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    “Not too sure on how that would be defined, to be honest”: Exploring students’ understandings of the health effects of lifetime stress

    Sparrow, Amy and Dayes, Jennifer ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6357-3987 (2024) “Not too sure on how that would be defined, to be honest”: Exploring students’ understandings of the health effects of lifetime stress. Psychreg Journal of Psychology, 8 (2). pp. 13-31. ISSN 2515-138X

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    Abstract

    Lifetime stress is stress which accumulates over the lifespan, with high levels linked with poorer health. How we understand the risks to our health affects how we respond to them, both in terms of our mindset (e.g., how much stress is perceived and whether that stress is interpreted positively or negatively) and our behaviour. Understanding how individuals perceive lifetime stress is important to mitigate its potential negative health effects. This is resonant for university students, who have reported an increased amount of stress over the past two decades. In a method made unique by the accessibility needs of a partially deaf researcher, this study explored ten university students’ understandings of the health effects of lifetime stress through online questionnaires and text-based interviews. Reflexive thematic analysis created three themes: “unfamiliarity”; “stress is damaging”; and ‘individuals are agents’, which spoke to lacking understanding of lifetime stress despite knowing stress could be damaging to health, and the importance of viewing stress as under one’s control. Considering that understanding a health threat increases the likelihood of changing behaviour, and that perceptions and experiences of stress influence each other, education could improve the effects of lifetime stress. Participants’ coping methods could be defined as pro-active or re-active, an easily understood model which fits well with cognitive behavioural therapy as a way for clients to create personalised coping strategies. Future research could address how individuals develop understandings of the personal implications of stress (including lifetime stress), and their understanding of control over its development and management.

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