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Stress and methods of coping with it among students of the Medical University of Lublin

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Introduction. Stress is a complex and ubiquitous phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of the most common problems of the 21st century. It is no surprise that the majority of people associate stress with something entirely negative. However, there is no life without stress and a certain amount of stress in life is necessary. Aim. The aim of the study was to assess the occurrence of stress among students of the Medical University from the faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health, and evaluate its influence on physiological changes and behavior, and present the ways of coping with it. Material and methods. The study comprised 240 students from the faculties mentioned above. Stress was measured by means of a questionnaire consisting of 14 fully anonymous questions which concerned factors causing stress, ways of reacting to it and methods of coping with it. Results. It was found out that stress as an intense emotional reaction to a number of stimuli triggers some physiological and psychological adaptation responses among students. Conclusions. The findings of this research suggest that pharmacy students are the most exposed to high levels of stress. Oral examination is considered to be the most stressful form of testing students’ knowledge. According to survey respondents, the most common symptoms of stress include abdominal pain palpitations, sleep disorders, excessive sweating, hand shaking. The majority of respondents listed the following activities to beat stress: sports, sleeping or listening to music, as most effective in reducing stress. Some of the respondents also turned to substances, such as tobacco or alcohol. The respondents admitted that they have also used drugs
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Pol J Public Health 2015;125(2): 94-98
© 2015 Medical University of Lublin. All rights reserved
Original Article
Piotr KsiążeK1, Kinga grabsKa2, DominiKa TrojanowsKa2, AgAtA słowińsKA2,
Piotr Dreher1, NAtAliA ŚcirKA2, sylwiA Dreher3
Stress and methods of coping
with it among students of the Medical University of Lublin
Abstract
Introduction. Stress is a complex and ubiquitous phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of
the most common problems of the 21st century. It is no surprise that the majority of people associate stress with something
entirely negative. However, there is no life without stress and a certain amount of stress in life is necessary.
Aim. The aim of the study was to assess the occurrence of stress among students of the Medical University from the facul-
ties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health, and evaluate its inuence on physiological changes and behavior,
and present the ways of coping with it.
Material and methods. The study comprised 240 students from the faculties mentioned above. Stress was measured by
means of a questionnaire consisting of 14 fully anonymous questions which concerned factors causing stress, ways of reacting
to it and methods of coping with it.
Results. It was found out that stress as an intense emotional reaction to a number of stimuli triggers some physiological
and psychological adaptation responses among students.
Conclusions. The ndings of this research suggest that pharmacy students are the most exposed to high levels of stress.
Oral examination is considered to be the most stressful form of testing students’ knowledge. According to survey respondents,
the most common symptoms of stress include abdominal pain palpitations, sleep disorders, excessive sweating, hand shak-
ing. The majority of respondents listed the following activities to beat stress: sports, sleeping or listening to music, as most
eective in reducing stress. Some of the respondents also turned to substances, such as tobacco or alcohol. The respondents
admitted that they have also used drugs.
1 Chair and Department of Public Health, Medical University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland
2 Medical Student, Medical University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland
3 Master of Environmental Protection
Keywords: stress, stressor, reaction to stress, symptoms of stress.
a negative stress, e.g. initial examination stress that disap-
pears after receiving a positive grade. Distress is a result of
excessive stress caused by too strong or insucient num-
ber of stimuli, for example too high requirements of a boss
or lack of contacts with close family and friends [2].
In medical terminology, the word stress means a dis-
turbance of homeostasis caused by psychological factors.
Stimuli causing stress can have a mental, physiological
and anatomical basis. The concentration of adrenaline in
the blood increases rapidly, concentration of sugar rises
with blood pressure elevated as well, sometimes to a sig-
nicant extent. It goes without saying that this is a fully
physiological reaction, expressing “a response of the body to
a stressful situation”, and the stimuli causing stress are called
stressors. Stressors are such elements of a situation which
strain the system of psychological regulation of a person,
causing disturbances in balance between an individual
INTRODUCTION
The psychological denition of stress sees the phenom-
enon as a dynamic, adaptive reaction of an individual to the
requirements of a given event or situation (a stressor), main-
ly characterized by a lack of balance. The behavior aimed
at overcoming stress is an attempt to regain balance. How-
ever, there is no life without stress, as Hans Seyle claimed.
The author popularized the notion in the world of science,
describing stress as a nonspecic reaction of the human body
to a given demand. He assumes the hypothesis that a certain
amount of stress in life is necessary. He made a distinction
between a positive (eustress) and negative (distress) level of
stress inuencing human lives [1,2].
Eustress is a state of physical and psychological well-
being in which the mind and the body achieve their full po-
tential. This notion also describes delayed positive eects of
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95Pol J Public Health 2015;125(2)
and their surroundings, which leads to homeostatic disorder.
The simplest stressors are stimuli which put a burden on the
person’s sensory organs [3,4].
Reactions to the same experience dier among various
people. Those dierences are caused by an individual’s
psychological susceptibility. Many a time, even a slightest
stimulus can evoke a stressful reaction. Thus, we can say that
it is not the strength of a stimulus which determines whether
something is stressful for us, but its importance for a particu-
lar person. Whenever people lose control over events, this is
a destructive stress [4,5].
As students understand it, stress refers most often to ex-
periencing emotions, like fear or psychophysical, vegetative-
somatic and behavioral reactions. The majority are aware of
negative consequences of nervous disturbances for health.
They conrm that stressful situations can restrict or even
block ecacy of psychosocially desired reactions of a person.
So they make it dicult or impossible to fulll an intended
task. Long-term consequences may lead to psychosomatic dis-
eases and establishing of negative patterns of behavior [1,2,4].
AIM
The aim of the study was to assess the occurrence of stress
among students of the Medical University from the facul-
ties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Public Health,
and evaluate its inuence on physiological changes and be-
havior, and present the ways of coping with it.
MATERIAL AND METHODS
The study comprised 240 students from the faculties men-
tioned above and most of them were female. Stress levels
were measured using a questionnaire consisting of 14 fully
anonymous questions which concerned stress-causing factors,
ways of reacting to it and methods of coping with it. Sixty
persons were picked from every faculty. Medicine Faculty
group included 48 women and 12 men, Pharmacy 53 women
and 7 men, Public Health 25 women and 7 men and Dentistry
46 women and 14 men with the average age of 21 years.
RESULTS
When the authors of the study inquired about subjective
evaluations of stress, it was found out that the stress patterns
were similar in students of all four faculties. The ratio of
people aected by stress and those unaected was similar
as well. It needs emphasizing, however, that the highest
percentage of people who declare themselves to be stressed
were pharmacy students – with the ratio of 61%. In the group
of students of Public Health the result is signicantly low-
er, with the value of 45%, and 34% are not stressed at all.
The ndings are shown in gures 1 to 4, showing the com-
parison of individual assessment declared by students.
Students openly admit that they often lack adequate
knowledge of a given subject. In fact, exams remain a signif-
icant cause of stress for nearly every member of the students’
community. Although psychological discomfort before and
during an exam is a completely natural phenomenon, the in-
tensity of stress is largely dependent on the form of the exam.
FIGURE 1-4. How many students consider themselves as a stressed
person.
11%
47%
15%
22%
5%
Dentistry
Yes
Rather yes
I do not k now
No
10,0%
36,7%
10,0%
26,7%
10,0%
Yes
Rather yes
I do not k now
Rather no
No
Medical Faculty
10,0%
35,0%
11,7%
28,3%
13,3%
Yes
Rather Yes
I do not k now
Rather No
No
Public Health
15,0%
46,7%
8,3%
23,3%
6,7%
Yes
Rather yes
I do not k now
Rather no
No
Pharmacy
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96 Pol J Public Health 2015;125(2)
It was found that the respondents, regardless of the faculty they
had chosen, unanimously claimed that the oral form of verify-
ing their knowledge is more stressful than written exams.
Using the results of that study, we obtained information
about factors regarded as stressogenic by the students’ com-
munity. No matter what their faculty is, students feel stressed
before exams. Whenever stress appears, some activity of the
central nervous system occurs, which means faster reactions
as well as improvements in the processes of gaining knowl-
edge and information processing. If stress lasts longer, it can
be felt a month before the exam. The time when students are
focused is then followed by a phase of exhaustion. Panic can
be observed and every task seems to be dicult to solve.
There is an interesting relationship between the faculty of
Public Health and Pharmacy. Students of the latter faculty
fare two times worse than Public Health students whenever
they have to give a speech during a class.
Students who completed questionnaires consider stress
as positive phenomenon for them. The prevailing majority
of the respondents think that stress which appears shortly
before an exam or test motivates them. It encourages stu-
dents to learn more, boosting their ambitions. Moreover, a
vision of going through a given stressful situation once again
motivates students to avoid it. Students admit that they are
often unable to focus on gaining knowledge. When they feel
the pressure though, they study faster and more eective-
ly. They are able to learn larger parts of dicult material
in a short time. Students think that stress plays a positive role
– it mobilizes the body for an eort. When emotional tension
accompanying stress is relieved, they feel relaxed again.
Students experiencing stress over a prolonged peri-
od of time claim that they can feel its negative inuence.
It decreases their ability to concentrate and remember,
and at the same time makes it impossible to study eec-
tively. It makes them feel tired and discouraged. Once the
day of the examination comes, causing stress to become
more intense turning students to be unable to think logically.
They start to experience diculties recalling their knowl-
edge and feel uncertain, whilst their academic performance
becomes lowes, rarely reecting their true knowledge.
The students who lled out the questionnaires admit that
staying in stressful situations for a long time and not know-
ing how to deal with it, feel that their body begins to react
to increased tension. First, they experience mood swings –
from irritation to apathy. In turn, this leads to appearance of
fear, sleeping or concentration disorders, as well as slight
depression symptoms. Other disturbances aect the circu-
latory and digestive systems. Palpitations and an increase
in arterial blood pressure are observed. Students who live
under constant stress complain about headaches and abdomi-
nal pains. Other stress symptoms are presented in Table 1.
Negative symptoms of stress cause numerous health
problems. Sometimes they require medical or psychologi-
cal advice. Fourteen people from the study group (5.8% of
respondents) conrm that they have already sought medical
help. Students usually go to a family doctor although oc-
casionally they seek a specialist advice, e.g. cardiologist’s
or psychiatrist’s.
Unable to deal with stress in a dierent way, students turn
to pharmacological agents. These are usually nonprescription
drugs and dietary supplements. The students also like taking
substances derived from plants. They commonly give melis-
sa as an example, claiming that it alleviates mildly intense
stress. The examined students also admit taking preparations
containing hydroxyzine.
Anything could happen in life. However, taking control
over problems, everyone can greatly reduce stress. The ef-
fectiveness of such methods depends on various situational
determinants (e.g. immediacy of danger, the degree of risk
involved, lack of clarity of the situation) and personality de-
terminants (e.g. emotional maturity, the level of intelligence,
the feeling of self-eectiveness, personal experience).
A combination of situational and personal factors ex-
erts inuence over people’s choices of either constructive
(e.g. focusing on the problem) or non-constructive (e.g. using
intoxicating agents, narcotics or alcohol) strategies in stress-
ful situations.
The presented data suggests that, regardless of a student’s
faculty, listening to music is the main way of coping with
stress among students of the Medical University. Sleeping is
another common method. The students are least likely to be
reducing stress by: eating too much, going to concerts and
spending their time on a hobby. Music alleviates tension and
stress. Listening to music selected appropriately for one’s
needs at the moment can help enter a state of relaxation.
The results are presented in Figure 5.
TABLE 1. The most frequently occurring symptoms of stress.
Symptoms Medicine
(%)
Pharmacy
(%)
Dentistry
(%)
Public Health
(%)
Abdominal
pain 11.37 12.2 12 40.7
Headache 5.2 2.3 6 11.7
Trembling of
hands 10 10.15 11 51.7
Feeling hot 6.6 4.6 4 40
Diarrhea 2.4 3 7 6.7
Vomiting 1 1.5 0.5 1.7
Nausea 5.2 9.1 4 5
Excessive
sweating 9.5 5.6 8 36.7
Palpitations 10 9.6 13 41.7
Frequent
diuresis 2.8 4 0.5 6.7
Sleep
disturbances 10 12.7 12 21.7
Appetite loss 8 9.1 6 8.3
Increased
appetite 2.8 3 2.6 13.4
Xerostomia 6.2 3 3.6 5
Feeling of
squeezing
in the throat
6.6 5.6 6.7 10
Aggression 1.9 2.5 3 3.3
No somatic
symptoms 0 1.5 0.5 13.3
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97Pol J Public Health 2015;125(2)
Stress is a strong factor aecting our lives and not eve-
ryone can deal with its symptoms in a natural way. Lis-
tening to music, doing sport or relaxation of sleep are not
enough for everyone. Some people reduce stress by using
stronger stimuli, like those provided by addictive substances.
The answers of those who completed the questionnaires
show that Pharmacy students are most likely to use addic-
tive substances (with the rate being 47%), whilst the students
from the Medical, Dental and Public Health Faculties turn
to addictive substances less often, i.e. 34%.
Addictive substances enable students to escape quickly
and eectively from their problems. Alcohol or recreation-
al drugs eliminate stress fast. Thus, stress becomes a fac-
tor stimulating dependence and its driving force. Addictive
substances mask symptoms which should motivate students
to ght them.
Basing on the respondents’ answers we know that most
often students use alcohol, coee and cigarettes. Pharmacy
students also turn to designer drugs. The results are present-
ed in the gure below.
Depending on the kind of coee, one cup contains approxi-
mately 70-140 mg of caeine. After drinking coee, its in-
creased concentration remains in the blood for two to four
hours. Removal of caeine from the organism is quick. After
10 years of experiments Americans concluded that drinking
coee protects from suicidal thoughts and reduces stress.
The majority of people cope with stress by trying to solve
diculties situations in a constructive way. They use their
own resources while seeking help from immediate family
and friends. Some of them, however, not possessing the ability
to alleviate tension caused by stress, frequently turn to alcohol.
This is due to the fact that alcohol conjures up pleasant memories
and brings certain short-term benets. It has a calming ef-
fect that works similarly to antidepressants and it can cheer
one up. People tend to drink alcohol to reduce the eects
of depression or just to improve their mood. Alcohol abuse
is harmful for health and most often leads to dependence.
Caeine is not always eective, thus people looking for
ways of increasing the level of physical and intellectual abil-
ity turn to psychoactive substances. Some recreational drugs
can exert stimulating inuence over the body. The reac-
tion after its ingestion is similar to a defensive response to
an acute stress: an accelerated pulse and respiration, more
eective functioning of the brain, general psychomotor agi-
tation. Sensitivity to pain, hunger and fatigue is decreased.
In stressful situations, the students of the above men-
tioned faculties usually receive support from their families
and friends.
DISCUSION
Members of the young student population have always
been vulnerable to stressful life conditions, particularly
when pursuing higher professional education in a highly
competitive environment [1,3]. The symptoms of the bouts
of stress, low moods, inability to concentrate, short temper,
changed sleep patterns and loneliness were more frequently
cited, as compared to others, such as fatigue, headaches and
stomachaches. While cross tabulations of the results in dif-
ferent categories of students considering sex, year of study
and lieu of residence, no considerable variation in the results
was observed. The most common reasons highlighted were
exams and academics, followed by relationship problems
in the college or family and homesickness [6-8].
Medical students were satised with their individual cop-
ing mechanisms. Most frequently, they mentioned sleep-
ing, listening to music, practicing sports and spending time
in isolation [7]. Youngsters often consider it a shame to ad-
mit, that they lose control over stress which is often a cause
of their vulnerability to depression and other mental disor-
ders. The results show that the risk of physical and somatic
dependence of toxic substances increases if they are used to
reduce the stress. Alcohol abuse constitutes a major danger
among young people. We should also pay attention to stu-
dent’s consumption of coee which contains caeine. One
should be aware of the fact, that caeine intake in exces-
sive amounts may lead to a number of side eects. The main
adverse eects of caeine abuse are physical hyperactiv-
ity, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, insomnia, headaches,
gastrointestinal disorders. In addition it can be concluded,
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80%
I go for long walks
I listen to music
I hang around
I sleep
I try to forget about the problem
I eat too much
I do sport
I devote time to a hobby
I go to concerts, parties
Public Health
Pharmacy
Dentistry
Medical Faculty
FIGURE 5. Ways of dealing with stressful situations.
Medical Faculty
Dentistry
Pharmacy
Public Health
0,0%
5,0%
10,0%
15,0%
20,0%
25,0%
30,0%
35,0%
40,0%
Cigarettes
Alcohol
Narcotic
drugs
Cof fee
Energizing
drinks
Designer
drugs
13.0%
18.0%
23.3%
11.0%
26.0%
28.0%
5.0%
30.0%
40.0%
23.3%
3.3%
FIGURE 6. Types of addictive substances.
Many people think that cigarette smoking helps them sur-
vive stressful situations. It seems that tobacco exerts some
calming inuence, restrains nerves and tremor. In fact, using
it produces an opposite eect, because cigarette smoking ac-
celerates the heart rate, causing an increase in blood pres-
sure, which in turn intensies stress.
Caeine remains to be the most important substance re-
sponsible for the eects of coee. It stimulates the activity
of the cerebral cortex and the whole central nervous system.
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98 Pol J Public Health 2015;125(2)
that caeine often interacts with numerous medications both
stimulating and inhibiting. The inuence of caeine on other
drugs seem to be often underestimated and neglected by doc-
tors and society.
CONCLUSIONS
The research revealed that pharmacy students are most
exposed to stress, whilst Public Health students are those
who are least aected. Plus to that, students consider oral
exams to be the most stressful form of checking their knowl-
edge. The symptoms that most frequently occur during stress
are: abdominal pain, palpitations, trembling of hands, sleep
disturbances and excessive sweating. The students who com-
pleted the questionnaires admitted that in some cases they
sought help of a psychologist, psychiatrist or a family doctor.
The results revealed that taking dietary supplements or syn-
thetic drugs on prescription is one of the methods of dealing
with stress. The majority of the examined students, however,
try to overcome stress themselves by listening to music, do-
ing sports and sleeping, but it also occurs that they turn to
addictive substances. They are most likely choose coee,
tobacco and alcohol, and approximately 5% of them use rec-
reational drugs. The conducted study shows that in stressful
situations students seek support of their friends and families.
It was found that stress as an intense emotional reaction
to a number of stimuli signicantly elicits a physiological
and psychological adaptation response among students of
Medical University in Lublin. If stress exceeds the ability
of response, a given person becomes susceptible to somatic
and psychosomatic complaints as well as risky behavior,
such as the use of addictive substances.
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Corresponding author
Agata Słowiska
5/20 Organowa Str., 20-882 Lublin
tel. 607-325-703
E-mail: zdrowiepubliczne@o2.pl
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... Ksiazek., et al. [23] reported listening to music and sleeping in Poland. Our study also supports the reports of the previous study that the nursing students used stay-optimistic as a primary coping strategy while the dental and clinical medicine students used transference. ...
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i formy jego przezwyciężania - aktywność fizyczna i wypoczynek In ska ed promująca zdrowie
  • Piątkowski
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