Stress spillover

Students in relationships likely to take stress out on their partners, says prof

According to experts, students in relationships often take the stress of university out on their significant others without even realizing it. Jordan Janisse

If you think you’re the only one who fights more with your significant other during exam periods, think again.

School-related stress on relationships is common among students, especially during times of deadlines and exams.

Hayley Caldwell, a second-year history student at the University of Winnipeg with a boyfriend of a year and a half, knows the effects well.

“I take (my stress) out on my boyfriend,” she said.

Professor Marian Morry, who teaches social psychology at the University of Manitoba, calls this practice “stress spillover” – when a person takes the stress from their work or school home with them and takes it out on their partner.

“When your partner does something like forgets to take the garbage out, you might overreact,” said Morry.

Morry adds that this is more likely to occur during midterm exams rather than finals.

“If it’s a low level of stress (students) may not realize they’re (overreacting). It’s less likely with a lot of stress at the same time because students know that they are stressed because of school,” she said.

Communication is key, according to those who help students deal with relationship conflicts, like Lana Hastings, vice-president of student services for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association.

If it’s a low level of stress (students) may not realize they’re (overreacting), it’s less likely with a lot of stress at the same time because students know that they are stressed because of school.

Marian Morry, social psychology professor, University of Manitoba

“In relationships, it is important to be honest and open with each other’s wants and needs,” said Hastings, who has worked with U of W’s Peer Support group over the past four years.

“When space and time is needed to complete the tasks on your priority list, communicate that to your partner.”

She knows that there are many different factors that cause stress in relationships.

“As a volunteer and co-ordinator for Peer Support ... I learned that every student experiences stress, whether it’s from a heavy course load, demanding parents, a family to provide for and/or paying off student debt,” she said.

Regardless of the cause, partners can be helpful during stressful periods when they know how to help you, Morry notes.

“If you’re in a positive relationship, your partner can provide support to you by just giving you a break by taking you out to a movie so you can calm down,” said Morry, adding that this reduces stress and can allow the relationship to continue to flourish.

Acknowledging that a stress spillover is happening is important not only to a healthy relationship, but also for personal well-being.

“Stress often leads to poor health, making it more likely to get sick,” said Morry. “Having a good relationship is important here and being aware of the effects of stress on student relationships.”

As for Caldwell, she deals with stress by talking to people about what’s bothering her.

“I either hold it in and be angry towards people or have a conversation with a friend,” she said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 27, 2011)

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