Causes of Stress and Anxiety in College Undergraduate Students


In the past, conversations about mental health have oftentimes been considered taboo. Stress and anxiety were not a normalized factor in people’s lives, and there was much less information about them to the public. In current times, the importance of dialogue regarding stress and anxiety have become much more accepted; as resources and the media have shed light on the common feeling that many people experience at some point in their lives. Because of the restless nights, worrying, and being unable to focus, stress and anxiety have major effects on the everyday lives of many. In a relevant study, it was found that 75 to 80 percent of college students say that they are moderately stressed, and 10 to 12 percent state they are severely stressed (Pierceall & Keim, 2007).


It is evident that stress and anxiety are prevalent in college students, with severity that ranges from low to high levels, depending on the individual and the academic environment. There are many different factors that contribute to stress and anxiety in undergraduate students, including being far away from their home, fearing failure in classes, and lack of an intimate social life with others (Kumaraswamy, 2013). Some students may face extra stressors during college that add to the common factors, including one’s immigrant status. If a student feels as though they don’t belong in a certain group, increased levels of stress are possibly faced (Thibeault et al., 2018).


It can be easy to assume that all levels and feelings of anxiety are the same, but every person has unique manifestation of their own stress and anxiety. A test that can be done to measure one’s feelings, is titled the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The STAI is used to determine how someone feels “right now” using items to measure feelings of worry and other feelings similar to that. (Julian, 2011). This test allows for researchers to view the differences among individuals when looking at levels of stress and anxiety. When testing one’s state and trait anxiety, multidimensionality should always be considered. Anxiety in college students is suggested to be viewed as a dimensional construct (Ender, Kocovoski, 1999). This allows for the knowledge that stress and anxiety are not only depicted on one single number line and can range levels in different areas. Another scale used to measure stress in college students, is the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire. This scale was made to examine stress in undergraduate students, including checklist of life events ranging from highly stressful to minimally stressful. The importance of the USQ is related to mood and physical symptoms that undergraduate students feel while in college (Crandall, Presiler, Aussprung, 1992).


The purpose of this study was to investigate stressors that effect undergraduate students every day, and the severity of the stress they feel from it. In this study, several variables were used to test stress and anxiety in college undergraduates at the university. The independent variable included whether or not the student was an immigrant or non-immigrant, and the number of hours the student worked per week. The dependent variables were State Anxiety and the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire. Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire with honest answers to the best of their ability before exchanging with another in the class. This study was approached with three hypotheses. The first hypothesis predicts that there will be differences between immigrant and non-immigrant students in total USQ score, and State Anxiety score, with immigrants reporting higher scores in stress and anxiety. The second hypothesis predicts that higher hours working will predict higher stress and anxiety score. The third hypothesis predicts that anxiety score and stress level will be positively associated with each other.



Method


Participants

In this experiment, there were 67 participants, (9 male, 58 female) whose ranged from ages 18 to 35, (M=23.39, SD=3.97). Participants came from an undergraduate level research methods class at Florida Atlantic University. Participants were compensated by receiving class credit. Participants were treated in accordance with the ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association, 1992).


Materials

The materials used to complete this study consisted of three questionnaires: the basic information questionnaire, STAI, and USQ. These materials measured stress and anxiety levels in participants and was administered on the first day of class. The questionnaires had a total of 118 questions composed into sections. The first section was made up of basic information involving the participants place of birth, gender ethnicity, hours worked per week, place of participants employment, academic status, and highest level of education received (16 questions). The questionnaire also included the State-Trait Inventory test. It is a self- assessment instructing the participant to select a number ranging from 1 to 4 to describe how they were feeling in that exact moment with numbers corresponding to answers ranging from 1 being “not at all” to 4 being “very much so” (20 questions) (Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene, Vagg, & Jacobs 1983). The last section of the questionnaire included the Undergraduate Stress Questionnaire. It asks participants to check off descriptions that best describe stressors they commonly felt occur or not during the last semester, and then total up the amount (82 questions) (Crandall et al., 1992). The experiment remained the same amongst all participants, and scores were put into a spreadsheet by each experimenter.


Procedure

This experiment was performed in a class setting at Florida Atlantic University. Participants were instructed to write their names on the questionnaire, and then to switch papers with another person in the class. These instructions were given by the instructor of the course. The interview was done through self-reporting, and everyone participated in the same order. Confidentiality was maintained by not having had one’s own name appear on the questionnaire they filled out with their information. The independent variables were immigration status and hours worked per week. The dependent variables were the STAI and the USQ. All participants in the study were also experimenters taking turns and are authors.


Results

To test the first hypothesis, we conducted two independent samples t-tests to examine if immigrant status predicted higher stress and anxiety scores. When observing stress, the results were not significant, t(62)=1.18, p= 0.245, p < .001. The results showed that there was not a significant difference between immigrant students in total USQ score (M= 326.86, SD= 14.72), and non-immigrant students in total USQ score (M=31.060, SD=10.940). The results for anxiety also showed non-significance, t(63)= 0.64, p= 0.524, p <.001. It was found there was no significant difference between immigrant students in total STAI score (M= 38.80, SD= 8.03) and non- immigrant students in STAI score (M= 40.74, SD=10.84) (see Table 1). Therefore, we failed to reject the null hypothesis, concluding that one’s immigrant status does not affect levels of stress and anxiety in undergraduate students.


To test the second hypothesis, we conducted two linear regressions to examine if higher working hours predicted higher stress scores and higher anxiety scores. The results showed that higher working hours and stress were not significant, b= -.051, t= 9.081, p=.703, p < .001. The results also should that Higher working hours and anxiety were also not significant, b=.-.06, t= 14.76, p= .0.647, p< .001. Therefore, we failed to reject the null hypothesis, displaying that more than 99% of the variation between stress and anxiety are caused by variables other than working hours.


To test the third hypothesis, we conducted a correlation between STAI scores and USQ scores to examine if anxiety scores and stress level will be positively associated with one another. STAI and USQ scores we found to be non-significant, r(62)= .16, p= .201, p< .001 (see Figure 1). Therefore, we failed to reject the null hypothesis, suggesting that higher anxiety scores are not necessarily an indicator that there will be a high stress score.


Discussion

In the experiment conducted, anxiety and stress in undergraduate students was studied. To measure this, we used a questionnaire given to the participant, which included the STAI and the USQ. Immigrants and nonimmigrants were predicted to differ in scores of anxiety and stress, with immigrants reporting the highest levels. We found that there were no significant differences between immigrants and nonimmigrants regards to stress and anxiety levels. It is possible that stress and anxiety remains relatively similar in immigrants and nonimmigrants due to the nature of undergraduate school being difficult for many, regardless of where they are from. The higher number of working hours was also hypothesized to significantly predict higher levels of stress and anxiety. We also found that working hours did not significantly predict stress and anxiety in participants. This could be possible because even with a smaller number of working hours, there may be other factors that are contributed, including sports, rigorous classes, and providing attention to family needs. Lastly, stress and anxiety were predicted to be positively associated. We found that there was no significant relationship between stress and anxiety. This could be possible due to the nature that people differ in their amount of anxiety when under a lot of stress and react differently to stressors in their lives.



While it is not unknown that stress and anxiety are prevalent in undergraduate students, our findings were not what we expected to see. Stress is so common in students that in a Stanford Survey conducted, it was found that 1 out of 3 students expressed that they described themselves as anxious or stressed (Kumaraswamy, 2013). What we did not expect to see, was that 99.6% of variation in anxiety was caused by other variables from number of working hours. This implies that while many students work, those who do not work as many hours also feel stress from other factors. While we hypothesized that immigrants would report higher stress and anxiety, there was non-significance in our findings. In a study done by Thibeault et al 2018, it was shown that cultural and immigrant stressors were related with a higher level of depressive symptoms, including anxiety. This study was inconsistent with our findings, displaying that in their study immigrant status did have a significant effect on stress and anxiety. This is possibly due to other confounding variable for example where the immigrants are from, and where the study was done.


The theoretical implications of our findings exhibit that the amount of stress between undergraduate students is multidimensional and the differences we sought out to see, were not supported by our results. While our experiment was successful, there were limitations that could have been in effect. For example, there was only one trial done with 67 participants. Participants all came from one specific class, which may have biased the results in a certain direction. If this experiment was done again, it would be a good idea to get a larger number of participants from different universities and classes. It would also be effective to have an equal number of men and women in the study, to add a hypothesis about differences in stress between men and women. This experiment has shown that stress can affect students very differently, and there other factors to study outside of immigrant status and hours of work that may affect the stress and anxiety on an undergraduate student.


If you or anyone you know is a college or graduate school student experiencing large amounts of stress and anxiety, MorMindful Therapy & Psychiatry is accepting new patients today. We are located directly across from Florida Atlantic University and also close to Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. Stress and anxiety are very treatable but if left unaddressed for long periods of time they can have devastating effects of mental and physical health. The doctors at MorMindful Therapy & Psychiatry in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach, Florida are specifically trained in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness interventions to help you manage stress and anxiety better. Contact us today. We always answer the phone and will guide you through the process of scheduling your first appointment with compassion and confidentiality.