Aim & Design
Stress-prevention and well-being among students has been on the agenda for some years now, and even before the Covid-19 situation, CBS have been concerned with the increase in numbers of students reporting that they suffer from stress, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. One approach to dealing with this problem might be to monitor and continually evaluate students’ mental health and well-being and to give them knowledge on stress and tools to cope with stress. However, this could, if not supported by other measures, imply a danger of turning handling of stress and well-being into the individual student’s own personal responsibility and also pathologizing the individual student. This give rise to several questions, among others:
- How can CBS take into account that stress is a part of life and in some cases a prerequisite for being able to perform under pressure, but at the same time can also be a significant obstacle to well-being?
- How can CBS as a university handle the danger of not pathologizing the individual student while at the same time acknowledging that stress is an important issue to be dealt with?
- How can CBS take into account many different individual ways to experience and cope with stress while at the same time point to joint solutions?
This project takes a different approach to answering these questions and addressing the unique challenges associated with stress among students by mobilizing existing research, which has found and explored a connection between stress and shame. While the emotion of shame have long been considered to play a significant role in what people do and how they do it, it has received little theoretical and empirical attention in connection with stress prevention and well-being – not least in relation to students at universities. Shame is a self-conscious emotion resulting from a person’s consciousness of the self in the moment, embedded within one’s social situation. Shame thus relate to the relationship between the self and others, and is therefore an interpersonal phenomenon. However, shame at the same time is also associated with an intra-personal conflict, related to the way people experience and deal with emotional demanding situations. To the extent that conflicts has been the focus of research in stress, it has been cast as a conflict between external demands and the individual. By contrast, taking the intra-personal conflicts seriously can account for emotions as ambivalent, and that the problems and situations they respond to may be latent and not understood, even to the person experiencing the emotions.
As shame arises from perceived threats to the social bond, and has been linked theoretically to the belonging to a group, this point directly at something very fundamental in connection to stress and well-being among students; namely the importance of relatedness and the feeling of a sense of belonging – and the need for focusing on relationships and community building. This involves approaching stress and well-being as a process (instead of an outcome) and highlights the importance of examining conduct in for example group work through which such senses of belonging can be achieved. In other words this project brings attention to enhancing relationships – including establishing “safe and strong relations” – as central to preventing stress and enhancing well-being among students at CBS.
Project Aim and Research Question
This project aims to develop knowledge and measures to prevent stress and to help improve well-being among students at CBS.
In close collaboration with students, researchers, and staff from different bodies at CBS, the objective of the project is twofold:
- To conduct new research on stress among students and generate knowledge about stress-triggering situations and experiences, and
- To develop and test stress preventative activities to be embedded within daily practices, which shall support and further existing initiatives and measures at CBS. This includes producing a set of recommendations to CBS Leadership Team concerning long-term implementation of the results.
The project is guided by the research question: How is stress and well-being experienced by students at CBS, and which types of activities can be brought into play in order to counteract stress? Focusing on shame-based research, three sub-questions will be studied:
- What are the characteristics of the situation and the processes that condition the development of stress among students at CBS?
- What kind of experiences is being produced in these stress-triggering situations and how do they organizes social practices?
- What role do fellow students play in this, and how can their skills to establish “safe relations” be enhanced?
It is important to note, that the notion of shame is not treated in a universal or general sense. Shames is used to describe what are happening in these concrete experiences, where students feel a pressure and to describe those aspects of the situations, which point in the direction of joint solution – and here shame is only one aspect.
The project consists of two main tracks:
- Generating new knowledge: understanding stress and well-being among students, and
- Developing new stress-preventative activities
1. Generating new knowledge: understanding stress and well-being among students
One track concerns the collection of empirical data and development of new knowledge on stress among students by activating the concept of shame-related stress. This will be done via a qualitative and quantitative study of stress among students including examination of the processes through which shame operates; in which situations shame is most likely to be a problem, and to assess and further explore these situations, e.g.: “What are the eliciting situations and how do students respond to and manage those situations?”
The study involves three phases of data collection. First phase: Conducting 12 unstructured interviews lasting an hour with students from different fields of study – all of them have experienced different degrees of stress symptoms, some of them also having experiences being on sick leave. The objectives of the first phases of the study are two-fold: To gain knowledge about stressful situations, and to examine the relevance of the concept of shame in a student context and to get knowledge on what characterizes those situations that are prior to shame-triggered stress. Indeed, the underlying feeling of shame was expressed in the first-phase-interviews with students, and confirms that looking to the environment for a greater understanding of the relationship between shame, stress and well-being during the study years is important. Another result from this initial interview phase was how group work seems to play a very big role in relation to stress and well-being, and how the concept of shame could be of relevance in order to highlight and examine some of the mentioned concerns. For example concerns about others’ reactions to actions that have the potential for embarrassment or threat or how some students reported to be unwilling to bring up errors, admitting an error or asking for help because they are concerned about being seen as incompetent and thus suffer a blow to his or her image. Second phase: Conducting 10 semi structured interviews focusing on group work with students from different study fields – some of which have and some which have not experienced stress symptoms. The objectives of the second phase is to provide a deeper understanding of the group work including activation of shame in group-work and how shame operate within a group setting. Third phase: Survey will be developed and sent to a wider group of students. Pedersen will draw from qualitative data obtained in phase-1 and 2 interviews to develop a survey to measure different dimensions of shame and gain knowledge on how and why shame is a problem in specific situations, e.g. in relation to group work. The survey consist of different statements. The objectives of the third phase is to get knowledge on whether shame experiences are a common experience among students, how such experiences are managed and responded to and how fellow students can mitigate the feeling of shame, with a special focus on group work.
2. Developing new stress-preventative activities
The other track of the research project approaches stress and well-being among students as objects of possible intervention by developing and testing a set of activities specifically designed to support strong and safe relations. By using the knowledge obtained in the first track of the project as a point of departure for developing activities to enhance dialogues between students, it may become possible to showing the importance of joint cooperation. Students are central to this research and will be included throughout the entire process. Yet to work with stress at this level calls for exploration and collaboration across all the different people and organizational units that make up the experience of a study environment at CBS. Besides students this includes the student administration, study boards including program managers, and researchers. The project aims to examine, draw on and consolidate experience and knowledge of these different groups in order to produce a comprehensive understanding of stress among students and solutions hereto. Activities in this process could include:
- Develop exercises to raise students propensity to consider each other and develop ability to build strong relationships which can counteract stress, e.g. by providing inspiration for dialogues to articulate things that may be difficult to talk about.
- Input to activities for students, e.g. dialogue-games for which well-being ambassadors become trained or which can be incorporated in the study start and intro week.
- Input to group work – dialogue questions and knowledge (e.g. video’s, guides) to promotes sensitivity toward other people and to support interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which students are comfortable being themselves.