College with its numerous assignments, hectic schedule, and exams requiring total commitment and concentration is more or less stressful for everyone who enters tertiary education. However, the ways humans react to stress and cope with mentally and emotionally challenging situations may vary considerably. In their article “Stress tolerance: New challenges for Millennial college students” published in College Student Journal, Bland, Melton, Welle, and Bigham (2012) assumed that one might establish stress-related tendencies that are generation-specific.
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The researchers presumed that Millennials, a demographic cohort born between 1980 and 2000, possess unique characteristics that make them seek relief differently. Fostering and maintaining resilience to stress is one of the key competencies that a student might have. Thus, the research question posed by Bland et al. goes as follows: what coping strategies do high- and low-tolerance college-aged Millennials use? A study by Bland et al. also aimed at evaluating the outlined coping mechanisms regarding effectiveness and sustainability.
Research Design / Variables
Bland et al. conducted an analytic, observational, cross-sectional study. The authors provided a rationale for the chosen research design: for instance, analytic studies are apt for determining a link between exposure factors and outcomes. In the study under examination, the researchers sought to establish an association between coping strategies and the level of stress tolerance. Bland et al. did not intervene nor did they manipulate the environment in which the study took place; instead, they observed current tendencies, analyzing the results of the survey.
Lastly, cross-sectional studies are recognized as useful in defining the characteristics of a specific group of individuals at a particular point in time (Weathington, Cunningham, & Pittenger, 2017). Bland et al. used a four-part questionnaire geared towards young adults with the following sections: life events, daily stress, stress symptomatology, and coping mechanisms.
The dependent variable in the present research was stress tolerance that was operationalized as the ratio between the intensity of daily stress and lived events and the number of perceived symptoms. Thus, an individual resilient to stress would be someone who displayed few symptoms even in the presence of daily hassle and the history of challenging events. The researchers made a hypothesis that coping mechanisms employed by such individuals would prove to be the most effective.
Sampling Methods / Data Analysis
Bland et al. employed probability, stratified sampling in which they randomly chose one out of 17 sections of the general health course. All the students of the picked section were invited to participate in the study, and the positive response rate was rather high at 95%. The majority of the respondents were first-year students; as for the racial distribution, two-thirds were White whereas people of color constituted one-third of the sample.
Stress tolerance is a rather complex phenomenon that is not readily quantifiable. To tackle that issue, Bland et al. elaborated a ratio titled STR (Stress Tolerance Ratio) in which the higher the number was, the more tolerance it exposed. With the purpose to define the most and the least efficient strategies, the researchers abstained from finding common tendencies and thus, excluded “average results.” Instead, Bland et al. focused on the analysis of the strategies picked by the respondents with low (<1.25) and high ratios (>1.61).
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The study’s findings showed that the most frequent and persistent stress factors in the lives of college students were pressure to study well often bound to parents’ expectations, relocation, and the changes associated with starting college. As for their daily routines, most respondents reported being stressed because of the looming tests and exams. A busy academic lifestyle was closely followed by stress from texting and procrastination.
What was interesting is that the results revealed that Millennial students chose to rely on both traditional and modern methods of stress relief. Students with high and low-stress tolerance resorted to different coping strategies. Those with little resilience to stressful events were more likely to relieve tension through Internet social networking, shopping, and the use of substances. The respondents that displayed high tolerance usually relaxed, had a good night’s sleep, or took up an extracurricular activity or sports.
The study is valuable since Bland et al. succeeded in developing a precise, logical mechanism of quantifying stress tolerance which otherwise often presents a nebulous, highly subjective concept. The findings may be of practical use to Millennial students who would like to explore and enhance their coping habits and college counselors who deal with students experiencing stress. One may argue that more research should be done in this area due to high depression rates among college students (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2017). The next step could be an experimental, quantitative study that would seek to find the association between reinforcing protective coping strategies and lower stress levels.
Among the study’s strengths is the authors’ comprehensive classification of coping strategies. In the discussion section, they put forward an idea that the relationship between stress factors and coping strategies was not one-sided in which the presence of a stress factor would cause the need to employ a strategy. The findings showed that depending on the level of their “protectiveness,” the coping strategies could be stress factors of their own or significantly contribute to the preexisting perceived level of stress.
The results are consistent with another recent study on the topic that showed that Millennial students tended to be dependent on others when it came to problem-solving (Much, Wagener, Breitkreutz, & Hellenbrand, 2014). In the study by Bland et al., external factors such as friends, substances, and romantic partners were instrumental to stress relief. The researchers gained the university’s Human Subjects Institutional Review Board’s permission to conduct the study. Ethical implications were considered: participation was entirely voluntary, and Bland et al. ensured anonymity and confidentiality.
As for the study’s weaknesses, some were acknowledged by the authors themselves. For instance, the sample size (N=248) was rather small and hence, not precisely representative for larger population groups, especially given that only one university participated in the survey. The subgroups singled out through stratified sampling are unlikely to be proportional to their shares in the population (Sharma, 2017).
On top of that, freshmen students were overrepresented in the study. It is easy to see how first-year students might be experiencing more stress than their older counterparts that are more settled in their new lifestyle. Thus, it is safe to assume that the prevalence of the first-year respondents accounted for the high percentage of questionnaires with low STRs.
Starting college is a significant event that makes a young individual face new challenges, be it the pressure to succeed academically, new responsibilities, or search for the best strategies to adapt to new life. In their study, Bland et al. acknowledged Millennials’ uniqueness regarding reacting to stress and building resilience and elaborated a clear classification of coping mechanisms associated with high- and low-tolerance individuals.
Among the study’s strengths are its indisputable relevance, concise explanation of the two-sided relationship between stress and stress relief strategies, and design enabling to quantify a psychological concept. However, the study by Bland et al. was not devoid of weaknesses such as a rather modest sample size which compromised the inference of the drawn statistics and the overrepresentation of a particular subgroup of students.
Bland, H. W., Melton, B. F., Welle, P. D., & Bigham, L. E. (2012). Stress tolerance: New challenges for the Millennial college students. College Student Journal, 46(2), 362-375.
Center for Collegiate Mental Health. (2017). 2017 Annual report. Web.
Much, K., Wagener, A. M., Breitkreutz, H. L., & Hellenbrand, M. (2014). Working with the Millennial generation: Challenges facing 21st-century students from the perspective of university staff. Journal of College Counselling, 17(1), 37-47.
Sharma, G. (2017). Pros and cons of different sampling techniques. International Journal of Applied Research, 3(7), 749-752.
Weathington, B. L., Cunningham, C. J. L., & Pittenger, D. J. (2017). Research methods for the behavioral and social sciences. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.