The study was undertaken with the aim to investigate stress and coping strategies among first year students of the University of Cape Coast. The descriptive survey research design was adopted for this study. The study was guided by three research questions and six hypotheses. A sample size of 300 first year students was selected for the study through cluster, proportionate and simple random sampling procedures. The researcher and five data collection assistants administered the adapted version of the Students Stress Inventory and Stress Coping Style Inventory (SCSI) to the selected respondents in their lecture theatres and it took us a period of two weeks to finish with the data collection. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics (means and standard deviation) and inferential statistics independent samples t-test and One-Way ANOVA). The findings indicated that there was high level of stress among the students. The study revealed that environmental, financial and academic stressors were the major common stressors to the students. Most students use active emotional-focused coping and active problem-focused coping strategies. There was no significant difference in gender in relation to stress. Males and females do not differ in stress coping strategies. Students from the three faculties do no differ in their stress level and also in the use of coping strategies. It was therefore recommended that students should be educated on both emotional-focused coping strategies and problem-focused coping strategies so that they can use them properly under different situations.

The beginning of the 21st century is characterized by the rise in globalization, a process which diminishes the necessity of a common and shared territorial basis for social, economic and political activities, processes and relations. Education, especially tertiary education is one major aspect that has undergone changes in the face of globalisation. A country needs to provide quality education open to individuals from all walks of life in order to meet the demands of globalisation (Crane & Matten, 2010). Modern society is characterised by overcrowded, noisy society that is often referred to as the rat race. Human lives are run by deadlines, the clock, mobile phones, computers, other demands and this is partly why stress is more of a problem today.

Background to the Study
The concept of stress is familiar to most people and mostly individuals associate stress with negative situations such as death of a loved one, financial difficulties and being stuck in traffic jam etc. but that should not be the case because there is positive stress (eustress) such as completing school, preparing for a wedding etc. (Selye, 1976). Stress is part of life and this is affirmed by the statement of Selye in 1976 that for one to be totally free without stress is to be dead. The term “stress”, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.

According to Mundia (2010), stress is a non-specific physiological reaction to internal and external demands made on the body. Stress arises when individuals perceive a discrepancy between the physical or psychological demands of a situation and the resources of his or her biological, psychological or social systems (Sarafino, 2012). Folkman and Lazarus (1980), define coping as the cognitive and behavioural efforts made to master, tolerate, or reduce external and internal demands and conflicts among them. O’Driscoll et al (Robotham, 2008) defined coping as “how an individual seeks to: eliminate or reduce stressors in their environment, alter their appraisal of the potential harmfulness of these stressors, or minimize the extent of strain that they will experience as a result of these stressors” (p. 741). Thus coping refers to efforts to control, reduce or learn to tolerate the events that lead to stress. To deal successfully with stress, a person may require using different types of techniques. Clegg (2009) in a literature review identified various stress coping strategies including problem-focused coping, social support, seeking counselling and avoidance of self-medication.

Folkman and Moskowitz (2004) purport that more direct, and potentially more positive ways of coping with stress could be put into two main categories, namely emotion-focused and problem-focused coping strategies. In emotion-focused coping, individuals try to manage their emotions during stress situations, and seek to change the way they feel about or perceive the problem. Examples of emotion-focused coping include seeking social support for emotional reasons, positive reinterpretation and growth, acceptance, denial and mental disengagement. Problem-focused coping on the other hand targets the causes of stress in practical ways which tackles the problem or stressful situation that is causing stress, consequently directly reducing the stress. Problem-focused strategies aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor. Examples of Problem-focused coping include problem-solving, time-management and obtaining instrumental social support.

According to Feldman (2008), problem-focused coping tries to modify the stressful problem or source of stress. This coping strategy leads to changes in behaviour or to the development of a plan of action to deal with stress. Among the examples of problem-focused coping are active coping, planning, suppression of competing activities, restraint coping, and seeking social support for instrumental reasons. Attending university and embarking upon an academic career is a pleasurable and exciting experience for many people. For many students, however, the transition to university and pursuing academic career may prove far more stressful than exciting (Bojuwoye, 2002; Hystad, Eid, Laberg, Johnsen & Bartone, 2009). University students are going through a transition period from adolescence to adulthood filled with many challenges in life due to various changes and choices that they have to make in order to get academic qualification. University provides students’ tertiary education and psychosocial development (Tao, Dong, Pratt, Hunsberger, & Pancer, 2000). Besides pursuing knowledge in university, a student also gets to socialize with different kinds of people and undergo psychological development. Studies show that entering university may bring strain or stress (Gall, Evans, & Bellerose, 2000). Many of them face culture shock as university life is different from school life. This is because university students face a changing education system, lifestyle, and social environment. University seems to be stressful for some students because it is an abrupt change from Senior High School (S.H.S) and training colleges where students do not attend classes after 4:00pm and students activities are mostly regulated by bells and sirens. Most students are young adults who are in the process of developing personal characteristics and identity in order to function with a greater psychological and financial independence (Furnham, 2004). First year seems to be the most critical for university adaptation because of the big numbers of possible adjustment difficulties it can generate (Clinciu, 2013).

The review of the adjustment literature reveals numerous relevant constructs linked with university/college adjustment, like anxiety, depression, stress vulnerability, anger, mood, mental illness, indicative for negative adaptation (Clinciu, 2013). All of these are counterbalanced by good psychological adjustment, domain satisfaction, ability to develop new coping strategies, a better sense of ego functioning (self-efficacy, self-esteem), and well-being, indicative for positive adaptation. A good first-year transition encompasses independent functioning including the ability to negotiate with a new and complex world to develop internal motivation for learning, to have a good time and money management, to attend classes and keep up assignments (Mattanah, Handcock & Brand, 2004). Although some level of stress is necessary for personal growth to occur, the level of stress can overwhelm a student and produce adverse effect in the individual. For instance, most students do not have adequate knowledge about the nature and the demands of the programmes they want to pursue, infrastructural inadequacies and the corresponding physical strain they are to encounter on campus. Psychosocial stress is high among freshmen, women, and international students because of the adjustment they must make in their social, academic, and cultural lives in a new environment, having left all previous support persons such as parents, siblings, and high school friends (Seyedfatemi, Tafreshi & Hagani, 2007). Stress is idiosyncratic in that what is stressful to one individual in one situation may not be stressful to another person or to the same person in a different situation. This dynamic nature of stress and coping poses many challenges and requires that researchers pay adequate attention to the personal and situational context in which stress and coping occur.

Globally, the incidences of stress and stress-related illnesses such as anxiety and depression among students, trainees, and qualified physicians have increased and received significant attention in literature (Voltmer, Kieschke, Schwappach, Wirsching & Spahn, 2008; Dyrbye, Thomas & Shanafelt, 2006; Stucky, Dresselhaus & Dollarhide, 2009). Many studies highlighted mental health issues in young adult, particularly alcohol use disorders, are common during their studying years at university (Blanco, Okuda, Wright, Hasin, Grant, Liu, Olfson, 2008; Milojevich & Lukowski, 2016). According to health surveys, young people from 12 to 25 years old suffer from an insufficient level of psychological health (Windfuhr et al., 2008; Thapar, Collishaw, Pine & Thapar, 2012). Some studies also show that compared to individuals of the same age (Adlaf, Demers & Gliksman, 2005; Boujut, Koleck, Bruchon-Schweitzer & Bourgeois, 2009) and in general, to any other population (Blanco et al., 2008; Walsh, Feeney, Hussey & Donnellan 2010; Moreira & Telzer, 2015), students have more psychological problems. Students' psychological discomfort is reflected in several ways including depression, anxiety, stress, and sleeping disorders (Petrov, Lichstein Baldwin 2014; Milojevich & Lukowski, 2016). This discomfort has been the subject of many investigations. In fact, depression is common in students from 15 to 24 years olds (Lafay, Manzanera, Papet, Marcelli & Senon 2003). According to a French study (Boujut, Koleck, Bruchon-Schweitzer & Bourgeois 2009), 27, 18, and 3% of college students suffer from mild, moderate and severe depression, respectively. More than 83% of students from the University of Lodz suffer from fatigue (Maniecka-Bryła, Bryła, Weinkauf Dierks, 2005). According to the 2005 National Survey of Counselling Centre Directors, 154 students committed suicide in America. In addition, according to two French studies, 15% of students had suicidal thoughts (Lafay et al., 2003) while 3% had a suicidal tendency (Boujut et al., 2009). In Ghana, the suicide case was not different as fourteen (14) people committed suicide within the first three month in 2017 (Ghanaweb, 2017)

Furthermore, another study found that 60% of first-year students of a business school (Ecole Supérieure de Commerce) had significant levels of psychological distress and low self-esteem (Strenna, Chahraoui & Vinay, 2009). Their coping strategies were principally based on withdrawal (Strenna et al., 2009). Humphris et al., (2002) found that more than 30% of European dental students reported significant psychological distress and 22% reported a high level of emotional exhaustion. These mental health issues among students are of growing concern (Castillo & Schwartz, 2013; Milojevich & Lukowski, 2016). These could also be associated with the broader concept of “stress,” that involves all aspects of life's difficulties, including psychological discomfort. Every student deals with the same stress differently (Boujut, 2007). A French study showed that 79% of students reported being stressed (Vandentorren et al., 2005) Factors such as year of study, gender and background influence students’ experience of stress (McInnis, 2001). Therefore there was the need to examine some of these factors in the Ghanaian stetting. Ghanaians also face similar stress as people of other countries also face stress. According to Akussah, Dzandu & Osei-Adu, (2012), highly educated records staff of PRAAD experienced lower stress levels compared to their counterparts who were not highly educated in Ghana.

In Ghanaian universities, the issue of stress is not all that different from what is happening in other countries. For instance during the 2010/2011 academic year 280 out of 398 newly admitted undergraduate students offering educational psychology at University of Cape Coast perceived university life to be moderately stressful whilst 14 (3.5%) also perceived life to be highly stressful (Amponsah & Owolabi, 2011). Studies conducted on distance education in Ghana reveal that students face problems such as combining full time work and family demands with studies. Studies on distance education indicate that many students are stressed as they have a lot of responsibilities to meet while meeting the academic demands of their learning institutions (Kwaah & Essilfie, 2017). Additionally, distance education students have the problem of combining work, family demands, and other commitments with packed academic work (Panchabakesan, 2011).There could be a wide range of factors that pose stress to students such as academic workload, high frequency of examinations, financial, problems family/marriage problems. As stress is part of human live, gender and age of a person all play important role as to whether a particular situation will be perceived as stressful or not as well as the coping mechanism to use and it was in this direction that this study was carried out to find out the level of stress, stressors and coping strategies among first year students at University of Cape Coast.

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