Every in the past three months they “sometimes

   Every eight
in 10 college students stated that in the past three months they “sometimes or
frequently” experienced stress in their daily lives according to a 2008 report (American
Institute of Stress, 2017). Although to experience stress is normal, there is a
disparity in stress level rates for college students in comparison to other
populations. As such, many researchers have studied the effects of chronic
stress on the executive function of scholars at the collegiate level.

According
to the American Institute of Stress (2017), the rising stress levels in college
students inspired their mental health study. These stress level rates showed a
20% increase from the reports of college students in 2003 (AIS, 2017). Stress
level increases have also been investigated by the American Psychological
Association. The APA conducted a survey with a one to 10-point scale to examine
stress levels over the past month (2015). One represented “little or no stress”
and 10 represented “a great deal of stress” (APA 2015). They also found that
younger generations have steadily reported, and struggled with, higher rates of
stress than other generations. This was true in the 2015 study where
millennials, individuals aged 18-36, had an average stress rate of six out of
10 while reports on other generations averaged only three-and-a-half out of 10.

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            Increases in stress levels, such as the rates seen in
these studies, prompted the American Psychological Association to then conduct
annual surveys to examine the effects stress have on the mind and body in
adults (2017). Many studies and articles have shown a direct relationship between
stress and executive functioning. Executive functioning is defined by the
American Psychiatric Association as “a set of
mental processes that helps us get things done…” (2017). “Executive function
is sometimes described as the CEO of the brain — in charge of making sure
things get done” (American Psychiatric Association, 2017). Executive
functioning helps individuals with multiple tasks, such as the ability to time
manage, the ability to pay attention, the ability to switch focus, the ability
to plan and organize, and more (American Psychiatric Associations, 2017).

            College students are constantly
having to use their executive functioning skills. The typical full-time,
undergraduate student is required to take approximately 12 credit hours a
semester, generally three to four classes. With rigorous schedules, students
must manage their time for class, studying, and extracurricular activities.
Scholars are required to switch their focus from one class to the next and pay
attention in each class for positive academic achievement. The demands of being
a college student and completing so many executive functioning skills
simultaneously can be stressful. Unfortunately, we already see trends that
college students have higher stress levels than other individuals. According to
Amy Novotney (2014), as the number of individuals entering college increases,
the demand for counseling rises. Students expressed difficulty in dealing with
different stressors, such as anxiety. She also stated that students who were struggling
were more likely to drop out of college altogether. Approximately 47% of the
college students who reported seeking counseling in 2013 quantified the stress
from anxiety as their cause (Novotney, 2014).

Research
investigating the relationship between chronic stress and executive functioning
is extremely important to be able to understand how the levels of stress impact
executive functioning performance and how to better assist college students.
So, do increased stress levels in college students cause poor executive
functioning performance, or not? There has been evidence that a relationship does exist
between increased stress levels and executive functioning performance.
Unfortunately, the findings over the years have been contradicting. Some
studies suggest that stress can increase or cause positive cognitive
functioning while others suggest a decrease in cognitive functioning when there
is an increase in stress. This study is to further investigate these variables
and gain a better understanding of the relationship. It is hypothesized in this
study that there will be a statistically significant difference in the
executive functioning performance of students who have higher levels of chronic
stress. Those with higher levels of chronic stress will have worse executive
functioning performance.