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Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of life; it can take a toll on students’ physical health, emotional wellbeing, and academic success unless they learn to manage it appropriately. College students experience stress related to changes in lifestyle, increased workload, new responsibilities, and interpersonal relationships.1 Extreme levels of stress can hinder work effectiveness and lead to poor academic performance and attrition.2 College students who experienced stressful life events also reported worse health outcomes and reduced quality of life.3 Introducing successful coping strategies may help students avoid the destructive consequences of excessive stress.


Key Facts

  • College students now report being more stressed-out than ever before.4
  • Stress is the number one reported impediment to academic performance.6
  • 55% of students, nationally, claimed their biggest stressor to be academic in nature.7
  • 6 in 10 college students report having felt so stressed they couldn’t get their work done on one or more occasions.8
  • Nationally, 53% of students report having felt so stressed they didn’t want to hang out with friends on one or more occasions.8
  • Many of the emotional and physical symptoms that occur commonly in the college population, such as headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and the inability to cope, can be attributed to or exacerbated by stress.9
  • Negative physical effects of stress include immune system suppression, which can increase susceptibility to physical illness and psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.10
  • Students who engaged in meditation practices demonstrated significantly greater reductions in perceived stress than students who did not.11
stress indicators

Recommendations

  1. Improve the coordination and promotion of stress management resources.
    Nearly 2/3 of NYU students have expressed interest in receiving information about stress reduction - more than any other topic area.5 Although numerous opportunities already exist for students to reduce or manage stress within the University and the surrounding community, many students are not aware and subsequently do not use available resources. Promoting the portfolio of stress reduction opportunities through an organized and interconnected approach will increase the visibility and accessibility to students.

  2. Promote an institutional culture that recognizes stress as a source of academic and social impairment.
    The university environment has been defined as “a system of pressures, practices, and policies intended to influence the development of students toward the attainment of important goals of higher education.”9 Thus, a university’s institutional culture has the power to guide the attitudes and priorities of its community members. Research indicates that students who suffer from severe stress may become depressed,12 be hindered academically,13 and experience adverse physical health.14  Because the culture of academia can foster a system of high pressure and stress, it is imperative that faculty and staff support an environment which recognizes and mitigates the negative effects of stress in order to reinforce a healthy university culture.

  3. Enhance university-wide infrastructure and availability of physical spaces to support and promote stress reduction.
    The importance of establishing peaceful, relaxing spaces where students can unwind or engage in stress relieving practices such as meditation has been documented.15 Specific factors of the physical environment can play a role in decreasing stress; for example, the configuration of a room, the color of its walls, and the amount of light it receives can either contribute to or minimize stress.16, 17 Providing areas for relaxation and optimizing features of physical spaces effectively support stress reduction.

  4. Expand and diversify evidence-based therapeutic interventions for prevention and management of stress-related consequences.
    Evidence suggests that coping strategies differ across diverse identity groups;18 accordingly, offering multiple types of interventions for stress is necessary to maximize student engagement. While continuing to use effective stress reduction methods such as meditation,12 writing exercises,19 biofeedback,20 and mindfulness,21 NYU will look to expand options for students. Employing a variety of evidence-based methods ensures that each student can find a stress management or prevention approach that appeals to individual coping styles.

  5. Increase opportunities for academic, social, and financial support.
    Concerns regarding classes, relationships, and money are among the top stressors experienced by college students,22 providing the University with an opportunity to address some of the leading impediments to student success. Research demonstrates that both tutorial23 and social support24 can act as a buffer for the consequences that stress has on students. Offering resources to assist students with budgeting, managing debt responsibly, and handling the financial aid system can minimize the financial stressors they experience. NYU has consistently demonstrated commitment to supplying students with strong support resources, such as the Academic Resource Center, and will continue to innovate and build on these accomplishments.

  6. Reduce obstacles to the successful navigation of University systems.
    Navigating a large university system can prove to be intimidating or even stressful to students. In order to improve service quality and lessen the barriers that may complicate students’ ability to receive necessary University support, an interdisciplinary taskforce was established in 2009 to address potential obstacles. Additionally, NYU plays a valuable role in empowering students with the tools to manage the university system effectively, helping them to build skills essential to becoming independent adults, such as self sufficiency and autonomy.

a) Negative impact on academic performance due to stress

  • Data Source: ACHA #45D5
  • Survey Question: Within the last 12 months, have any of the following affected your academic performance (stress)?
  • Definition: Proportion received lower-grade exam; received lower-grade course; received incomplete/dropped; significant disruption thesis

b) Experiencing more than average stress

  • Data Source: ACHA #37
  • Survey Question: Within the last 12 months, how would you rate the overall level of stress you have experienced?
  • Definition: proportion rating overall stress as more than average stress or tremendous stress

  1. Ross, S.E., Niebling, & B.C., Heckert, T.M. (1999). Sources of stress among college students. College Student Journal, 33, 312-317.
  2. Grace, T.W. (1997). Health problems of college students. Journal of American College Health, 45, 243-250.
  3. Damush, T.T., Hays, R.D., & DiMatto, M.R. (1997). Stressful life events and health-related quality of life in college students. Journal of College Student Development, 38, 181-190.
  4. Pryor, J.H., Hurtado, S., DeAngelo, L., Palucki Blake, L., & Tran, S. (2010). The American freshman: National norms fall 2010. The Higher Education Research Institute. Retrieved from http://heri.ucla.edu/pr-display.php?prQry=55
  5. American College Health Association. (2011). American College Health Association – National College Health Assessment 2011 NYU Data. Hanover, MD.
  6. American College Health Association. American College Association – National College Health Assessment 2010 National Data. Hanover, MD.
  7. Dusselier, L., Dunn, B., Yongyi W., Shelley II, M., & Whalen, D. (2005). Personal, health, academic, and environmental predictors of stress in residence halls. Journal of American College Health, 54(1), 15-24.
  8. MtvU, Jed Foundation, & The Associated Press. (2009). mtvU AP 2009 Economy, College Stress and Mental Health Poll. Retrieved from: http://www.halfofus.com/_media/_pr/may09_exec.pdf
  9. Pace, C.R., & Stern, G.G. (1958). An approach to the measurement of psychological characteristics of college environments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 49(5): 269-277.
  10. Quick, J.D., Horn, R.S., & Quick, J.C. (1987). Health consequences of stress. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 8( 2), 19 – 36.
  11. Oman, D., Shapiro, S.L., Thoresen, C.E., Plante, T.G., & Flinders, T. (2008). Meditation lowers stress and supports forgiveness among college students: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 569-578.
  12. Dahlin, M., Joneborg, N. & Runeson, B. (2005). Stress and depression among medical students: A cross-sectional study. Medical Education, 260, 2521–2528.
  13. Sloboda, J. A. (1990). Combating examination stress among university students: Action research in an institutional context. British Journal of Guidance and Counseling, 18, 124-136.
  14. Campbell, R.L, & Svenson, L.W. (1992). Perceived level of stress among university undergraduate students in Edmonton, Canada. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 75, 552-554.
  15. Klainberg, M., Ewing, B., & Ryan, M. (2010). Reducing stress on a college campus. Journal of the New York State Nurses Association, 41(2), 4-7.
  16. Jokl, M.V. (1984). The psychological effects on man of air movement and the colour of his surroundings. Applied Ergonomics, 15(2), 119-126.
  17. Conners, D.A. (1983): The school environment: A link to understanding stress. Theory Into Practice, 22(1), 15-20.
  18. Welle, P. D. & Graf, H. M. (2011). Effective Lifestyle Habits and Coping Strategie s for Stress Tolerance among College Students. American Journal of Health Education, 42(2), 96-105.
  19. Lumley, M. A., & Provenzano, K. M. (2003). Stress management through written emotional disclosure improves academic perform ance among college students with physical symptoms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 641-649. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.95.3.641
  20. Fehring, R.J. (1983). Effects of biofeedback-aided relaxation on the psychological stress symptoms of college students. Nursing Research. 32(6), 362-6.
  21. Warnecke, E., Quinn, S., Ogden, K., Towle, N. & Nelson, M.R. A randomised controlled trial of the effects of mindfulness practice on medical student stress levels. Medical Education, 45(4), 381–388.
  22. Landow, M.V. (2006). Stress and mental health of college students. Nova Publishers.
  23. Gammon, J. & Morgan-Samuel, H. (2005). A study to ascertain the effect of structured student tutorial support on student stress, self-esteem and coping. Nurse Education in Practice, 5(3), 161-171.
  24. Dwyer, A.L. & Cummings, A.L. (2001). Stress, self-efficacy, social support, and coping strategies in university students. Canadian Journal of Counseling, 35(3).

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