Evaluating determinants of psychophysiological stress in collegiate student-athletes

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


Collegiate student-athletes are a unique group of individuals who experience a vast array of cognitive and physiological stressors. In addition to the typical stressors of an average college student, such as homesickness, finances, academics, and social relationships, student-athletes must also cope with lack of free time, pressure to perform, relationships with coaches and teammates, and physiological stress due to training and competing. Student-athletes with unmanaged chronic stress are more likely to experience a plethora of negative health outcomes, effecting performance in the classroom, on the field, and in life. Currently, survey instruments exist to predict cognitive and physiological sources of stress in isolation, but no existing instrument integrates both cognitive and physiological stressors into a single measure of chronic stress. The current cross-sectional study compared magnitude and sources of stress, psychological and physiological, experienced by Montana State University student-athletes (n=30) and their non-athlete counterparts (n=22). In addition, associations between chronic stress (as indicated by hair cortisol concentration, or HCC) and subjective measures of psychological stress, physiological stress and sleep quality were assessed in a subgroup of participants (n=12 student-athletes; n=9 non-athletes). Student-athletes had significantly greater average weekly training load than the non-athlete students (P < 0.001), but all other indicators of psychological stress and sleep quality were not significantly different between the two groups. Of those participants who provided a hair sample, the student-athletes had greater average HCC (P = 0.027). Although no associations were observed between HCC and measures of psychophysiological stress or sleep quality, a significant correlation was observed between HCC and body fat percentage (r = -0.59, P < 0.045). Additional research is necessary to elucidate the role of body composition, as well as other factors, on chronic stress development in college student-athletes.




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