Generation Z and stress

Generation Z and stress
Members of the generation born after 1995 find it harder to cope with the stress of university studies than students of the previous generation, and higher education professionals need to be prepared for this, according to research conducted by ELTE PPK researchers between 2004 and 2020.

Higher education is full of challenges: lack of time, overload, and striving for perfection are all sources of stress for students, which often hinder their success. Therefore, in 2004, PPK researchers and their colleagues launched a comprehensive study to see how well-equipped today’s young people are to deal with these challenges while offering new perspectives to teachers and university staff on how they can help young people to cope with daily stress.

The study focused on the two youngest generations, also known as digital natives. The generation born between 1981 and 1995 is known as Generation Y, most of whom were exposed to the internet as children and now use it as part of their everyday lives. The youngest generation, Generation Z, was born between 1995 and 2012 and their thinking and learning are strongly influenced by the fact that they have access to the internet anytime.

A total of 4,731 first-year students from different higher education institutions in Hungary participated in the survey. The first data were collected, by Attila Oláh and his colleagues in 2004, among 18-year-olds at the time. Rita Takács and her colleagues performed the measurements on students starting university or college between 2013 and 2020. At the beginning of the semester, the participants filled out the psychological immunocompetence questionnaire developed by Attila Oláh. The psychological immunity measured by the test is influenced by personality factors that enable people to cope effectively with stress and stressful situations. Examples include positive thinking, self-esteem, resilience, resourcefulness and irritability control. People with stronger psychological immune competence deal with challenges more creatively and flexibly, most often by giving them a different, new meaning.

Analyzing the responses of the two groups, the researchers found that both generations see new situations as a positive challenge and have a strong desire to learn, but the youngest generation is much more impatient.

Like Generation Y, Generation Z is also very curious but less persistent.

"One of the reasons for this may be that they grew up in front of the computer and are used to immediate answers. In addition, they would have to process a lot of information, and they have too many goals and opportunities in front of them, so it is more difficult for them to commit. If something doesn’t work for them, they switch more easily,” says Rita Takács, the study’s first author.

The results showed that those starting university after 2013 need to improve their ability to control their emotions in stressful situations because they are less resilient to challenges than their older peers. So they have more difficulty turning negative feelings into constructive responses, affecting their social relationships. In their case, what is needed is to develop their ability to adapt,” the researchers point out.

The conclusion of the research, which spans several decades, is that the psychological resilience of students decreases over the years. Therefore there is a need to introduce interventions and methods that support students’ self-control skills and help eliminate stress’s negative effects in the higher education environment.

Rita Takács, Szabolcs Takács, Judit Kárász T., Zoltán Horváth and Attila Oláh’s study was published in Frontiers in Psychology.