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Stress in Pakistani Students

For the record
Dr. S. A. Hasan
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By Syed Asad Hussain
(Senior Faculty Member, SZABIST) &
Mohammad Azeem (Ph.D. student, SZABIST)
May 22 - 28, 2000

Stress is anything that stimulates and increases our level of alertness. Stress is felt when we are worried about any thing like, getting laid off our job, or worried about having not enough money to pay our bills, or worried about our mother when the doctor says she may need an operation. In fact, to most of us, stress is synonymous with worry. If it is something that makes us worry, then it is stress.

Life without stimulus would be incredibly dull and boring. Life with too many stimuli becomes unpleasant and tiring, and may ultimately damage our health or well being. Too much stress can seriously interfere with our ability to perform effectively.

Stress is a part of day to day living. Students experience stress meeting academic demands, adjusting to a new living environment, or developing friendships. Stress is not necessarily harmful. Mild forms of stress can act as a motivator and energizer. However, if stress level is too high, medical and social problems can result.

Although we tend to think of stress as caused by external events, events in themselves are not stressful. Rather, it is the way in which we interpret and react to events that makes them stressful. People differ dramatically in the type of events they interpret as stressful and the way in which they respond to such stress. For example, speaking in public can be stressful for some people and relaxing for others.

There are several major sources of stress:

SURVIVAL STRESS: This may occur in cases where our survival or health is threatened, where we are put under pressure, or where we experience some unpleasant or challenging event. Here adrenaline is released in our body and we experience all the symptoms of our body preparing for 'fight or flight'. When one is in physically or emotionally threatening situation the body adapts to help it react more effectively to meet the threat. This is controlled mainly by release of adrenaline.

These changes are generally experienced as 'fear'. However where speed and physical strength are important this adrenaline stress will be helpful and beneficial — fear can help to survive or perform better.

These changes are generally experienced as 'fear'. However where speed and physical strength are important this adrenaline stress will be helpful and beneficial — fear can help to survive or perform better.

INTERNALLY GENERATED STRESS: This can come from anxious worrying about events beyond our control, from a tense, hurried approach to life, or from relationship problems caused by our own behaviour. It can also come from an 'addiction' to and enjoyment of stress. This stress can damage the personality.

Environmental and Job stress: Our living or working environment causes the stress. It may come from noise, crowding, pollution, untidiness, dirt or other distractions. Alternatively stress can come from events at work. The environment may be a source of unpleasant or distracting stimuli.

Lifestyle and job stress: Many of the stresses we experience may come from the job or from our lifestyle. These may include too much or too little work and having to perform beyond experience or perceived abilities.

FATIGUE AND OVERWORK: A particularly unpleasant source of stress comes from overwork. Here one can get into a vicious circle of stress, which causes to hurry jobs and do them badly. This under-performance causes feelings of frustration and failure, which causes more, stresses, which causes more hurry and less success, and so on. Stress creating behaviour can compound this, as can an inability to relax at home or on holiday. If we do not manage long term stress effectively, it can lead to long term fatigue, failure and one of the forms of physical or mental ill health.

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS: The research study, conducted during the period of October-November 99, was aimed at identify major factors contributing stress in students. Respondents were 105 randomly selected students of bachelors and masters degree programs at SZABIST, Karachi. A questionnaire consisted of 14 questions was designed to explore the matter. Method of survey was personal interviews.

The data collected from the research is summarized in the Table II. The data shows that different variables used for research showed significant importance in creating stress in students. Q.14 is discussed in the conclusion.


The stress faced by students is substantial. For many students, it is intrinsic to institute life itself. The expectation of parents for good grades and the demands of teachers for flawless papers and seeming endless reading list create pressures that cannot be escaped. The sheer volume of work can also be overwhelming at times, regardless of one's background or preparation. Social expectations, peer pressures, discipline, commuting, transport, family responsibilities, political changes, lack of personal income and insufficient resources add additional pressures. Anyone, who has begun college or went to university, either from their own direct experience or from observing others can verify various reasons for stress, that can have serious consequences.

It is revealed from the literature survey that stressing factors in students in the USA are mostly common as in Pakistan. In American students stress is caused by financial burden of schooling and related costs. One of the most frequently cited causes of depression among students is financial difficulty. The student who droppedout of post-secondary education were more likely to be paying for their education without help. In the local research financial factor was found stressful especially for evening students. Evening students finance their education on their own while for day students, their parents finance their education so it does not play important role in creating stress in day students. (See below about fee schedule of 1999 that both day and evening students.)

1. Average monthly income of evening students is Rs. 22,000/-

2. Average monthly income of parents of day students is around Rs 25,000/-

3. Per course fee is Rs. 7000/-

4. Evening students usually take 3 courses in a regular semester and 2 courses in summer, so regular semester fee for evening students is 21,000/- and for summer 14,000/respectively.

5. A regular semester runs for five months and summer for two months

6. Day students pay around Rs 36,000/- per semester.

Another aspect that adds to stress in American students is the experience of being female. For female students "the five most frequently endorsed stresses were test pressure, financial problems, being rejected by someone, relationship breakups, and failing a test." Female students' faces significantly more problems related to sexual harassment, emotional distress and health problems. Given our religious and cultural beliefs, gender issue seems not very significant in the Pakistani social environment.

Another aspect that contributes to stress level is American students' living arrangements. Females living at home during university experience the most stress. Females living away from family whose perceived support was low showed higher levels of adjustment than females living with the low support family. In the local research the aspect of living arrangement was not included.

Statistical Analysis of the Questionnaire

Q. l How often does your study load create stress in you? Most of the time ( 36%) Sometimes (64%) Never (0%)

Q.2 Do you get afraid of taking examination? Yes (37%) No (63%)

Q.3 Does submitting assignments / reports with strict dead lines make you feel stress? Always (22%) Sometimes (67%) Never (11%)

Q.4 How often does your previous poor performance in exams make you feel stress? Always (41%) Sometimes (40%) Never (19%)

Q.5 Does strict class discipline (tight attendance, dressing, etc.) being observed by your instructor make you feel stress. Always (6%) Sometimes (45% ) Never (49%)

Q.6 Class presentation is a stressful situation. Do you agree? Yes (40%) No (60%)

Q.7 Does peer pressure ( to compete with classmates for marks) create stress in you? Always (30%) Sometimes (34%) Never (36%)

Q.8 Do you have any interest in Pakistan's Politics? Great (18%) Some (56%) No (26%)

Q.9 Do you take political situation of the country seriously while studying? Yes (20%) No (56%) Neutral (24%)

Q.10 How often does city situation affect your study and make you feel stress? Always (23%) Sometimes (52%) Never (25%)

Q.11 Do you think that rolling your job pressure with your study is quite stressful task? (For evening students only) Yes (81%) No (8%) Neutral (11 %)

Q.12 Do you face tough time at home for not giving enough time to your spouse and other family members due to your study pressure? ( For evening students only) Yes (68%) No (27%) Never (5%)

Q.13 How would you rank your overall sensitivity aspect of your personality? High (36%) Medium (58%) Low (6%)

The examinations are also found to increase stress level of American students. Scheduling of final examinations creates stress because final examinations are often scheduled without giving consideration to the students. Students often choose courses that are compatible with their circadian rhythms, but examinations are often scheduled without giving consideration to this. This disruption to the student may cause additional stress above and beyond the stress naturally experienced during tests. In the local research study load and exams were also found as important factor of stress. 64% students felt that study load creates stress (Q1). 37% students get afraid of taking exams
(Q2). Only 22% students agreed that submitting assignment / reports with strict dead lines always make them feel stress
(Q3). 45% students feel strict class discipline being observed by instructors make them feel stress
(Q5). Presentations are also stressful -40% students agree that class presentations are stressful situation
(Q6).Another aspect that causes stress for post-secondary students is personal relationship problems in American students. Relationship breakups were the most stressful event experienced in their lifetime. One of the most frequently cited causes of depression among students is relationship. Personal relationship and social aspects were covered in the local research only as peers' pressures and competition in studies. 30% students responded peer pressure to compete with each other for marks always create stress
(Q7).Other factors. which were not covered in the US study but explored in the local research, are as follows. Politics and city situation in local environment are some but not important factors for creating stress in the local research. 20% students take political situation of the country seriously while studying
(Q9). 23% students feel city situation affect study and always make them feel stress
(Q10).Job pressure and family responsibilities are important factors especially for evening students. 81% students think that job pressure with study is quite stressful task
(Q. l). 68% students face tough time at home for not giving enough time to spouse and other family members due to study pressure
(Q12).Sensitivity of personality has a direct relationship with stress. 58% students ranked overall sensitivity aspect of their personality as medium
(Q13). A quick glance of the comparison is in Table III.
(Q.14) How would you rank the following in order of its importance, which cause stress in students?

(1 = most important and 5 = least important)

Answers for the above questions are summarized ink figures I and 2.

Since most of the evening students finance their study from their own pockets therefore financial problem tops the list in our analysis ( figure 2). Contrary to that most of day students are dependent on their parents/guardians to finance their study therefore, in this category, most of the respondents ranked study load as the most important thing to care of ( figure 1).

Comparison of major factors of stress in students

Major factors of stress

Major factors of stress

(Study conducted in USA)'

(Study conducted in Pakistan)2

Financial burden

Financial problems



Academic performance

Study load, assignments and presentations

Gender issues

Peers pressures

Personal relationship

Family life

Living arrangements

Not applicable

Not applicable


Not applicable

Commuting and transport

Not applicable

Political condition of country

Not applicable

City situation

Not applicable

Job pressures


2 Study conducted by the researchers

The above table shows comparison of factors creating stress in students. These factors are derived from literature and local research. The comparison shows that financial problem, examinations and study load and performance are common factors of stress in American students and as well as in local students. Due to difference in social systems gender issues and personal relationship are important in American students and does not have apparent impact in the local environment. In the local research family life are important factors. In the local research other factors identified as stresses in students are discipline, commuting and transport, political condition and city situation.

It is interesting to know that some students seem to have the ability to stay in control of their schoolwork and social commitments. They possess the ability to handle the demands of college and accompanying frustrations without becoming burnt out, stressed-out, irritable or depressed. These students are able to handle stress? deal with social and school demands and even keep a sense of humour. They possess the ability to renew their energy. They are able to utilize and develop their resources. For them college or graduate school is rewarding and brings a sense of self-mastery and pleasure.