Measuring Perceived Stress Levels and Adaptive Coping Strategies in Undergraduate College Students: A Quasi-Experimental Study

Sarah Milner


This study aimed to analyze changes in perceived stress and physiological variables in undergraduate students and identify preferred adaptive coping strategies utilized over one semester. Additionally, the study aimed to assess the impact of demographic factors on the students' perception of stress. A quasi-experimental study was conducted using non-random convenience sampling with 30 undergraduate students enrolled in an Introduction to Stress Management class at a small, regional institution in the upper Midwest in the fall of 2022.

Data collection included the use of the Perceived Stress Scale (i.e., PSS-10), stress physiological variables (e.g., heart rate), demographic characteristics (e.g., sex, relationship status), and usage of coping strategies (e.g., mindfulness, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, power napping). Participants were surveyed three times using pre-, mid-, and post-treatment assessments. Both descriptive statistics and the Wilcoxon-signed rank test were used to address the study's research questions and null hypothesis. The findings showed a statistically significant difference (p < .05) from pre- to post-treatment assessments in total stress scores (i.e., PSS-10, physiological variables), suggesting that coping strategies were effective. The findings did not indicate a significant decrease in PSS-10 scores from pre- to post-treatment. Data showed that undergraduate college students preferred power napping and social support, and sex accounted for some important differences. Students reported being moderately stressed, more so in their second year. Implementing adaptive coping strategies can effectively decrease perceived stress as well as the physiological manifestation of stress through academic classes or programs available to students through campus.