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Background to the Study

People always take up activities to meet their needs, fulfill their expectations and also handle the ordinary and extraordinary requirements of their everyday life. According to Mgbodile and lwu (2002), one’s environment influences his/her behaviour. Consequently one is inseparable from his or her environment. He or she therefore, is in constant adjustment struggle. According to Wagne and Hoolenbeck (1992), there is potential for stress when one’s emotional capacity cannot cope adequately with certain demands imposed by his/here environment.

Ifeagwazi (1995) conceptualized stress as the reaction of an individual to disturbing events in the environment. Crider, Coethals, Kavanaugh and Solomon (1983) had submitted that stress is a particular pattern of disturbing psychological and physiological reactions that occur when environmental events threaten important motives and one’s ability to cope. These descriptions imply that stress is the result of one’s interaction with his or her environment.

Ezeilo and Chukwu (1995) perceived stress in relation to students as the subjective experience of the students when events associated with their students’ status interact with their psychological and/or physiological conditions, such that the students are forced to deviate from normal functioning. They noted that students are always faced with adjustment problems, which may be carry-over from home or due to campus experiences. This definition was adopted for this study.


Stress is part of life and basically present in the ecology of everybody. Everyone experiences it, irrespective of one’s position or place in the society. Since it is an attribute of human existence, it manifests in almost all human endeavours. Consequently, students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka could experience significant levels of stress from problems with the staff (academic and non academic) as well as fellow students among others.



Stress can be either good or bad. While good stress otherwise known as “eustress” is a challenge that results in growth or positive-development, distress is the stress that can be damaging to the mind and body (Railey & Tschauner, 1993; Okafor & Okafor, 1998). It therefore implies that certain levels of stress are needed by the students for optimal performance.

Studies have highlighted different indications of stress associated with Nigerian undergraduates, students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka inclusive. For example, Onwuzurike (1984) reported that they respond to stress through psychopathological, psychosomatic and somatic symptoms as well as reduced task performance. According to Ezeilo and Chukwu (1995), some of the clinical psychological symptoms reported by students include poor appetite, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, poor heart beat and bad dreams. Feelings sometimes identified include fear, depression, anxiety, anger and hostility, fear of being persecuted by fellow students through charms, witchcraft or poison. Furthermore, the report showed that some students develop outright psychopathologies like psychosis especially paranoid psychosis, hypomania, and panic anxiety which intensity and frequency tend to increase as examinations approach.

Since stress could be devastating, its victims would likely take certain measures or steps to deal with it either wittingly or unwittingly. These measures or steps are known as “coping” or “coping practices”. According to Crider et al (1983), coping is the sum total of methods a person can use for “mastering stressful situations”. In this assertion, “mastering stressful situations” could imply identifying the stressors, stress manifestation and possible adaptive measures. Davison and Neale (2000) described coping as how people try to deal with a problem or handle the emotions it produces. These descriptions are in consonance with Corbin, Lindsey, Welk and Corbin (2000) as they subscribed to coping as a person’s constantly changing cognitive and psychological efforts to manage stressful situations. Coping, therefore, is a continuous process since stress is a part of life. Furthermore, one may be left with little or no doubt that coping is an individual affair rather than a collective responsibility.

Fox and Gillard (1995) described practice as regular activity one does to improve a skill or prepare for something. Activity according to them is something one does for interest or pleasure or because he/she wants to achieve something. The above description of practice was adopted for this study. Practice and activities were therefore used interchangeable as well as strategy which Fox and Gillard described as series of actions for achieving an aim, especially success against an opponent which in this regard is stress among the undergraduates of University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Endler and Parker (1990) grouped stress coping activities into task-oriented, emotion-oriented and avoidance-oriented. They noted that in task-oriented, a person defines the problem, generates solution alternatives, weigh costs and benefits of alternatives, chooses an alternative, and act on that choice. Emotion-oriented activities according to them are those geared towards lessening the emotional distress caused by a stressor while avoidance-oriented activities are those that seem to disassociate the person with the stressor.

Literature abound on examples of stress coping practices. For example-Ebve (2000) noted that students use counselling and other behaviours like seeking social support, extensive discussion, and joking as stress coping measures. Sime (2004) and Murry (2004) identified building self-esteem and having a sense of meaning and purpose to one’s life, preparing oneself for situations that one anticipates to be stressful, verbalizing a positive self statement, clarifying one’s values and trying not to be a perfectionist as stress coping practices. In this study therefore, coping practices are those measures that undergraduates of University of Nigeria, Nsukka take in dealing with their school-related stress.

Based on the description of stress, coping or coping practices, personal characteristics are of essence in determining which measure one used in handling stressful situations. Personal characteristic refer to those human traits or factors which help to distinguish one person from another. Mmaduakonam (1997) outlined these personal factors to include sex, age, marital status, educational background, occupational status, self concept among others. Robbins (1989) had earlier submitted that these factors help a great deal to account for the observable differences in our behavioural traits. This study focused on the four characteristics that are easily distinguishable among the students. These are sex, age, marital status and year of study. Differences in the use of varying coping practices along these categories have been reported.

Brems and Johnson (1989) submitted that man engage in problem solving activities when faced with stressors than women. This could be due to the fact that men posses more psychological resources than women as earlier reported by Pearlin and Schoolar (1978).

Age as related to stress coping was highlighted by Koch, Tung, Gamelch, and Swent (1982). They reported that task-based stress coping declined with age. On the contrary, Bartman and Roberto (1996) noted that the use of avoidance coping strategies increases with age. These could be due to the general believe that younger people exhibit more resilience to stressors than older people.

Marital status as a variable also offers a100d frame of reference in any attempt to explicate how family roles influence our experiences of life phenomena. For instance Yahaya, Opekun and Idowu (1996) in their study of “Stress among bank employees in Nigeria” found out that married respondents used cognitive reappraisal of stressors more than the single respondents.

Educational background as related to stress coping was reported by Agu (2000) in her study of “coping strategies in ageing as a function of gender and educational status.” According to her, the more educated used mostly problem-focused coping strategies while the less educated used mainly emotion-focused coping strategies. Also, Pearlin and Schoolar (1978) had earlier submitted that the more educated appear to posses more resources and wider range of coping more than the less educated.

Coping from the foregoing is all about adjustment to conditions and situations that arise in the course of life. This adjustment on the other hand involves actions aimed at achieving a balance between a person and his or her environment. This study focused on these actions otherwise known as coping activities or strategies ~sed by the undergraduates of University of Nigeria, Nsukka in handling the conditions and situations they face as students. This will help in testing the applicability of the theoretical formulations of Bandura (1977) and Lazarus and Folkman (1984).

Bandura (1977) postulated in his self-efficacy theory that different influences change behaviours in part by strengthening perception of self-efficacy. Hence, one’s behaviour is dependent on the value placed by the person upon a particular outcome. Similarly, Lazarus and Folkman (1984) postulated in their Animal-Model of Stress and Control that survival of an animal hinges or the person discovering what is predictable and controllable in the environment in order to avoid, escape, or overcome noxious agents.

According to Fox and Gillard, (1995) undergraduates are students who are doing a university course for first degree. Students in this regard (undergraduates) could be described in relation to their courses of study. For example: Education, Engineering, Pharmacy, Law, Medical students among others. The above definition was adopted for this study. Consequently, only first degree students were used in the study.

Nebo (2004) noted that University of Nigeria is plagued with many pressing problems such as inadequate hostels, insufficient classrooms, dearth of lecturers, cultism involving both staff and students among others. The consequences of these problems fall back on the students. These students are also faced with uncertainties like strikes, likes in school fees, unclear-goals, social insecurity among others. It was also on record that Nigerian students are subjected to stress inducing forces like academic pressures, financial constraints, incessant strikes, menace of secret cults, unavailability of text books and/or journals in the libraries, malnutrition,    insufficient library/reading rooms, accommodation inadequacies among myriads of other problems (Omoluabi, 1995, Joe 1986 and Nweze, 1985). The consequences of these problems fall back on the students.

In the context of the above, students of University of Nigeria, Nsukka are faced with myriads of stress-inducing factors otherwise called stressors. These forces are handled by the students in one-way or the other. This study therefore identified these measures otherwise known as stress coping practices among the students

Statement of the Problem

Researches on stress in America and Canada indicate that being a student is stress-laden. Most of these researchers submitted that stress among the university undergraduates were related to personal loss, life style changes, family conflict, personal insecurity, drudgery, personal concerns, time and work management, minor r01utine expenses and delimma of emigration (Chan & Lee, 1992; Schiaffino, 1998; Zaleski, Lee & Liu, 200 1; Stern & Briggs, 200 1; Levey­-Thirs & Schiaffino, 19’98; Dwyer & Cummings, 200 1).

These scholars also observed that the undergraduates cope through: active coping, either by solving the problem on their own or by seeking tangible support; cognitive reappraisal of stressors like positive comparisons, finding positive value or lessons in negative events; distraction methods like drinking alcohol, use of drugs, tobacco, or through selective attention to specific aspects of stressful event.

In Nigeria, investigations on stress and stress coping among our students have come up with findings similar to those of the antecedents in America and Canada, (Joe, 1986; Omoluabi, 1986; Chika & Iwundu, 2000). However, the Nigerian studies appear to be few. Besides, the studies had focused mainly on secondary school students, students of colleges of Education and University first year students while those of the other university students (second to final years) seem to have been largely neglected. It seems therefore that stress coping as it relates to students in Nigerian universities especially those of University of Nigeria, Nsukka is yet to be systematically investigated.

Considering that stress at every stage in life are not the same, findings on stress coping of students in secondary schools, colleges of Education, and those of university first year students may not be applicable to the entire university students. Hence, finding out the stress coping practices among university of Nigeria, Nsukka undergraduates remained imperative. This, in the main, was the problem of this study.


Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of the study was to find out the stress coping practices among University of Nigeria, Nsukka undergraduates. Specifically, the study sought to find out:

  1. task-oriented activities the students adopted in coping with stress;
  2. emotion-oriented activities used by them in coping with stress;
  3. avoidance-oriented activities they employed as stress coping measures;
  4. influence of gender on the students’ stress coping practices;
  5. influence of age on the students’ stress coping practices;
  6. influence of marital status on the students’ stress coping practices, and
  7. influence of years of study on the students’ stress coping practices.


Research Questions

  1. What are the task-oriented activities the students adopt in coping with stress?
  2. What are the emotion-oriented activities used by them in coping with stress?
  3. What are the avoidance-oriented activities they employ as stress coping measures?
  4. How do stress coping practices of male students differ from those of the female students?
  5. What are the stress coping practices of the various age groups of students?
  6. What are the stress coping practices of the students based on their marital status?
  7. What are the students’ stress coping practices based on their year of study?


  1. Gender has no significant influence on stress coping practices among the undergraduates (P<05).
  2. Age has no significant influence on stress coping practices among the students (p<05).
  3. There is no statistically significant difference in stress coping practices of the students based on their marital status (p<05).
  4. Year of study has no significant influence on stress coping practices among the students (p<05).

Significance of the Study

Theoretically, the findings of this study are considered significant because there is need for empirical information for explaining the nature of stress coping, to facilitate a better understanding of the phenomenon. In particular,  it is expected that the findings will help to explicate the functionally of the theoretical postulations of the Self-efficacy theory and Animal Models of Stress and Control, as propounded by Bandura (1977) and Lazarus and Folksman (1984) respectively. The applicability of these

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