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Introduction

Three photos side by side from left to right show someone looking stressed while taking an exam, a close up of an answer sheet, and a room full of people taking an exam.

Fig 14.0 Exams are a stressful, but unavoidable, element of college life. (credit “left”: modification of work by Travis K. Mendoza; credit “center”: modification of work by “albertogp123”/Flickr; credit “right”: modification of work by Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ)

Few would deny that today’s college students are under a lot of pressure. In addition to many usual stresses and strains incidental to the college experience (e.g., exams, term papers, and the dreaded freshman 15), students today are faced with increased college tuitions, burdensome debt, and difficulty finding employment after graduation. A significant population of non-traditional college students may face additional stressors, such as raising children or holding down a full-time job while working toward a degree.

Of course, life is filled with many additional challenges beyond those incurred in college or the workplace. We might have concerns with financial security, difficulties with friends or neighbors, family responsibilities, and we may not have enough time to do the things we want to do. Even minor hassles—losing things, traffic jams, and loss of internet service—all involve pressure and demands that can make life seem like a struggle and that can compromise our sense of well-being. That is, all can be stressful in some way.

Scientific interest in stress, including how we adapt and cope, has been longstanding in psychology; indeed, after nearly a century of research on the topic, much has been learned and many insights have been developed. This chapter examines stress and highlights our current understanding of the phenomenon, including its psychological and physiological natures, its causes and consequences, and the steps we can take to master stress rather than become its victim.

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