based assignment than non-perfectionists (Frost & Marten, 1990 and Frost et al., 1997).

Flett and Hewitt recommended that purist manners could cause, propagate, or develop stress, which apparently would then be associated with detested results. Chang and Rand, (2000) and Hewitt et al., (1996) discovered that at self-oriented perfectionists suffered additional despair at elevated stages of stress. On the contrary, Chang and Rand (2000) revealed that unconstructive consequences of socially-prescribed perfectionism took place under high levels of stress. In the recent investigation, we conducted an experiment on the supposition that unreasonable benchmarks and presentation anticipation (in the absence of self-disparagement) may be adaptive only under least stress conditions; if stress is towering, what may appeared as an adaptive feature of perfectionism may surface as a maladaptive feature. Stress was also anticipated to worsen the depressing impact of maladaptive perfectionism.

Hewitt and Flett (1991) disputed that the thoughts of insignificance and harsh self-criticism regularly linked with not assessing up to one’s perfect expectations are tend to pose pessimistic emotional circumstances. Related outcomes are anticipated to happen when an individual not succeed to achieve the others’ expectations. However, Hewitt and Flett (1991) added explained that the inadequate of controllability always discovered among students who feel pressured to be ideal for others might worsen the anxiety of socially prescribed perfectionism on modification and cause to suicidal behaviors. This is comparable to the perception shown in the journalism on educated defenselessness and desperation (e.g., Abramson, Metalsky, & Alloy, 1989).

It is hectic to get first-class honour and obtain a degree. (Hirsch & Ellis, 1996). However, it is not only the main factor of stress for student. Other possiblefactors affect stress contains extreme assignments, unclear assignments’ guideline, and uncomfortable lecture hall (Kohn & Frazer, 1986). Furthermore, academic standards, dealings with faculty course mates and time urgency are recognized as a source of stress.(Sgan-Cohen & Lowental, 1988). Students strive hard to meet evaluation deadlines and generate stress along the way. (Misra et al. 2000), and there are report indicated that students feel overwhelmed by their workload (Reisberg 2000). Other than too many assignments, competition among the course mates can pose stress to students according to researchers who have done an investigation on academic stress (Fairbrother and Warn, 2003). Institutional (university). Level of stress among university students can be determined by overloaded lecture halls, (Ongori, 2007; Awino and Agolla, 2008), semester scheme, and insufficient resources to execute educational effort. Erkutlu and Chafra (2006) for example opines about students become disordered, confused and unable to come across when these events occur. It further lead in stress associated with medical problems.

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Academic years are unquestionably pressured (Melendez & Guzman, 1983). Going through graduate institutions indicates the starting of numerous hectic life changes for majority students. Goplerud (2001) mentioned some of these adjustments are episodic and match to intellectual position conversion, like there is orientation program in the first few months for a graduate university course, preparation for inclusive or competent examinations, enrolling into an industrial training site, and starting the first job.

Graduate education is related with various interpersonal stressors like the stress to seem well-educated in front of friends and lecturers, contest among friends, and competition for research journals and academic presentations. These interpersonal resists pose to isolation, anxiety, character confusion, and unfriendliness (Katz & Hartnett, 1976; Mallinckrodt, Leong, & Fretz, 1985; Stecker, 2004). Therefore, Students will turn out to be less efficient students and further resulting their individual and professional life. after the stressors being encountered. For instance, one’s traits are described with a persistent sense of time pressure and too much aggressive drive. It is assumed to face higher stress since it is expected to be speedy in verbal communication and actions (Baltas and Baltas, 2000).

A subject linked with workload related stress is the fear of failure. Schafer (1996) illustrates fear of failure as: ‘‘…perfectly natural and can help motivate you to prepare and perform well. Sometimes, however, fear of failure becomes so extreme that it creates unnecessary emotional and physical distress.”

Time management issues are also an important source of student stress (Nonis et al. 1998). They suggest however that it is not the management of time itself that causes stress, but the individual’s perception of control over time that is the source of student stress. This view is supported by Macan et al. (1990), who found that individuals who felt themselves to be in control of their time experienced less tension. Students in the study rated ‘too little time’ as one of the top three sources of stress as many students leave too much to accomplish in too short a space of time. A side effect of a perceived lack of time is that students may forgo sleep, which may 738 High Educ (2008) 56:735-746 reduce their ability to cope with an increase in stress (Hardy 2003). How students experience stress will also be affected by the individual’s attitude towards their studies. Students that are classed as high achievers are more likely to be predisposed towards experiencing stress (Hughes 2005).

The pressure to perform well in the examination or test and time allocated makes academic environment very stressful (Erkutlu and Chafra) Therefore, for many students the most significant source of stress is examinations (Abouserie 1994). The stress associated with exams can cause a range of symptoms in some students including nausea, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and stomach pains (Mechanic 1978). He also found that the majority of students experienced a reduction in stress once they had started their first examination. This implies that it is the prospect of taking an exam that causes stress rather than the exam itself. A contention that is supported by Gadzella et al. (1998) who concluded from a study of undergraduate psychology students that it is the anxiety associated with tests, rather than the test itself, which creates physiological and emotional reactions to stress.

Graduate students experience many sources of internal conflict. Internal conflicts may result from competing demands, the compromise of personal principles and standards, unrealized expectations, a sense of responsibility to “significant others”, classmates, and employers, other concerns and commitments, incongruence of graduate experiences with past experiences or knowledge, a conflict between student’s passion and (perceived) irrelevant degree requirements, and guilt (which is both a conflict and a result of internal conflict). Often, students experience a combination of these conflicts. Kane illustrated this type of conflict interaction as he contemplated his desire to do well at his graduate studies while maintaining his commitments and responsibilities to his family in Africa. He expressed his turmoil by saying, “Is my thinking entirely school or is it entirely at home? Or am I in-between?” (Kane).

This research is also needed to show and support the fact that there is a relationship between stress and the students’ academic performance. The question is whether academic achievement cause or contribute to stress because parent in general measure their success or failure in child rearing based on the academic achievement. The society has also unconsciously been responsible for embedding in the minds on individuals that achieving success in exams is a must. Fariza (2005) who conducted a research on the stress among teenagers found that this age group have to deal with the academic world. Therefore there exists demand and hope for themselves, their parents, teachers and the society to see them succeed. This is parallel to the research by Mates and Alisson (1992) which finds that among the academic factor that contribute to the stress in teenagers is their achievement in academics.

A student’s life is subjected to different kinds of stressors, such as the pressure of academics with an obligation of success, uncertain future and difficulties envisaged for integration into the system (Fish & Nies, 1996; Chew-Graham, Rogers & Yassin, 2003). Overwhelming burden of information leaves a minimal opportunity to relax and recreate and sometimes leads to serious sleep deprivation (Lee & Graham, 2001; Firth- Cozens, 2001). It constitutes various stressors which may cause impaired judgment, reduced concentration, loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression (Gisele, 2002).

One factor is the great stress students experience when faced with the academic expectations set by their college professors (Kadison, R.D. & DiGeronimo, T.F., 2004) For many students, especially those in the traditional age range, college-level academic expectations are experienced as dramatically greater than the expectations set by their teachers in high school. Indeed, the ubiquity of remedial courses offered at our colleges suggests that high school teachers today are not adequately preparing their students for college work, with core academic skills needed for success in college often poorly developed when the student reaches college IBHE Faculty Advisory Council, 2006). Consequently, many students who were accustomed to getting perfect grades in high school are surprised and upset to discover that their work is not highly regarded by their professors, and struggle to develop the core skills needed to improve their work (Kadison, R.D. & DiGeronimo, T.F., 2004; IBHE Faculty Advisory Council, 2006).

Financial Status

Financial stress is an important source of distress in people’s lives because many fundamental activities of daily living and opportunities for success are closely tied to current levels of personal financial resources (Peirce, Frone, Russell & Cooper, 1996). Financial stress also effect family issues (Mills, Grasmick, Morgan & Wenk, 1992), personal health (Drentea & Lavrakas, 2000) and increase illness-related absenteeism (Hendrix, Steel & Schultz, 1987; Hendrix, Spencer & Gibson, 1994 ; Ivancevich, Matteson & Preston, 1982; Jacobson, et al., 1996)

Financial stress has been referred to by researchers as economic stress, economic hardship, economic strain and economic pressure. Economic strain is an evaluation of current financial status such as perceived financial adequacy, financial concerns and worries, adjustment to changes in one’s financial situation and one’s is projected financial situation (Voydanoff, 1984).

Financial stress can induce physical and psychological responses. Financial stress affects individuals’ health through physical impairment (Drentea & Lavrakas, 2000), drinking problems (Moos, Fenn, & Billings 1989; Peirce et al., 1996) depression and reduced psychological well-being (Jackson,Iezzi & Lafreniere, 1997; Myvesta, 2000; Mill et.,1992; Pearlin, Menaghan, Lieberman & Mullan, 1981; Ullah 1990)

Drenta and Lavrakas (2000) found that individuals who reported higher level of financial stress showed higher levels of physical impairment and illness than those with lower levels of financial stress. Credit counselling reported that their health was negatively affected by financial stress (Bagwell, 2000)

Responses to financial stress also include psychological factors. Jackson et al., (1997) examined the extent of emotional distress of individual in chronic pain compared to healthy samples. Mills et al., (1992) studied the effects of gender, family satisfaction and economic strain on psychological well being of people. They found that the effects of economic strain are the same for males and females regardless of the status. Ullah (1990) studied association between income financial strain and psychological well-being and also she mediates the effects of income on mental health.

Students’ financial stress also leads to psychological responses such as organizational commitment and satisfaction in the learning environment. Financial stress was included as stress and determinants related to financial stress and responses were identified. Stress was hypothesized to influence psychological and physical stress responses, health and student commitment. The determinants in the model are individual variables, such as gender, education, age and income. These variable are often included in stress, absenteeism and financial stress models (Brooke, 1986; Heyloe & Wilheam 1998; Porter 1990 ; Steers & Rhodes, 1978,1884)

Stress related to personal finances is perceived to be one of the most influential sources of psychological stress because basic life activities are associated with personal financial resources and their management (Peirce et al., 1996) Subjective perception of personal finances has been measure of financial stress (Fox & Chaney, 1998; Miles et al., 1992; Ullah 1990)

As a result of changes in the funding of higher education, as mentioned previously, a significant stressor for students is living with limited financial resources. Although the stress of financial uncertainty may be temporary, it can still have a negative impact on individuals (Schafer 1996). A study at a London university found a significant relationship between financial problems and mental health (Roberts et al. 1999). In addition, having limitations on financial resources can increase the impact of strains normally associated with studying (Foster 1995). To combat their lack of money, increasing numbers of students are taking part-time paid ] employment during their studies. According to The Student Living Report (2004), 42% of students have a job to support themselves at university, working an average of 14 hours per week. This need to work has added to what is, for some, already a stressful situation, such that 59% of students reported that they feel more stressed now, in comparison to their previous educational experiences. The Report (2004) further suggests that students expect to finish university with debts, on average, of £9,341.

The financial context may become even more acute for some in the future with the introduction in September 2006 in England of tuition fees to be paid by students. The majority of higher education institutions have already indicated that they intend to charge the maximum annual fee of £3,000 per year. While this does mean that students do not have to pay any fees in advance, they will incur a larger financial cost after completing their studies. In an attempt to reduce this burden, many institutions will be offering bursaries, or other financial assistance, to a proportion of students. It is not yet known what effect this fundamental change will have on the levels of stress associated with financial concerns.

Relationship And Family

Relationship and family will affect the level of stress among the university student, such as the long-distance romantic with the couple, the problem of family, the transition from home to university.

Actually, the relationship of couple can cause the level of stress higher. Boyfriend or girlfriend can provide support to help students deal with the stresses of university, but it’s also an added responsibility. Like studying or playing on a sports team, relationships require time and attention. Students may experience conflict because cannot spend as much time with partner, especially during exam period. When such conflict arises, relationships may become confusing and frustrating, adding to the stress in university life. A side effect of a perceived lack of time is that students may forgo sleep, which may reduce their ability to cope with an increase in stress (Hardy 2003). Married college students and their families have been of interest to researchers for some time (Beutell & Greenhous, 1982, 1983; DYK, 18987; Hirsch, 1979; Hooper, 1979; Huston-Hoberg & Strange, 1986; Rice, 1979; smallwood, 1980; Suitor, 1987; Van Meter & Agronow, 1982).

Whether it is a friendship, dating, separation, marriage, divorce, or re-marriage, a relationship can be a leading cause of stress for students. We all want love, and that is potentially available in relationships, but getting from A to B can be very stressful. Some choice to online relationships that is easier to handle. These research studies show that a strong relationship exists between stress and cognitive abilities (Glaser & Singer, 1972). Others withdraw and become outsider. Either way, the demands on time, finances, and emotions can cause ongoing stress. Probably the most wrenching cause of stress is the death of a loved one or close friend. Even the death of a pet can be stressful among the university students. However, many of the studies which have examined stress and coping resources in the college student’s population have failed to recognize the potential differences between single and married college students in the selection of subjects, instrument development, and or data analysis (Archer & Lamnin, 985; Beard, Elmore, &Lange, 1982; Costantini Davis, Braun, &Iervolino, 1974; Whitman, Spendlove, & Clark, 1984; Zausmer, Faris, & ZAusmer, 1983; Zitzow, 1984).

In fact, partners in inter-group relationships can experience strong dissatisfaction and social pressure among the couples relationship. This same point was re-iterated in scholarly studies of interracial marriages as late as the 1980s (Porterfield, 1982). So, should we expect interracial relationships to be distressing at the turn of the twenty-first century? Scholars writing early in the twentieth century suggested that persons in inter-racial marriages were subject to conflicting social and cultural obligations leading to discrimination, lack of social support from family members, and, consequently, psychological disorganization and distress (Adams, 1969; Park, 1928; Stonequist, 1935). The differential culture, life types, and habits among the couples caused conflicts in their daily life. It will very pressure for them even they also need to studies.

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Currently, couples may still face some social disapproval, but emphasizes that neither the disapproval nor the coping strategies that couples use to deal with it are huge. There is more emphasis placed on the variability of responses to the situation of being in an interracial marriage. Taking this perspective, a growing literature, focused more on the children of interracial unions rather than the parents, has disputed whether the bi-racial or bi-cultural identity experience is systematically accompanied by social strain and psychological distress (Cortes, 1994; Stephan and Stephen, 1991; Yogev and Jamshy, 1983). Several studies that focus on identity formation of bi-racial children report that bi-cultural persons exert creative and adaptive strategies that minimize the experience of psychological distress (Daniel, 1996; Root, 1992, 1996). The marriage couples life is also can cause the level of stress among university students. This because they need to take cares their family, and also the studies of the university. It would pressure them, especially during the exam period and the sickness of family members.

On the other hand, the young student becomes a teenager, stressed by acne, hormones, and dating. The teenager becomes a young adult trying to handle the stresses of leaving home, adjusting to college life, and managing finances. In addition, the consequences of stress can be devastating for some individuals (Abouserie, 1994). This is particularly true for those students undergoing the transition from home to university (Fisher, 1994). There is evidence that some students experience significant levels of stress (Brown, 1999; Bush, 1985) and that they are increasingly suffering mental health problems (Andrews, 2004; Stanley, 2001; Phippen, 1995). However, it is important to consider that not all the stress that students may experience is, by definition, negative (Anderson et al. 2001). This situation is particularly evident amongst first year students (Bojuwye 2002). However, this review did not uncover a single study that tracked students and their stress experiences across the duration of their degree course. Research on student stress is also dominated by studies from North America and is atheoretical in nature (Cotton et al. 2002). There has also been a lack of empirical work examining the strategies used by individuals to reduce stress once they have arrived at university (Nonis et al. 1998).

However, college is a traditional period when young people undergo new experience, meet new people as well as face opportunity that may compound stress in their life (Huddet, 2000). This increased level of stress may be due in part to the absence of the individual’s usual support framework, such as friends and family (Hudd et al. 2000). In addition, individuals new to university life have the added stress of having to form new friendships and relationships (Radcliffe et al. 2003). In addition, attempts by an institution to encourage students to socialise through various social activities, can themselves increase feelings of stress (Dill et al. 1998). There is however something of a paradox regarding social support at university. While the existence of such support may be important as part of an individual’s coping mechanism, such support can itself become a source of stress where it is perceived as inappropriate for what an individual needs (Edwards et al. 2001).

However, college life is new experience for the students who are never leave their home before. A student may be moving away from home transitioning to a new environment will cause stress. Stress can have a positive effect in enabling individuals to respond effectively in an emergency (Schafer 1996). It has also been argued that stress is a necessary part of what it means to be at university (Whitman et al. 1985) and that universities do offer students the potential to experience positive stress (eustress) (Brown et al. 1999). Students however have not been viewed as a priority in research into stress (Michie et al. 2001) and it is only comparatively recently that much has been known about the stress experienced by students. It is also unclear whether the stress that studies have identified is a direct consequence of being at university, or whether they have identified a problem that was present before entry to university (Andrews et al. 2004).

The transition to university will be stressful for many students, particularly if this involves leaving home, (Fisher 1994), due to the need to take on new responsibilities. This additional burden adds to an already increased workload and pressures on time. Some students will be moving away from home (probably for the first-time), and will need to adjust to a new social environment, and maintain a high level of academic performance (Ross et al. 1999). This situation is particularly evident amongst first year students (Bojuwye 2002). This increased level of stress may be due in part to the absence of the individual’s usual support framework, such as friends and family (Hudd et al. 2000). In addition, individuals new to university life have the added stress of having to form new friendships and relationships (Radcliffe et al. 2003).

In addition, the University students faced the stress at different types of emotion when they move to university life. Students’ responses to stress can be categorised into: emotional (fear, anxiety, worry, guilt, grief, or depression), cognitive reactions (i.e. their appraisal of stressful situations and strategies, behavioural (crying, abuse of self or others, smoking and irritability) and physiological (sweating, trembling, stuttering, headaches, weight loss or gain, body aches). (Misra et al. 2000, p. 238). Individuals experiencing high levels of stress were more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours (Hudd et al. 2000). The same study also found that students that reported high levels of stress were less satisfied with their health overall, including their weight and level of fitness. Therefore, the university students feel stress when they can not control their emotion positively as well.

Besides, the problems beside the university students that may contribute to stress are difficult life events, such as divorce of your parents or death of a loved one, physical illness, and lack of support from friends and family. Stress can have a positive effect in enabling individuals to respond effectively in an emergency (Schafer 1996) it will cause the level of stress among the students higher during their university life. If we view the family as a system interacting with other social system, we can better understand the influence of stresses and supports on child development. (Yogman & Brazelton, 1988). How students experience stress will also be affected by the individual’s attitude towards their studies. Students that are classed as high achievers are more likely to be predisposed towards experiencing stress (Hughes 2005).

Family, wonderful though each member may be, is also a leading cause of stress. Arguments erupt with a spouse or other family member. Parents divorce. Children marry. The ebb and flow of family life is filled with stress. Everybody may feel stress when they are facing bad situation. Generally, word of stress has been used in social science research since a well known medical expert, Selye pioneered the research for psychological stress in 1950’s. Studies of stress and father involvement have included inquiries into the role of global stressors, such as an investigation by DeLuccie and Davis (1991) into the relationship between men’s perceptions of developmental stressors they were experiencing (i.e., issues with health, sexual life, relationship with partner) and their orientations toward fathering (i.e., childrearing practices, confidence in paternal role).

The obstacles of the level of stress between among family members, is also will affect the students feel stress when the family members facing the problem of stress. Repetti (1994) measured air traffic controller fathers’ stress as the perceived workload for a day, while fathers’ involvement was assessed in terms of withdrawal from parent-child interactions following the fathers’ workday. Findings indicated that when fathers perceived their workload as more demanding, they tended to withdraw from interactions with their children. This withdrawal occurred in terms of behaviors, such as less play and laughing together. It also occurred in emotional interactions, as fathers perceiving greater stress on a particular day indicated expressing less affection and warmth toward their children, as well as expressing less negative affect, such as anger, likely because of their withdrawal from interaction with the child in general. In a replication with employed mothers (Repetti & Wood, 1997), similar findings of behavioral and emotional withdrawal were obtained.

A child moves out – an aging parent moves in. An important concept in this area is “spillover,” where the emotional experience of work is thought to spillover onto relationships with family members, and conversely family life can spillover affecting work (Kinnunen, Gerris, & Vermulst, 1996; Zedeck & Mosier, 1990). Spillover also assumes that emotions from work are additive, with greater satisfaction at work leading to greater satisfaction at home. A family member experiencing increased stress and negative emotions at work, such as anger or frustration, might use withdrawal from social and emotional interaction with family members as a way of dealing with these heightened levels of stress (Repetti, 1992). Withdrawal is a means for an individual to cope with stress experienced in one setting by behaviorally and/or mentally pulling away from further interactions in other settings. By pulling away from interaction, an individual allows him or herself to recover from heightened states of emotional arousal caused by stressful experiences (Repetti; c.f., Gottman & Notarius, 2000).

An additional research interest involves cognitive father involvement and its relationship to academic stress. Cognitive father involvement can take the form of the psychological presence of the child to the father (Palkovitz, 1997). Therefore, psychological presence is characterized by the degree to which the father thinks about or keeps in mind his child during the course of each day. Psychological presence affects fathers’ involvement with their children, with higher levels of psychological presence being associated with greater behavioral father involvement (Erera, Minton, Pasley, & Mandel, 1999). Repetti’s (1992, 1994) emotional and mental withdrawal is also relevant here. First, such withdrawal is fundamentally a cognitively based phenomenon, and second, because Repetti found that emotional withdrawal from involvement with children was related to experiencing heightened stress.

If we view the family as a system interacting with other social systems, we can better understand the influence of stresses and supports on child development (Yogman & Brazelton).The results of the study extend prior research concerning the effects of occupational stress on paternal involvement. Paralleling Repetti’s (1994) finding that fathers’ work stress is associated with emotional withdrawal from their children, this study establishes a link between fathers’ academic stress and decreased cognitive involvement. In addition, the study’s findings also reaffirm the value of conceptualizing paternal involvement as including both behavioral and cognitive forms, and assessing both in investigations of factors influencing paternal involvement. Finally, it is important for professionals working with student fathers to keep in mind the effect academic stress has on cognitive father involvement and that elements of such involvement (e.g., paternal warmth: see for example Veneziano, 2003) can be important variables that support their children’s development.

Family health is also a leading cause of stress. A sick family member, a serious injury, pregnancy, miscarriage, or abortion all cause stress. Psychological presence is defined as the “symbolic existence of an individual in the perceptions of family members, in a way that, or to a degree that, influences the thoughts, behaviors, identity, or unity of the remaining family members” (Fravel, McRoy, & Grotevant, 2000, p. 425; cf. Palkovitz, 1997). Family changes of other kinds bring stress, too. Adoption, relocation, and job changes for just one family member can cause stress for all. For example, East Asian students (those from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam), report different stressors than those reported by ‘‘home” students (Chwee et al. 1998). Students from overseas must also make greater adjustments as cultural differences may lead to clashes in students’ expectations (Akqun et al. 2003). Stress can also be more acute where overseas students lack the necessary language skills to enable them to study competently in a language other than their own (Orepeza et al. 1991; Heikinheimo et al. 1986).

Moreover, the coordination of academic studies with family and work responsibilities appears to be stressful for many college student families (Smallwood, 1980; Van Meter & Agronow, 1982). Pearlin and his associates (Pearlin, 1983, 1985; Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981; Pearlin & Schooler, 1978) have suggested that intrapersonal conflict, which results from an individual’s try to balance the demands of multiple family, occupational and educational role responsibilities, may contribute to family stress. It is a major factors caused the university students feel stress in their life.

Social Support And Personality

Social Support

Several definitions of this phenomenon called social support have been given (Caplan, 1974, 1981; Cobb, 1976; Gottlieb, 1981; Kahn & Antonucci, 1980). An oftencited definition is that social support is information leading a person to believe he or she is cared for, esteemed, and a member of a network of communication and mutual obligation (Cobb, 1976). Caplan (1974, 1981) defines social support by emphasizing cognitive aspects, stating that support is the guidance and feedback provided by others that allow a person to successfully master a stressful life episode. Kahn and Antonucci (1980) explain social support with three As: affect, affirmation, and aid. Affect is support that involves the expression of caring and emotional intimacy, affirmation is the provision of information about the rightness or wrongness of a person’s actions, and aid is the availability and use of direct help through money, time, and effort.

Several researchers have noted the relationship between feelings of social connectedness among graduate students and stress levels. For example, in discussing the emotional problems of students, Halleck (1976) concluded that dissolution of relationships is the primary cause of emotional disorders among graduate students. Hodgson and Simoni (1995) supported this in their finding that a lack of social support is related to distress and attrition among graduate students.

A similar study by Biglan (1973) found that in academic programs in which there is more cohesion among the students there is a lower attrition rate. Baird (1969) found that when students have strong social connectedness with each other they are more successful in graduate school, and demonstrate a greater commitment to their field of study. It has also been found that strong social support is associated with low to moderate effects on the relationship between stress and distress (Turner, Frankel, & Levin, 1983). Nelson, Dell’Oliver, Koch, and Buckler (2001) found that graduate students who have social support from their peers tend to have higher grade point averages than those who do not have peer social support. This same study found that increased interpersonal contact and social support correlated with decreased psychological distress among graduate students. Finally, Stecker (2004) found that symptoms of depression and stress were associated with low levels of social support and concluded there is a need to provide preventive and clinical services to graduate students.

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Attempts by an institution to encourage students to socialize through various social activities, can themselves increase feelings of stress (Dill et al. 1998). There is however something of a paradox regarding social support at university. While the existence of such support may be important as part of an individual’s coping mechanism, such support can itself become a source of stress where it is perceived as inappropriate for what an individual needs (Edwards et al. 2001). The importance of social factors was demonstrated in study of students attempting suicide (Bernard et al. 1982). Of those who had attempted suicide only 7% cited academic problems as a key factor, while 75% identified social and personal problems.

Social support refers to the experience being valued, respected, cared about, and loved by others who are present in one’s life (Gurung, 2006). It may come from different sources such as family, friends, teachers, community, or any social groups to which one is affiliated. Social support can come in the form of tangible assistance provided by others when needed which includes appraisal of different situations, effective coping strategies, and emotional support.

Social support is an element that can help individuals to reduce the amount of stress experienced as well as to help individuals cope better in dealing with stressful situations. Several studies indicated that supportive contacts correlate negatively with symptoms and psychological disorder such as stress, depression and other psychiatric disorder, and positively correlate with physical and mental health. A study by Nahid and Sarkis (1994) for example found that social support protects people in life crisis such as bereavement, illness, and other major stress, and moderates the effect of stressors on psychological well being.

Social support thus is subsumed into a very wide range of informal helping relationships between the individual and other people. Most commonly these people are friends and family, but various other people may help (Cowen 1982). First, social support is very much important for individuals in their life. Deficits in social support have been shown to be related to many psychological problems such as depression, loneliness, and anxiety (Eskin, 2003). Elliot and Gramling (1990) found that social support helps the college students to lessen depression, anxiety, and stress. They also found that social support could help the students manage and lessen their psychological problems. Thus, this study is to understand how social support could play its role in dealing depression, anxiety, and stress is essential.

Second, social support has also been recognized to have significant impact on the achievement of the students. Since family and friends are the individuals’ first source of reference, supports from these two sources have been found to give a significant influence on academic achievement (Steinberg and Darling, 1994; Cutrona, 1994). The support received by the students could help to decrease their psychological problems since they feel that someone is there to help them, thus helping them to perform well in academic life. By having knowledge on how social support could help students to excel in study and cope with any psychological disturbances, much information could be derived to enhance the amount of support provided.

Third, this study also hopes to contribute to the research on how to help and manage students’ academic achievement. By having better understanding and knowledge about social support in relation to psychological condition of the students, it could help us to design and organize proper development program to help them. Since social support is very much important to students, this study will also help family, especially parents, understand their roles in helping their children so that they can help the students to decrease their psychological problems.

It has long been recognized that the characteristics and quality of social support are central to the individual’s adjustment. The quality of social support perceived and received has been reported by several studies to correlate more positively with mental health than the quantity of support received (e.g., Nahid and Sarkis, 1994; Holahan et al., 1995). To understand the role of perceived and received social support in dealing with mental health, we have to look into the research on the stress-buffering effect which focuses on both types of social support. The former refers to the belief that helps are available if needed, whereas, the latter refers to the actual helps obtained. Both of these are thought to protect against stress by decreasing the extent to which situations are perceived as a threat to well-being and increasing the belief that necessary resources are available. Investigation of mechanisms underlying the stress-buffering effect of social support has focused on how social support influences stress-related appraisals and coping (Lakey and Cohen, 2000).

Social support was found to be one of the most important protective factors for students (Tao et al., 2000). This is because social support includes social resources that individuals perceive to be available or that are actually offered to them which could help protect against psychological problems. According to Teoh and Rose (2001), lower level of social support is one of the predictors of psychological problems. It is associated with higher level of depression, anxiety, attention problems, thought problems, social problems, somatic complaints, and lower self esteem. These notions are supported by the study of Friedlander et al. (2007) on 128 first year undergraduate students. It was found that students who perceived that their social resources increased had lower level of psychological problems. This shows that the impact of a stressful situation for example can be decreased when students have good social support. Advice and encouragement from sources of support may also increase the likelihood that an individual will rely on active problem solving and information seeking. These may assist students in dealing with various stressors in the environment and facilitate a positive adjustment process.

The supportive actions provided by the social support are thought to buffer the impact of stress by increasing the effectiveness of coping efforts, which in turn decrease distress among students (e.g., Holahan, et al., 1995; Lakey and Cohen, 2000). For example, receiving emotional support and companionship may encourage effective adaptation among students in facing and coping with uncontrollable events. A study by Rawson, Bloomer and Kendall (1994) on 184 undergraduate students for example, found that students with good social supports tend to have lower scores on stress compared to the students with low social support. This study has found that coping behavior and social support structures moderate the effects of stress among students in their academic life.

Since social support was found to be buffering effects of stress, it could decrease the use of harmful disengagement coping strategies such as avoidance, withdrawal, and denial among students. Consequently, it can increase the use of beneficial engagement coping strategies because individuals believe their social network includes someone who is willing to listen (Fleishman et al., 2000; Tao et al., 2000). It also influences response to social stressors by providing a basis for positive thinking and cognitive restructuring or by encouraging people to believe they have resources to call on if they wish to distract themselves from a painful situation (Calvete and Connor-Smith, 2006). In a cross-sectional study, Holahan et al. (1995) found first-year students with higher levels of perceived parental support were better adjusted (i.e., higher well-being and happiness) and less distressed (i.e., less depression and anxiety) than those with lower levels of perceived parental support.

There are three dimensions of support provided by family and friend that is warmth, behavioral control, and psychological autonomy-granting. These three dimensions facilitate the development of positive self-conceptions and social skills, responsibility and competence, and impulse control and deterrence of deviance which in turn lead to low level of psychological problems the students. This support has also been found necessary for healthy level of development (Oswald and Suss, 1994). For example these two sources of social support, i.e., family and friends, are the predictor of individual’s psychological well-being. The combination of family and friend support with acceptance and emotional warmth has been associated with higher grades in school and college, less misconduct, less psychological distress, and less delinquency among students of all social classes which would produce significant effects on adolescence academic achievement (Silbereisen and Todt, 1994).

Social support has been conceptualised as a component and as a context of adaptive behaviour. As a component, significant others constitute external social resources, which can be mobilised. They are providers of perception-focused,emotion-focused or tangible coping assistance. Both as a component and as a context, socialfactors influence appraisals of the situation and of personal control early in a person’s career. As a contextual factor, cohesive social groups and dyadsform a secure base and sense of existential anchoring or coherence, in which complex coping behaviour can take place (Waltz 1994).

From the previous research, it could be concluded that social support from family and friends plays an important role in dealing with psychological problems because supports provided by family and friend could lower down the psychological problems on students. This means that the higher the social support, the lower are the psychological problems. Otherwise, the lower is the social support, the higher are the psychological problems.


The different personality and coping style will cause different stress level. Coping styles may well be significantly influenced by personality (Hayes & Joseph, 2003). This assumption is derived from the notion that there is no reason to believe that coping responses differ necessarily from other cognitive, affective and behavioral responses. The most notable taxonomy in Industrial/Organisational psychology has been the “Big Five” or Five Factor Model, which has generally been accepted as an accurate model of personality (Salgado, 2003). The Big Five personality traits included in this study include five different personality factors: Neuroticism; Extraversion; Openness to Experience; Agreeableness; and Conscientiousness (see Table 1 for characteristics of these traits). Regarding previous coping and personality research, it is unclear if coping styles are dependent on the environment, in which the stressor is faced, or a result of another system such as personality, or as a result of a combination of the two, a key point this research will endeavor to clarify (Jang, Thordarson, Stein, Cohan, & Taylor, 2007).

The “Big Five” factors of personality as described by McCrae & Costa (1987)

Neuroticism (N)

Anxiety; irritability; sadness; self-consciousness; impulsiveness; and an inability to cope with stressful situations.

Extraversion (E)

Warmth; sociability; assertiveness; energy; excitement; and optimism

Openness to experience (O)

A vivid imagination; an appreciation of art; wanting to try out new activates; intellectual curiosity; and an openness to political, social and religious beliefs

Agreeableness (A)

A belief that others are well intentioned; frankness and sincerity; a willingness to help others; a preparedness to forgive and forget; modesty;and tender-mindedness.

Conscientiousness (C)

A sense of capability; good organisation; sense of responsibility; a drive to achieve; self-discipline; and deliberation

Although most theoretical models of the stress process acknowledge the importance of individual differences, there is relatively little conceptual or empirical work to (a) identify relevant and measurable individual differences, (b) explain how they impact the stress-coping process, or (c) empirically test the impact of individual differences on the stress-coping process (Jex, Bliese, Buzzell, & Primeau, 2001). This current study takes the perspective that it seems unlikely people are born anew in every crisis they encounter and must carry ‘person bound’ factors with them from stressor to stressor, factors that may also influence the choice of coping strategy used (Amirkhan, Risinger, & Swickert, 1995). This perspective is consistent with psychodynamically oriented personality theorists who tend to view coping as stable characteristics of the individual (McCrae & Costa 1986). Lazarus has emphasised that coping reactions can change from moment to moment across the stages of a stressful transaction (Carver & Scheier, 1994). Although there is evidence coping can adapt from moment to moment, the current research is based on the perspective that there is merit in the argument that people develop habitual ways of dealing with stress based on personality traits and these coping styles (habits) can influence their reactions in new situations (Carver & Scheier, 1994). Assessing personality in relation to an individual’s coping styles poses the question of whether specific coping behaviours do actually come together to form a consistent style based on depositional factors (Mutsuhiro, Gregory, Patricia, Patricia, & et al., 2001). Lazarus has noted that these types of questions can be addressed only if independent assessments of personality dimensions and coping behaviours are used. This study attempts to examine the relations between personality and coping by employing conceptually and operationally independent measures of each (McCrae & Costa 1986). The main intention of this research was to identify and examine the (a) effects of personality as a moderator and direct effect in the stress-coping relationship, (b) the effects of stressor appraisal, control perceptions and personality on the stress-coping process and coping effectiveness and (c) the relation between coping methods used and resulting coping effectiveness. In doing so the concept of ‘coping style’ was explored to determine if there was an association between appraisal, personality, situational factors and coping behaviours used, and to ascertain whether students demonstrated a preference or consistency in their coping behaviour by using a consistent coping style, across two different stressful situations. The next section describes in more detail each variable included in Figure 1.

Theoretical Framework

Level of stress among University Malaya students is the main variable of interest to the study, and hence, is the dependent variable. The independent variables that are likely to explain the variance in the level of stress of the student are: (a) self-expectation and coursework, (b) financial status for students, (c) family and relationship of the students, (d) informal communication with friends and

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