2012. Vol.3, No.2, 143-149
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 143
The Impact of Stress, Social Support, Self-Efficacy and Coping on
University Students, a Multicultural European Study
Dimitrios G. Lyrakos
Maastricht University, NL Elpis Care, Athens, Greece
Received November 29th, 2011; revised January 10th, 2012; accepted January 14th, 2012
The present study is a follow up study of 562 university students during a 12 month period, at universities
from the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, and Greece. The purpose of the study is to examine
the impact of stress, social support and self-esteem on university students. To our knowledge, it is one of
the very few, if not the only study, that examines those particular variables in a multicultural sample. The
students completed at the beginning of the 12 month period a self reported scale about stress (the Daily
Hassles questionnaire), self-esteem, and social support. During the second time the participants have also
completed sections about University Satisfaction, and Coping Styles of Stress. The statistical analysis af-
terwards has shown that the levels of stress have been significantly reduced after the passing of the 12
month period (p < .001), as it was hypothesised. On the other hand Social Support has been significantly
reduced during the passing year (p = .049), which confirmed the Null-Hypothesis. Furthermore the re-
search has shown that the levels of stress are negatively correlated with the positive ways of coping, the
levels of social support, self-esteem and university satisfaction. On the other hand the levels of stress are
positive correlated with the negative ways of coping, all above correlation have been proven to be sig-
nificant (p < .005). Finally the country of studies has shown some differences in the levels of stress and in
the rest of the variables of interest, particularly between the UK students and the rest of the other coun-
Keywords: Stress; Social Support; Self-Esteem; University Students; Europe; Multicultural
Studying abroad causes more stress situations in students
than in students studying in their home country, because every
nation has its own language, traditions, customs and ways of
thinking and sometimes it is really difficult or even impossible
for a foreign student to adjust to all changes and differences,
which he or she faces in university. It often takes a lot of time,
trying and efforts to cope with new life in an educational estab-
lishment. And young people are especially vulnerable in their
perception of new people and environment.
When they first enter the university they cannot escape the
influence of the university special traditions and customs, its
usual things, its flow of the time (Brewing et al., 1989).
Everything is new for students in universities: their fellows,
teachers, staff and even environment that surround them. This
fact is either met as a challenge that they need to accept and
overcome, or as a problem that is a cause of great stress.
That does not only apply to students from abroad, but also to
those students who study in their own country and choose to go
to a university a long way from their hometown. They think
going to a university is a time to be independent, and to live
away from home and develop new interests (Fisher et al.,
But in reality these university students also feel great stress
during their sessions and they need help in finding coping
strategies for stress situation.
All above-mentioned variables are closely connected with
each other and exist in the life of every university student, de-
spite their gender, age or race (Wolf et al., 1987). Students
always think that their problems are especially serious.
There are triggers or stressors that can affect student stress
levels as nothing else. Major life changes, such as going to, and
then leaving university, are the greatest contributors of stress
for students regardless of gender. So they place the greatest
demand on resources for coping (Ross, 1999).
The Definition of Stress
There are a number of different definitions for stress. Based on
Long, stress is a relationship between the person and the environ-
ment that is considered by the person as something that surpasses
his/her capabilities and resources and is endangering his/her well-
being. Stress is a person’s physical and psychological reaction to a
perceive d or act ua l de ma nd f o r cha n ge. The de ma nd i t self i s cal le d
a stressor and the steps pe ople take to resolve or avoi d the stressor
are referred to as coping (Long, 1998).
As the university student should adjust to changing situations
and life in whole, the greater the stress, which is acquired.
Stress is a combination of factors that affect each individual
differently. In other words, what is stressful to one person may
not be so to another, and reactions to stressors vary among dif-
ferent groups of individuals and even among sisters and broth-
ers. This is especially seen among university students, they are
young and their behaviour and actions are so inconsistent that
some of them do not feel stresses at all, while others can be in
stressful state almost all the time. Different reasons influence
them, including family relations, friendship, financial state, way
of life, etc. (Odgen et al., 1997).
Two Kinds of Stress Response
There are two kinds of stress response: appraisal and coping.
Appraisal refers to the responses a student has to everyday
situations. Those situations create a number of thoughts. These
thoughts fuel a student’s emotions (fear, sadness, happiness,
anger, etc.), so if the thoughts are negative, the emotions will be,
too. Neutral thoughts are less likely to provoke a stress re-
sponse (Clark et al., 1990a; Clark et al., 1990b).
Coping refers to the way a person responds to his appraisal.
If his appraisal tends to arouse his nervous system, his coping
will be affected, sometimes negatively. If he chooses a coping
behaviour that’s not appropriate to the situation, running away
from conflict with his roommate, or denying that he is not pre-
pared for a test for example, he will ultimately add to his stress.
Examples of coping responses include denial, discounting,
blaming himself or others, distraction, social strategies.
In general, action-based coping strategies, for example exercise
emotion-based strategies; distraction and social strategies, such as
support from friends, family etc. are good coping skills to have
(Steptoe, 1996b; Weidn er et al., 1996; Van Golder et al., 1999).
Apart from the direct active coping strategies there are also
the indirect active coping strategies, that university students can
adopt in an attempt to reduce their stress by releasing it or en-
gaging in activities known to reduce stress. Those strategies do
not, however, attempt to change the source of the stress (Clark
et al., 1990a; Cosden et al., 1997).
Stress and its effects on an individual’s self perceptions have
received substantial empirical attention. Macan (1983), found
that students, who experience high levels of self-efficacy can
cope better with stress. Furthermore it is argued that their levels
of stress are significantly lower compared with students, whose
level of self-efficacy was low. These findings are consistent
with the idea that the more stress a student experiences, the less
satisfied they would be with other areas of their life (Brown,
1996; Steel et al., 1993).
The relationship between the person and environment in
stress perception and reaction is especially magnified in univer-
sity students (Brewing, 1989). The problems and situations
encountered by university students may differ from those faced
by their non-student peers. The environment in which univer-
sity students live is quite different. While jobs outside of the
university setting involve their own sources of stress, such as
evaluation by superiors and striving for goals, the continuous
evaluation that university students are subjected to, such as
weekly tests and papers, is one that is not often seen members
and time pressures may also be sources of stress. Relationships
with family and friends, eating and sleeping habits and loneli-
ness may also affect some students adversely (Schwarzer, 1999).
Social Support
Social support has been found to be associated with greater
well being in a wide variety of studies (Stepoe et al., 1996).
Cohen and Wills suggest that considering data from animal and
from human prospective and analogue studies together, social
support may have crucial role. They discuss two models, one
hypothesising a direct beneficial effect of social support and the
other that social support buffers the adverse effects of stressful
events. Both models are supported by available data. While
social support is a complex, there is agreement that both quan-
tity and quality of social support be assessed and a number of
measures have been developed (Bages et al., 1997). Cohen and
Wills concluded that the direct main effect of social support is
found when qualitative measures are used and a buffering effect
when qualitative measures are used. Thus social integration,
which is a quantitative measure, may be associated with better
psychological and physical well being whereas having available
support that will enhance coping a qualitative measure, may
result in a stress buffering effect of social support.
Present Study
The purpose of this work is to examine the correlation-in-
teraction between stress, coping strategies, in the lives of uni-
versity students, who are studying in their home country as well
as abroad. Specifically, possible correlations are expected to be
found between the coping strategies and the levels of stress.
Furthermore it is also argued that factors such as social support,
self-efficacy and university satisfaction will have a significant
negative impact to the levels of stress. In order to have more
support our findings, it has been decided that it is going to be a
between subjects design, meaning that the same participants are
going to complete the questionnaire twice within a period one
year. It is argued that the levels of stress will be significant
lower during the second examination.
The hypotheses are:
Stress the second time the participants will be examined
will be lower in comparison to the first time.
Social support will be less the first time will be significantly
less in comparison to the second time.
Stress will be negative correlated with 1) social support, 2)
self-efficacy, 3) university satisfaction, 4) problem focus
coping, 5) tension reduction coping, 6) social support coping.
Stress will be positive correlated with 1) accommodation
coping, 2) avoidance coping and 3) devaluation coping.
There are gong to be significant differences between the
students of the different countries.
The participants in this project are university students from
British (English (111, 19.7%), Irish (28, 5%) and Scottish (23,
4.1%)), German (108, 19.2%), Italian (53, 9.4%), Spanish (58,
10.3%), France (50, 8.9%), Austrian (33, 5.9%) and Greek (98,
17.4%) universities. They were both male (278, 49.4%) and
female (285, 50.6%), with the majority of the sample been,
between the ages of 21 and 25 (58.5%). The youngest partici-
pant of the study was 19 and the oldest 58 years. All partici-
pants were asked to complete the questionnaire twice within 12
months (one year). The participants are from various fields and
years of studies, nationality and ages.
The first exclusion factor was that they could not being their
final year during the first examination, because probably they
would not be students during the second study and conse-
quently would not fill the criteria for participating. The second
exclusion factor was that the participants should be natives on
the area where the university was in order to control possible
problems with adjustment in a new city or even country. The
participa nts were randomly selected from the university cafete-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ria, dinner and the common rooms.
The questionnaires in the countries outside the UK have been
sent by mail or email to some psychology students together
with a letter of instructions about the participants, who are
needed for the completion of this research. The section in the
instructions about the participants was the same with the sec-
tion about the participants above. Furthermore it is going to
emphasized the fact that the participants will have to come
willingly to complete the questionnaire. The participants were
found in the lecture theatres of the university, or in the coffee
shops within the university. 12 months after the first comple-
tion of the questionnaire the participants were contacted again
in order to complete the same questionnaire again for the sec-
ond time, during a period of high demands from the students,
such as examination period.
The questionnaire is separated in 5 different sections.
In this section of the questionnaire information about the age,
gender marital status will be obtained.
Daily Hassles
Schafer and his students created the Daily Hassles question-
naire in order to measure anxiety in college students, based on
the study of Lazarus in 1981 about their harmful effects. Ac-
cording to Kenner (1991) “these micro-stressors are the irri-
tating, frustrating, distressing demands that, to some degree,
characterize everyday transactions with the environment”.
Coping in General Life
The resultant checklist is a 24 items scale. Respondents are
requested to rate coping techniques they generally use in stre ssful
situations. The CCS includes items related to six factors,
changing the situation (problem-focus), accommodation, devalua-
tion, avoidance, social support coping and symptom reduction.
Self Esteem
It has been generally accepted that the way in which people
view and value themselves influences their perception of diffi-
cult events around them. A measure of self esteem was thus
included, using Rosenberg’s Self Esteem Scale. He described
self esteem as “self-acceptance or a basic feeling of self worth”.
Social Support
The social support questionnaire by Sarason in 1983 was
chosen to measure the participant’s social networks, work, fam-
ily and friends. The shorten version was used since it was con-
sidered important to reduce the size of each questionnaire be-
cause of the great number that were used.
University Satisfaction
This questionnaire is consisted by 17 questions such as “How
satisfied are you with the variety of your subjects?” This sec-
tion is also a self-reported seven-item scale, with 1 being “ex-
tremely dissatisfied” and 7 being “extremely satisfied”.
Statistical Analysis
For the purpose of this study there were conducted a number
of statistical analyses to test the experimental hypotheses. The
most important of the tests conducted here are a reliability
analysis for the questionnaires, one-way ANOVA, Paired Sam-
ple T-test, and Correlation. The software used for the statistical
analysis was the SPSS 14.0.
Reliability Analysis and Correlations
From all the reliability analyses presented in the correlation
matrix (Table 1), it can be seen that all the self reported scale
questionnaires, used in the prese nt study, are valid to conduct the
test for the hypotheses mentioned in the beginning of this section.
Based on Table 1 it can be seen that stress is positively cor-
related with accommodation coping (p-value < .001), devalua-
tion coping (p-value < .001) and avoidance coping (p-value
< .001). Furthermore stress is negatively correlated with
self-esteem (p-value < .001), university satisfaction (p-value
< .001), problem focused coping (p-value < .001), tension re-
duction coping (p-value < .001), coping social support (p-value
< .001) and social support (p-value < .001).
Mean Differences
In order to compare stress with social support, self-esteem,
university satisfaction, extraversion and all the factors of the
coping styles, a one-way ANOVA was conducted. The tables
and plots produced by the test are presented below.
From Table 2 for the one-way ANOVA presented, it can be
safely concluded that there is a strongly significant difference
in the means between stress and university satisfaction (p
< .001), social support (p < .001), problem focused (p < .001),
accommodation coping (p < .001), devaluation coping (p
< .001), avoidance coping (p < .001), tension reduction coping
(p < .001), social support (p < .001) and self-esteem (p < .001).
It has also been argued that there is going to be significant
difference between stress, social support, university satisfaction,
self-esteem, the different factors of coping strategies, se lf-e steem ,
in relation with the country of origin. To support this hypothe-
sis a one-way ANOVA has been conducted and it is presented
below (Table 3).
From the table produced it can be concluded that there is a
significant mean difference between the country of origin and
university satisfaction (p < .001), social support ( < .001),
problem focused (p < .001), devaluation (p < .001), avoidance
(p < .001), tension reduction (p < .001), cope social support (p
< .001) and self-esteem (p < .001).
There is only one difference, which does not have any sig-
nificance. This is between the country of origin and the ac-
commodation coping with a p-value of .736 which is much
higher than .05.
Comparison of Stress and Social Support between the
First and Second Study
The next test conducted is to determine if the level of stress
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 145
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 1.
Correlation coefficients , and Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for each of the scales used (*p < .05; **p < .001).
Correlation Matrix
BSELF .3904* .9333
BHASSLE –.4063** –.6406** .9632
UNSAT .2626* .5291* –.8047**
COPFIX .2728* .5299** –.7727**
COPACC .0399** –.1044** .5711*
COPDEVAL –.3044** –.4826** .8168**
COPAVOID –.3292** –.4937** .7911**
COPTENRE .4230** .7586* –.6895*
COPSOCSU .4122** .6846** –.5789**
SOCSUB .3664** .6395** –.8374*
UNSAT .9817
COPFIX .7420** .9334
COPACC –.5406** –.4171* .8277
COPDEVAL –.7688* –.7087** .6829* .8809
COPAVOID –.7179* –.6946** .5875** .9209** .9183
COPTENRE .5417* .7099** –.1235** –.5410* –.5790**
COPSOCSU .5063** .6954* –.0270* –.4650* –.5067**
SOCSUB .8150* .6698** –.3905** –.7101** –.6614*
COPSOCSU .9277** .9057
SOCSUB .5746** .5040** .9713
Table 2.
Dependant variable: seco n d score of daily hassle s.
Variables N Df Sum of Square F Significance
University Sa ti sfaction 562 56 174457.7 64.127 .000
Social Support B 562 56 27768.246 51.316 .000
Coping Problem Focused 562 56 7735.196 85.658 .000
Coping Acc ommodation 562 56 5236.209 48.637 .00
Coping Devaluation 562 56 6347.838 55.652 .000
Coping Avoidance 562 56 6741.091 46.377 .000
Coping Tensi on Reduction 562 56 6728.333 48.999 .000
Coping Soc i a l Support 562 56 6725.563 35.606 .000
Self-Esteem 562 56 17262.359 35.001 .000
the second time is significant less in comparison to the first
time. In order to determine that, a paired t-test has been con-
From the Table 4 it can be seen that with a p-value less
than .001, the levels of stress that the students present during
the second examination is significant less (–10.491) in com-
parison to the levels of the first examination.
From Table 5 it can be seen that the social support, surpris-
ingly, is higher the first time in comparison to the second time
and this is barely significant with a p-value of .048, which is
just less than .05.
The present study is one of the few in the field that examines
in a cross cultural way the impact on university students of
some everyday factors that affect our lives, such as stress, so-
cial support and self esteem. The findings on the present study,
indeed show an effect on the students by those variables. Fur-
thermore it is also presented a difference between the different
Explanation about the Levels of Stress
A main interest is that the levels of stress in the students-par-
ticipants during the second study have shown significant reduc-
tion in comparison to the first time. That is accordingly to the
literature about this subject (Goldman et al., 1997; Fisher et al.,
1989; Nagquin et al., 1996; Goldberber et al., 1993). On the
other hand it has been proven that the levels of stress even dur-
ing the second part of the study, are significantly higher in the
UK students in comparison to the rest of the European coun-
tries tested. A definite answer about the actual reason of this
phenomenon is quite difficult to be determined mainly because
there have not been many researches comparing students from
so many different countries and academic systems. One hy-
pothesis could be that the academic system in the UK is sig-
nificantly more difficult and for that reason more stressful in
comparison to the rest of the European countries. Unfortunately
though no direct comparison has been conducted between the
academic systems and that makes this probability difficult to
confirm or reject. Another reason could be the financial factor.
There were a number of articles in the Guardian written by
academics from various institutions around the UK, who were
arguing that because of the tuition fees the performance of
many students have been significantly reduced.
( Whether though is a single factor
or a combination of factors it is difficult to establish in the pre-
sent study, since there was not one of the experimental hy-
potheses of the study. Whatever the reason though these great
Table 3.
Dependant variable: country of origin.
Variables N Df Sum of Square F Significance
University Sa ti sfaction 562 6 36355.064 20.708 .000
Social Support B 562 6 9214.380 36.423 .000
Coping Problem Focused 562 6 1518.139 20.003 .000
Coping Acc ommodation 562 6 39.454 .593 .736
Coping Devaluation 562 6 1398.915 21.679 .000
Coping Avoidance 562 6 1843.159 27.498 .000
Coping Tensi on Reduction 562 6 3465.522 71.308 .000
Coping Soc i a l Support 562 6 8352.404 56.569 .000
Self-Esteem 562 6 1392.067 57.840 .000
Table 4.
Paired t-test between the two sums of the daily hassles questionnaire.
Variables N SD Mean T df Significant (2-Tailed)
Second Score of Daily Hassles (BHassle) 563 21.91 54.00 -
First Score of Daily Hassles ( AHa ssle) 563 12.71 64.38 -
BHassle-AHassle 563 23.46 –10.37 –10.491 562 .000
Table 5.
Paired T-test between th e two sums of the social support q u e s tionnaire.
Variables N SD Mean T df Significant (2-Tailed)
Second Score of Socia l S upport (SocSuB) 563 7.62 27.74 -
First Scor e of Social Su p port (SocSuA) 563 7.25 28.56 -
SocSuB-SocSuA 563 9.77 –82 –1.984 562 .048
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 147
differences in the levels of the stress between the UK students
and the rest of the European University students are very dis-
turbing (Naquin et al., 1996; Barlett, 1998).
Social Support
Another result of great interest is that the levels of social
support during the second study have been reduced in com-
parison to the first study. Although this difference is barely
significant, nevertheless it raises a number of interesting ques-
tions. It is argued from the literature that the levels of social
support increase with time (Ross et al., 1999; Saranson et al.,
1999; Steer et al., 1995), but at the present study they have
fallen. It is difficult to explain the reason of why that happened.
One possibility could be that since the students are advancing in
the academic years at the university they have more work and
there are greater the demands from them, that could have as a
result in the unwilling reduction of the social interaction (Cos-
den et al., 1997), and in particular the reduction of the social
support satisfaction. Another, more simplistic reason, could be
that many members of the social environment of the partici-
pants were transferred at another university, they just finished
their degree and went away, or they just stopped for various
reasons contact with a number of persons (Steel et al., 1993;
Steer et al., 1995).
Negative Correlations
The third hypothesis was sepa rated in seven subcategories. It
is argued from the literature that stress will be negatively cor-
related with social support (Watson et al., 1998), which was
strongly confirmed by the analysis. This indicates that social
support is a significant factor for the coping reduction of stress.
The same argument is also strong for self-efficacy (Watson et al .,
1984; Wiebe, 1991), and the positives ways of coping. This
proves that there are many factors that can influence the amount
of stress not only in the students but also in humans in general
(King et al., 1991; Parkes et al., 1990).
Positive Co rr elations
On the other hand it has been proven very strongly by the
correlation table presented in the results that neuroticism and
the negative affectivity ways of coping, accommodation coping,
avoidance coping, and devaluation coping, can increase the
levels of stress. These findings also support the results from
(Long, 1998; Rapolow et al., 1987; Ronan et al., 1994).
Differences between the Countries
About the last hypothesis it has been proven that there are
significant differences between the different countries. As it
was mentioned in the beginning of this section, the biggest
difference is between the UK and the rest European students. It
can be seen from the plots presented in the results that the UK
students, scored significant higher on stress than the rest of the
participants and in general they scored worse than any other
group of students. That comes in agreement partly with the
research of Tony Towel at the Westminster University in 1999,
but on the other hand the extend of this difference seems to be
higher in the present study in comparison to that at the West-
minster University research. Since the literature is very limited
regarding comparisons between university students from dif-
ferent countries there cannot be identified any definite reason
explaining this phenomenon. One possibility could be that the
demands for a UK student are higher in comparison to the rest
of the E.U. universities that could explain the high levels of
stress and the low social support. Additionally the infectivity of
the coping strategies could be another important factor. It is
possible that UK students have no effective means of coping,
which could explain these radical differences (European Coun-
cil of Education, 2001).
Another reason for these differences between the countries
could be the financial problems caused because of the tuition
fees. There have been reports (The Guardian), that percent of
part-time or even full-time jobs ever since the first year that the
tuition fees had been established were increased significantly.
High levels of stress may also result not from the students
current academic studying, but from growing up in a stressful
family environment. Parents usually lay unrealistic expectations
for the student and this leads to a heightened state of anxiety.
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