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Consecutive studies have demonstrated that stress is common among first year university students as they attempt to adjust and become accustomed to a multitude of new and sometimes conflicting experiences that have never been previously encountered (Ong & Cheong, 2009).
Students abruptly experience new way of doing things upon joining institutions of higher learning, not mentioning the fact that they come to terms with unlimited freedom never encountered before such as absence of inflexible school regulations and the non-existence of dress codes. Upon entry into universities, students are expected to exercise a lot of independence in making fundamental decisions that directly or indirectly affect their lives.
Experts have successfully associated such experiences with stress especially in scenarios where students are not adequately prepared to cope with stress (Flanagan, 1990). It is against this backdrop that this paper wishes to evaluate some issues of stress affecting fresher students on their transition into the university culture.
Brief Overview of Stress and why it has become an Issue
Stress can be defined as an individual’s overall reaction to environmental challenges or pressures (Ong & Cheong, 2009). A person is deemed to be stressed when his interactions with the environment exceed his maximum coping or adaptive thresholds to a point where such interactions become strenuous and a threat to his own wellbeing.
According to Flanagan (1990), “…people experience stress when they feel unable to cope with the demands of their environment, with other people, or with their own self-imposed pressures, or unrealistic expectations” (p. 1). Each person identifies and deals with stress in divergent ways, and an individual’s reaction to stress ultimately depend on whether the stress-causing incidence is assessed as a challenge or a threat (Ong & Cheong, 2009).
Systematic studies reveals that a challenging stimulus more often lead to constructive outcomes such as motivation and enhanced educational achievement while a threatening stimulus occasions anxiety, despair, social dysfunction, despondency and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
According to UTS (2004), individuals grow and move forward when they are faced with situations which demand more from them. Nevertheless, such demands may become overbearing, leading to a scenario where the individuals are no longer able to deal with the demands effectively. This leads to stress.
In the university setting, the fresher students encounter drastic changes in their experiences and interactions with the immediate environment. Thomson et al (2006) asserts that there exist many intricate challenges facing students joining universities for their first time, which may affect their physical, psychological, social, health, and academic wellbeing if effective intervention strategies are not put in place.
These challenges can arise from either external or internal sources, and can be broadly categorized into adjustment and situational challenges. Adjustment challenges occur when the fresher students try to fit into the university culture, and include issues of language proficiency, cultural shocks for international students, gender, marital status, age-category, self-esteem, confidence levels, and past cross-cultural experiences (Thomson et al, 2006; Ong & Cheong, 2009 ).
On the other hand, situational challenges occur as fresher students attempt to adjust to new situations, and are influenced by such variables as length of stay at the university, social interaction with students and instructors, information and support availed, health status, and academic capabilities.
Stress has indeed become a major issue to deal with at the institutions mainly due to the negative effects it brings to the affected student’s academic, social, and psychological life (Flanagan, 1990). The stressors named above have the capacity to cause serious problems among fresher students or exacerbate already existing problems.
According to Ong & Cheong (2009), one of the most fundamental objectives why students join universities is to enhance their academic, personal, and social development. This objective can be turned into a pipedream if persistent stress arising from every day hassles and challenges that sprout from academic and social adjustments are allowed to take shape.
Academic stressors in the form of excessive workload, instructor personality and way of teaching, examinations, new responsibilities, and grades have been particularly cited for working against the objectives of joining university. Academic demands and deadlines, learning capacity, competition, and social pressure are also prevalent in institutions of higher learning, often leading to stress especially among fresher students who may not have developed effective coping mechanisms (Ong & Cheong, 2009).
Other causes of stress at the university setting include uncomfortable physical environment, inadequate sleep, prolonged physical activity, financial constraints, pregnancy, negative self-image, hostile emotional relationships, and break-ups (UTS, 2004).
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Ways of Dealing with Stress
Many ways have been proposed on how to successfully deal with stress factors. Ong & Cheong (2009) notes that some students fear to engage in particular tasks and activities for fear that they will end up being stressed.
This is the wrong approach since individuals should not let their emotions to block rational interpretation of any given situation. According to Cottrell (2003), subduing a rational interpretation of a given situation in the hope of avoiding stress “…tend to prevent us from working towards the best or most constructive solution to the issues” (p. 76).
Flanagan (2009) posits that the best approaches to stress management are those that enable the individual to develop effective coping mechanisms while still enjoying life’s experiences to the fullest. In the light of this, fresher students must always aspire to attain their maximum potential by developing proper coping mechanisms.
To avoid stress, fresher students must aspire to develop a well balanced lifestyle that caters for all their needs, may they be physical, social, mental, or emotional (UTS, 2004). They should ensure they get adequate sleep, physical exercises, and nutrition, not mentioning the fact that they should avail time from their busy schedules for rest and recreational purposes.
They should institute supportive relationships with peers and be creative in how they approach their academic or social tasks. What’s more, students must always develop an attitude of sharing their concerns, experiences, and anxieties with other like-minded students.
They should be willing to confront their teachers with their worries and seek for constructive advice before the situation gets out of control. They should be driven by the understanding that stress is not unique to fresher students only as everybody experience stressing challenges at some time in their lives. It is fundamentally important for students to accept their failures as they are and forge ahead on the understanding that no progress can be achieved without making mistakes (UTS, 2004).
The university management should come up with orientation programs to assist fresher students to successfully adjust to the new environment. The orientation programs should run throughout the first week of college life, and should focus on inculcating values of self-esteem, planning of academic activities to avoid procrastination, problem solving capacities, and ways of establishing successful social relationships with peers.
Second, counselling services should be brought closer to students and programs should be initiated to encourage students to make use of such services in the event of difficulties. Third, members of the teaching fraternity must be encouraged to offer information and support to the first year students in the hope of assisting them to adjust to the new learning environment.
Forth, Lecturers should introduce simplified instruction methodologies, and should be cautious not to overburden first year students with assignments. Fifth, cultural integration programs should be initiated for international students who are affected the most by issues of culture shock. Lastly, more recreational facilities should be set up, and students should be encouraged to participate more in extra-curricular activities to let off steam.
List of References
Cottrell, S. (2003). Skills for Success. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Flanagan, C. M. (1990). People and Change: An Introduction to Counselling and Stress Management. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.
Ong, B., & Cheong, K. C. (2009). Sources of Stress among College Students – The Case of a Credit Transfer Program. Student Journal, Vol. 43, Issue 4.
Thomson, G., Rosenthal, D., & Russell, J. (2006). Cultural Stress among International Students at an Australian University. Web.
UTS Counselling Service (2004). Stress Management. Web.