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The Effectiveness of Different Coping Styles on Levels of Reported Stress at University

Researcher Matthew Monkhouse

Supervisors Dr Graeme Ditchburn

Date: December, 2009

The purpose of this study was to determine if there were any differences between the reported stress levels of university students as a function of specific coping strategies which were more strongly associated with lower levels of stress. To assess the stress levels and coping strategies a number of self report inventories were employed including, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale, the COPE and the Coping Styles Questionnaire. The sample consisted of 58 university level students recruited from universities within the Perth metropolitan area. The proposed influencing factors on stress of gender, work, leisure, year of study and study hours were all found to be insignificant when compared against perceived stress levels, however a low indicated use of problem focussed coping, and a high use of emotion focussed coping did significantly predict a higher stress level. The research questions postulated that there would be a significant association found between the hours students used to complete university tasks and leisure activities on their reported stress levels. This was not however found, as those who did not exercise, spent relatively less time at university as well as less time studying did not have significantly higher levels of stress than those who spent more time completing these activities. This indicates that the students in the present study do not perceive any lack of time resources to complete the given tasks therefore explaining the insignificant stress levels. However as noted stress levels were significantly affected by the coping strategy used, that is, if a student uses an emotion focussed coping strategy relatively more than a problem focussed one they will have a significantly higher level of stress.

This study suggests that to adequately overcome any period of heightened stress which a student has encountered the most effective strategy to use is, detaching emotionally based upon the Problem Focussing principle. Further to this universities should become aware of those students who are using adverse coping strategies such as those based on Emotion Focussing, Denial, Emotional Support and Positive Reinterpretation. If students who employ this style of coping are not effectively educated on the advantages of problem focussing, there is a potential for the student to perform poorly as well as potentially reporting detrimental levels of anxiety, depression and stress. This may also ultimately reflect negatively on their experiences while studying at university.