Gender Differences in Levels of Stress and Coping Styles in Online First Year Psychology Students

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Abstract

The aim of the study was to examine how men and women differed in levels of stress and coping styles. One hundred and seventy-nine first-year Psychology students from Swinburne University completed an online questionnaire. The Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) and subscales of the Brief COPE (Carver, 1997) together with demographic questions were completed to measure stress and responsive cope. The hypothesis that women would report higher stress levels and use more negative coping than men was supported. Although, no support was indicated for women’s higher use of positive cope. It was concluded women suffer more stress than men and use varied coping strategies. Future research should compare students cope responses in age groups.

It is clear that all people experience stress, stress cannot be eradicated from our lives and understanding what triggers or contributes to this stress allows for its management. Stress and coping and what differences are existent between men and women has become a popular area of research with psychological distress shown to contribute to behavioural and mental problems. The Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that around 13% of adults reported experiencing high levels of mental stress in the last four weeks (2004-05). The construct of stress refers to a challenge to the ability of a person to adapt to inner and outer demands, which is a psychobiological process, most often described as stimulus or response (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Further, Lazarus (1966) suggests that stress be viewed as an organising notion for understanding many different phenomena. To enable lecturers, psychologists and doctors to measure perceived chronic stress and coping mechanisms, the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scales (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) and Brief COPE (Carver, 1997) was developed. The DASS stress scale is used to isolate and identify aspects of emotional disturbance and assess the core symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. The Brief COPE consists of a 28-item subscale of response, which measure positive (adaptive) coping and negative (maladaptive) coping. Adaptive coping; which seeks to resolve the problem and seeking social support have mainly been associated with positive results whereas maladaptive coping; emotion focused and denial are generally described with negative aspects (Billings & Moos, 1981; 1984; Aldwin & Revenson, 1987). Other efforts to remove stress are avoidance coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and seeking social support (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). The importance of study in the area of stress levels and coping styles has shifted focus from the mere existence of stress in our lives to researchers discussing the importance of how an individual appraises and copes with stress (Aldwin & Revenson, 1987; Antonovsky, 1979; Lazarus, 1981). This understanding of appraisal and coping mechanisms allows for protection of mental and physical health and maintaining a productive and rich life. Matud’s (2004) study hypothesized that some stress processes would differ between both genders and investigated a group of men and women aged between 18 and 65 years, observing their cope response. Two hypotheses were tested being socialization and role constraint (Ptacek et al., 1992; Rosatio, Shinn, Morch, & Huckabee, 1988). Socialization, suggesting that women are traditionally taught to express their emotions, be dependent on their spouse and care for children’s needs, while men are conditioned to be responsible for family, assertive and self-confident in response. The role constraint hypothesis found that men and women cope differently due to the resources or favourable circumstances that attach to those specific gender based roles (Rosario et al., 1988). Matud concluded that gender difference in coping is related to the socialization theory and his study found women have more stress compared to men. The study was limited by the...
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