INTRODUCTION Over the past few decades there has been an increasing number of studies examining stress and its effects on a human being. Stress is defined as a stimulus-response transaction that occurs over the course of change, frustrations, conflicts, pressures, and can be self-imposed, and is a component present within every person’s life (Gadzella 1994). For some it serves as an impetus to achieve, meanwhile for others it can be a debilitating and harmful state. These kinds of experiences are particularly common among college students. However, it is not the pressures of deadlines or social expectations that are the cause of student anxiety, but rather it is an individual’s perceptions of an even that cause it to be stressful (Goldman and Wong 1997; Cohen, Kamark, and Mermestein 1983; Gadzella 1994). Given the large numbers of “stressed out” students on college campuses across the United States, a simple question comes to mind: What can be done to alleviate it? An initial reaction is an attempt to discover the main stressors in the average student’s environment. Stress is not only caused by major events such as a terrorist attack or an earthquake. Many common events such as a flat tire, waiting in line, or misplacing an item can cause stress. Although it is not clear which type of event or stress will cause the most severe reaction, studies have shown that both can take their toll on an individual (Weiten & Lloyd 2000). Whatever the stressor, gender differences have been discovered in the course of research as well. For example, women tend to become stressed as a result of pressures and changes, reacting emotionally, physiologically, and behaviorally. Men, on the other hand, are less concerned about stressors, and demonstrate high cognitive appraisal when compared to females (Gadzella 1994). Cognitive appraisal is the evaluation of a situation made by an individual and has two components. First, the individual determines if the event will effect them, and secondly, if it does, what coping skills or assets can be used to allay the stress caused by the event (Weiten & Lloyd 2000). It is place upon them by society and themselves to achieve academically and in the workplace, as well as to take care of their families (Gadzella 1994). Taking these factors in mind researchers have taken these discoveries one step further, attempting to discover what kinds of activities can relieve stress. It was found that activities permitting an individual to participate in some introspection and practice coping behaviors would allow them to improve their well-being when encountering stressful situations (Goldman and Wong 1997). One type of activity considered to meet these criteria is volunteer work. Research has been conducted to determine a correlation between volunteer work and general well-being. Using the definition of volunteer work as given in the President’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives: Volunteering is the voluntary giving of time and talents to deliver services or perform tasks with no direct financial compensation expected. Volunteering includes the participation of citizens in the direct delivery of service to others; citizen action groups; advocacy for causes, groups, or individuals; participation in the governance of both private and public agencies; self help and mutual aid endeavors, and a broad range of informal helping activities (Thoits & Hewitt 2001).
This definition has been used in past studies with one modification; the component describing “informal helping activities” was excluded from consideration (Thoits and Hewitt 2001). One study using this definition did not include any religiously based or motivated volunteer activity, nor any helping behavior involving family. It was discovered, within the boundaries of this definition, that there is a positive relationship between one’s well-being and volunteer work, however no causal relationship could be identified because this was correlational study. It was suggested that one’s well-being would facilitate a higher amount of volunteer work, and in turn that volunteer work would continue to maintain one’s well-being (Thoits and Hewitt 2001). Other studies have been performed in order to find some type of relationship between religiosity and volunteerism in general. Religiosity includes having or showing belief in and reverence for God or a deity, as well as participation in activities pertaining to that faith, such as attending services/worship regularly and participating in other social activities with one’s religious community. In a study of undergraduate students using the Intrinsic Religious Motivation survey it was discovered that one’s belief in the omnipotence of God could be correlated to predict volunteer activity, as can religious commitment (Bernt 2001). Religiosity has also been linked to a greater sense of well-being in late adulthood, as well as to the ability to better cope with stressful events in middle adulthood (Koenig, Smiley, & Gonzales 1999; Brickel & others 1998 as stated in Santrock 2002).Keeping these factors in mind, this study was tailored to determine if there is some correlation between religiosity, volunteerism, and stress combined for a college sample. In past research middle and late adults have been prominent in the population sampling. This research also addresses the subject of volunteerism or religiosity and their relationship to stress in individuals. This study looked to see if those who participated in volunteer and religious activities were less stressed than those who participated in neither activity. We believed that the results of this study would be helpful to students who find themselves in stressful situations for it would proved them with a suggested type of activity to take part in order to restore their sense of well-being and reduce their perceived stress level.
This study utilized a convenience sample of 143 undergraduate volunteers (90 women, 53 men) enrolled in a Jesuit university. Recruited during student organizational meetings, these participants represented a variety of majors and contained all four year levels. Frequently, the teacher offered extra credit to the students who signed up for the experiment. The participants were not paid for their assistance. The participants varied in gender and races. Participants were treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (American Psychological Association, 1992).
Sign-up sheets were used during the recruitment period. The experiment was conducted in an experimental psychology laboratory, within a classroom, or at the location of an organizational meeting on the Loyola University campus. The research testing packet included five parts, four of which made up the participant testing packet. The first item was the consent form, which included a place for the participant to grant their consent to take part in this research as well as to indicate that their participation was voluntary and that the could cease to take part at any time. The second piece was a three page survey developed by the researchers to measure student involvement in extracurricular activities on the Loyola University campus, including those that are religious or community service oriented (Appendix A). The first part of this survey requested demographic information from the participant, including sex, age, major, and year level. The second part provided a list of 55 student organizations, leaving two open spaces for on-campus activities not listed on the survey. The survey also asked participants to indicate whether or not they participated in each activity listed, and the number of hours devoted to that activity per week, and the length of time that they had participated in that activity. The third part was a five-page Intrinsic Religious Motivation Survey (Hodge 1972), which was adapted for the present research purposes so that it included all faiths. It is composed of twenty questions based on a 5-point Likert scale. On this scale a score of 5 represented strong agreement, 4 represented some agreement, 3 was neutral, 2 was some disagreement, and 1 strong agreement. The questions asked involved personal answers to such statements as: “My faith involves all of my life,” or “If I have the opportunity to explain my beliefs to a group outside of my religion, I’d do it” (See Appendix B). This survey is used to measure an individual’s religious commitment and their intrinsic religious motivation. The fourth component of the testing packet was a Perceived Stress Survey, which is used to measure the degree to which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful (Appendix C). This is done through asking respondents how often they have felt a certain way during a given even (e.g. In the last month how often have] you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly? or In the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?). The participants answered these questions by rating how they had felt on a 5-point Likert scale, 1 representing never, 2 seldom, 3 occasionally, 4 often, and 5 most of the time. The final survey was the Negative Affectivity Scale (Appendix D). It served to control for individuals who generally have a negative personal affect. This survey asked simple questions, designed to measure individual perceptions of general events (e.g. After an embarrassing experience, I worry about it for days, or I feel that I have a great deal to be proud of). This survey was also on a 5-point Likert scale, using the same range as the Perceived Stress Survey.
DESIGN AND PROCEDURE
Using a 2 x 2 x 2 between groups design, this study examined the relationship between religiosity and volunteerism and student stress level. The independent variables each had two levels. For the independent variable religiosity the levels are those that participate in religious activity and those who do not. For the independent variable community service the two levels are those that participate in community service and those that do not. The third independent variable was sex, which also has two levels, male and female. As stated previously, stress is defined as a stimulus-response transaction that occurs over the course of change, frustrations, conflicts, pressures, and can be self-imposed, and is a component present within every human life. Our operational definition of volunteer work was also previously stated, however, in our definition, religiously motivated volunteer activity is included. We controlled for those who generally have a negative affect by using the Negative Affectivity Scale. Volunteers were given two consent forms, one of which was returned signed to the researchers before filling out the surveys, if the individual agreed to participate in the study. The instructions for filling out the surveys were read aloud. At this time the participants were informed that they could choose to leave at any time and that their information would not be used. These surveys were handed out in classrooms, student organization meetings, and other designated areas on-campus. All surveys were given to participants in packet form and filled out in pen, pencil, or marker. No time constraints were placed on the participants however the majority of the participants took approximately 20-30 minutes to fill out these surveys, which were promptly collected as the participants finished. All participants received the same surveys. At the conclusion of the study each participant was debriefed on the focus of the study, and the researchers intentions of finding a correlation between stress levels and religious/volunteer activity involvement. After this was completed the participants were dismissed. Each survey was analyzed using the participants’ responses to the questions on each survey according to their ranking on the Likert scale respective to each survey.
RESULTS The 143 participants varied in the types of activities in which they participated. Table 1 shows the distribution of participants within the seven categories: social (i.e. Greek organizations), university (i.e. Student Government Association), diversity (i.e. Black Student Union), athletic, performing arts, community, and religious activities. The average student score on the Intrinsic Religiosity Scale reflected the low number of participants in religious motivation, with the average score on the Likert scale being 3.31 out of 5, or neutral (SD = 0.61). As seen on the table the majority of students took part in a type of social activity (primarily Greek organizations). We also examined the overall perceived student stress level. It was also found that, in general, students perceived themselves to be somewhat stress free. The average score on the Perceived Stress Scale was 1.88, corresponding to the answer “almost never” on the Likert scale used (SD = 0.69). We hypothesized that those students that participated in religious and community service activities would have a lower perceived stress level than those students who participated in neither activity. This hypothesis was not supported; in this study no significant relationship was found between student stress level and their involvement in religious and community service activities (r = -0.019, n.s.; r = 0.088, n.s.) . The hypothesis that women would demonstrate a higher stress level than men was supported. Significant relationships were found, however, between student perceived stress level and the sex of an individual. In this case it was found that females were more stressed than males (r = 0.18, p = 0.028). It was also found that females have a greater negative affect than males (r = 0.18, p = 0.037). Another relationship was found between religious involvement and the number of years involved in community service (r = 0.26, p = 0.002). A negative significant relationship was found between the number of hours put into social activities and student stress level (r = -0.30, p = 0.006). A positive significant relationship was also found between religious involvement and community involvement (r = 0.23, p = 0.006). A positive correlation was also found between religious activity and religiosity (r = 0.47, p < 0.001).
DISCUSSION This study looked to see if there was a relationship between an undergraduate students involvement, their participation in religious and volunteer activities, and student perceived stress level. In past studies it was found that activities such as volunteer work, which permit an individual to participate in introspection and practice coping behaviors, have a negative correlation with stress levels. Religiosity has also been linked to a greater sense of well-being (Koenig, Smiley, & Gonzales 1999). Despite these past findings, the results of our study do not demonstrate such a relationship between either type of activity and student stress level. There are several explanations that can be offered for the results in this study. In past research performed by Bernt (2001), it was found that a student’s score on the Intrinsic Religious Motivation Scale could predict their likelihood to be involved in religious and community activities. Our results supported this finding. Although the number of participants involved in religious activities was low, the positive relationship between religiosity and religious involvement was found. Another relationship was found between community involvement and religiosity, in terms of involvement itself among the sample. Therefore religiosity could be used as a predictor of the likelihood that an individual would participate in community service. This finding also supports Bernt’s research. The relationship found between the number of years spent performing community service activities and religious activity walks hand in hand with this discovery. A second hypothesis was that females would test to be more stressed than males. In the past it has been demonstrated that women are more susceptible to perceived stress due to higher social and personal expectations placed upon them (Gadzella 1994). This research was supported in this study. It was also shown that women were more likely to have a negative affect, or tendency to view their reality in a negative light. These findings are related to the correlation that was found between an individual’s negative affect and their stress level, and the corresponding tendency for females to report higher stress levels.
A severe limitation to the study is the representation of males in comparison to females. With only 53 males in comparison to 90 females, it was difficult to achieve a full representation of male religious and volunteer activity, as well as a reading of their intrinsic religious motivation and stress ratings. Due to the larger number of females than males tested within our sample it is possible that our results are not representative. A second area in which our results may have been directly affected is in the negative relationship between the number of hours spent in social activity and an individual’s stress level. This finding indicated that the larger the amount of time spent in a social activity, the lesser amounts of stress one would experience. This relationship may have been created due to the slanted answer of several participants, who claimed that involvement in a greek organization meant involvement for the 168 hours in each week and indicated as such. As a result, our finding of a significant relationship may be misleading. It is suggested that should this study be repeated a more sensitive measure of stress be used. As aforementioned, the student stress level reflected by the survey was exceedingly low. Another survey that looks into daily stress as opposed to general or broad stresses may prove more indicative of student stress level. On the same token, the relationship between stress and negative affectivity could be due, in part to the stress survey. As discussed earlier, the stress survey looked for perceived stresses. The Negative Affectivity Scale also reflected an individual’s perceptions of the world around them. Within this experiment, the religiosity/ religious activities of sample participants are not reflective of the overall population. This is because the participants are undergraduates at a Catholic university, which fosters religious identity as well as intellectual development.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
This study sought to find a relationship between religious and community service activity and student stress level, showing that those students who participate in these types of activity have a lower stress level than those students who participate in neither activity. It also sought to demonstrate a higher level of stress among women than men. The first hypothesis was not supported for no relationship was identified between either type of activity and stress level. This lack of support suggests that stress level is not directly connected to religious and volunteer activity. In support of the second hypothesis, women were shown to perceive themselves as more stressed than men in our sample. As stated previously there were several limitations within the study, which could have made the sample stand as less representative. Undergraduate students will always experience stress. There is no known means to eliminate this aspect of daily living, however, should a link be discovered between a given type of activity and the reduction of stress this find would be highly useful to college students. This study had been performed in hopes of identifying a type of activity that would help students to lower their stress levels.
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Student Activity Distribution Among Participants______________________________________________________________________________ Number of Percentage ofActivity Participants Participants
Social 91 63.6%University 44 30.8%Diversity 7 4.9%Athletic 9 6.3%Performing Arts 2 1.4%Community 34 23.8%Religious 43 43.4%______________________________________________________________________________