College students are among a significant population who experience extremely high levels of stress. According to the CDC one out of five college students have reported being stressed (CDC, 2012). The pressures of being a successful student and maintaining good grades along with juggling work, extracurricular activities, and a social life, are all factors that cause increased levels of stress and anxiety among college students.
Research shows that people who undergo chronic stress have higher risks of developing major mental health implications such as higher levels of anxiety and depression to the extent where it can significantly damage their daily-life functioning (National Cancer Institute, 2012). The prevalence of mental illness among college-aged students is at an alarming rate considering the substantial amounts of stress students go through while in college. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2012), an AHA survey conducted among college students reveal findings that confirm 1/3 of students reported feeling depressed to the point where it impaired their ability to function (American psychiatric association, 2012).
Along with major depressive symptoms, half of the whole population of students also reported having feelings of overwhelming anxiety. Furthermore, an additional study done in 2008 presented findings which showed that 53% of college students in a sample reported having high depressive symptoms as well as 52.8% of students undergoing high levels of anxiety (Downs & Ashton, 2011). Protective factors need to be considered when looking for efforts to improve the mental health and wellbeing of students among this population.
One protective factor that has been linked with positive mental health is increased levels of physical activity (Buchan, Ollis, Thomas & Baker, 2012). Previous research and theory has shown that physical activity can increase the release of serotonin and norepinephrine which are neurotransmitters that have been connected with and can ultimately decrease risk of anxiety and mood disorders (American psychiatric association, 2012).
Furthermore, according to the Journal of American College Health, Bray and Kwan found through their research that students who did not engage in vigorous physical activity sufficiently scored lower on psychological well-being than students who engage in vigorous physical activity sufficiently (Bray, Kwan 2006). Thus, the purpose of this study is to determine whether or not there is an effect of engagement in physical activity on the stress levels and moods among undergraduate students at California State University, Fullerton. Based on this statement, it is hypothesized that increased amounts of physical activity will be associated with lower stress levels and an over better mental health among undergraduate students. The theory we will use to test with our hypothesis will be the transtheoretical model (TTM).
Also known as the stages of change model, the main theme of this model suggests that a change in behavior is not understood as a single event, but as a process and that when a person attempts to make a behavior change, they will go through multiple stages (Rimer, Glanz, & NCI, 2005). The five stages of change include: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. The stages of change model is like a cycle, not a linear model, in which people may start the process of change at any given stage and then may take a step back to a previous stage (relapse) and have to start over.
This theory informs our hypothesis that increased levels of physical activity will reduce levels of stress because previous research has proven that the transtheoretical model, which has been applied to numerous health behaviors such as diet, weight control and exercise, is successfully effective in increasing levels of physical activity (Jackson, Asimakopoulou, & Scammell, 2007). Since previous studies show a positive association between physical activity and overall better mental health, this theory can be used to support efforts (such as coming up with strategies for interventions) in order to increase the amount of physical activity college students engage in, with the aim of ultimately improving their mood and stress levels.
We are testing this theory with our hypothesis by examining and analyzing the multiple aspects of a person’s beliefs about the behavior, their intentions and readiness to change their behavior, and actual engagement of behavior as it relates to their mood.
Participants and Procedures
Our sample will include eighty to one hundred students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four that are currently enrolled at Cal State Fullerton. We will be conducting a survey by having students at Cal State Fullerton from the classes Dr. Espinoza conducts as well as colleagues from other classes answer a survey questionnaire. Being that one out of five college students have reported feeling stressed (CDC, 2012) we will make a detailed survey that will help us determine the underlying factors and main stressors that increase the average college students stress level. Our survey will take approximately five to ten minutes to complete and will be anonymous.
However, we will ask students to write their class status on the survey which will help us to determine if stress levels overall increase, decrease or remain the same the longer the participants have been enrolled in school. Measures
In our survey we will be asking students to rate their current stress level on a scale of 1-10. Since one person could consider a stress level of an 8, for example, differently than another, we will include a key to the description of each rating to ensure accuracy. We will also be asking them what their key stressors are, how much they exercise, what type of exercise they participate in and at what level (vigorous, light, etc.). In addition, we will ask our participants their feelings about exercising; whether or not they think it is necessary or important to them to perform a fair amount of physical activity in order to maintain a healthy mind.
We will use these questions to analyze the students’ attitudes/beliefs about physical activity and how they think it relates to their mood. With the detailed questions we are asking we will be able to make a correlation between stress levels and exercise. We anticipate to see those who exercise regularly have lower stress levels than those who do not exercise regularly. Conclusion
Looking at several research studies done previously on this topic of interest indicates that stress can be related to physical activity and most certainly can affect a college student’s mental health.
Our research will look more into the stress of college students and will be able to compare the year of the student in which they are enrolled in, to how much physical exercise they participate in, to how much stress they are feeling. Obtaining this research is necessary because it will be helpful for college students. It is important for college students to be able to identify their stress properly and know how to cope with it so their mental health is not at risk of decreasing. Even though our research will be taking place at California State University, Fullerton, it will be beneficial for all college students.
American Psychiatric Association (2012). College Students | psychiatry.org. Retrieved from http://www.psychiatry.org/mental-health/people/college-students
Bray, S. R., & Kwan, M. W. (2006). Physical activity is associated with better health and psychological well-Being during transition to university life. Journal Of American College Health, 55(2), 77-82. Buchan, D. S., Ollis, S., Thomas, N. E., & Baker, J. S. (2012). Physical activity behaviour: an overview of current and emergent theoretical practices. Journal of Obesity, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2012/546459
CDC. (2012, aug 12). College Health and Safety http://www.cdc.gov/family/college/Cdc.
Downs, A., & Ashton, J. (2011). Vigorous physical activity, sports participation, and athletic identity: implications for mental and physical health in college students. Journal of Sport Behavior, 34(3), 228-249. Jackson, R., Asimakopoulou, K., & Scammell, A. (2007). Assessment of the transtheoretical model as used by dietitians in promoting physical activity in people with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2007.00746.x National Cancer Institute (2012). Psychological Stress and Cancer – National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/stress Rimer, B. K., Glanz, K., & National Cancer Institute (U.S.) (2005). Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.