Level of Physical Activity and Specifics of Coping Behavior of Students



N.N. Petrova, professor, Dr.Med.
St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University, St. Petersburg
A.E. Kutuzova, professor, Dr.Med.
1st St. Petersburg State Medical University named after I.P. Pavlov
Yu.A. Bazhenov, Ph.D.
National State University of Physical Culture, Sport and Health named after P.F. Lesgaft, St. Petersburg

Key words: sport, coping, anxiety, depression.

Relevance. Sports activity is an area of human achievements that is characterized by a high level of requirements to mental and physiological spheres of athletes. Modern sport is characterized by the need to adapt to systematic sports loads, sports skills improvement and tough competition. In order to achieve the objectives of sports activity and to reach set targets athletes have to overcome a wide range of stress factors of both internal and external nature. From the standpoint of considering physical activity as a form of labor carried out to achieve the maximum athletic performance, activity stress factors are an integral part of its structure, limiting effective functioning of all body systems. It is undoubtedly relevant to study personality stress factors and their relationship to performance in sport, self-control processes of emotional states and behavior [3, 5].

Increased competition in elite sport determines the importance of research aimed at finding competitiveness resources of athletes, including expansion of the search area for psychological resources and constraints affecting successful activity of athletes that has become increasingly remarkable in recent years. More and more new psychological phenomena come into the view of research such as: emotional burnout, psychological defenses and coping strategies, perfectionism, group emotions [1, 2, 4].

The purpose of the study was to consider the individual personality and mental state of student-athletes.

Materials and methods. To study characteristics of mental state and coping behavior 79 university students were examined (51 females and 28 males). The students made up two comparison groups. The first group consisted of 46 students of National State University of Physical Culture, Sport and Health named after P.F. Lesgaft (their age being 25.8 ± 8.8 years old) who have high level of physical activity. The second group consisted of 33 fifth-year students of St. Petersburg State Medical University named after I.P. Pavlov (their age being 23.1 ± 7.5 years old) with moderate and low levels of physical activity. 

The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) was used to assess the students’ mental state, the scale being based on self-assessment and designed for screening of affective disorders. 

E. Heim questionnaire was used in the research to study the peculiarities of coping with frustrating situations in life (coping behavior). Three spheres of the psyche where the implementation of coping strategies takes place are singled out: emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Coping strategies are systematized on the basis of constructiveness (adaptability), that is, depending on how conducive they are to resolving difficulties. Thus, constructive coping helps to quickly cope with stress, relatively constructive coping helps in some situations, for example, not very important ones or less stressful, and unconstructive do not eliminate stress but, on the contrary, contribute to its intensification.

The Statistica software was used for statistical analysis of raw data.

Results and discussion. According to HAIDS, subclinical anxiety (certain symptoms of anxiety) was found in 14 (30.43%) individuals with a high level of physical activity and 6 (18.18%) individuals with a low level of physical activity (p<0.05).

Clinically defined anxiety disorders were rare in both groups and with approximately the same frequency (8.69% for individuals with high and 9.09% for those with low physical activity).

Subclinical depression was found in 5 (10.86%) athletes and 4 (12.2%) students with low physical activity.

There were no cases of clinically defined depression in the group of high physical activity, while it was found in 9.09% of cases among the student with low physical activity level.

According to the study, relatively constructive coping strategies prevail in the behavioral sphere of athletes as compared with the group of students characterized by the low physical activity level (50.0% and 42.42%, respectively). Frequency of constructive coping strategies was not significantly different in the comparison groups (39.39% vs. 32.61%, respectively). Unconstructive coping was also observed at approximately the same frequency among medical students and athletes (18.18% vs. 17.39%).

Of all constructive coping strategies “handling” coping prevails among athletes (46.67% of cases), while “cooperation” coping prevails among students of the comparison group (61.54% of cases). “Cooperation” coping comes second in the main group (40%), and “handling” coping comes second in the other group (23%). “Altruism” coping is almost equally common among students of both groups (13.33% and 15.38%, respectively).

“Diversion” dominates among relatively constructive behavioral coping of athletes (91.3%), while the “compensation” and “constructive activity” strategies are only slightly present (4.35% for either of them). Medical students also have the “diversion” coping strategy in the first place (71.43%), “compensation” and “constructive activity” are less common (14.29% for either of them).

The coping strategy of “retreat” prevails among the students of both groups (62.5% and 66.67% of cases). The “active avoidance” coping strategy is a little more common among athletes (37.5% vs 33.33%).

 In the cognitive sphere constructive coping strategies are considerably more common among athletes than in the comparison group (50% vs 39.39% of cases, p<0.05). Relatively constructive coping strategies are also more common among athletes (36.96% vs 27.27%). At the same time unconstructive coping strategies are significantly more prevalent among the students of the second group (33.33% vs 13%, p<0.05).

The “problem analysis” coping prevails among athletes in the structure of constructive coping (60.78%), followed by the “preservation of aplomb” coping strategy (30.43%). The coping strategy of “setting one’s own values” is quite rare (8.7%).

The students of the second group demonstrated “problem analysis” in 69.23% of cases and “preservation of aplomb” and “setting one’s own values” in 15.38% of cases each.

Relatively constructive coping strategies were found among athletes by the following options: “relativity” (52.94%), “making sense” (35.29%), “religious” (11.76%). The ”making sense” option (88.89%) clearly dominates among the students of the second group, and “relativity” was detected in 11.11% of cases.

Unconstructive cognitive coping strategies among athletes were represented only by such strategies as “ignoring” (50%) and “dissimulation” (50%). The strategy of “dissimulation” was the leading unconstructive coping strategy among medical students (63.64%), and the coping strategies “humility”, “ignoring” and “confusion” were detected with equal frequency (9.09% each).

The emotional sphere differed by some prevalence of constructive coping strategies among the students of the low physical activity group (78.79% and 67.39%, respectively).

Relatively constructive coping strategies as well as unconstructive ones in the emotional sphere prevailed among athletes (13% and 19.57% vs 6% and 15%, respectively).

“Optimization” clearly prevailed among emotional constructive strategies in both groups (96.88 and 92%).

The “protest” coping strategy was not characteristic of the surveyed students in general, but it was less common among athletes (3.13%) than among medial students (8%).

“Passive cooperation” (60%) held the first place in athletes among relatively constructive emotional coping strategies, “emotional discharge” (40%) was significantly less common and was diagnosed in all the students of the comparison group.

Unconstructive emotional coping strategies among athletes were presented by those of “suppression” (77.78%), “submission” (11.11%) and “aggression” (11.11%). The “self-blame” coping strategy was not present among athletes. The “suppression” coping strategy was also most frequent among the students of the second group (66.67%), followed by “submission” and “self-blame” (16.67% each).

Proceeding from the obtained data, in general, unlike students with low physical activity, athletes are characterized by a predominance of a relatively constructive option of coping with stress by means of “diversion”, apparently for exercise, in the behavioral sphere of coping behavior.  

The cognitive coping behavior of athletes also differs for the better with a predominance of constructive options, while in case of the students of the comparison group there is the unconstructive “dissimulation” associated with difficulties in solving problems.

The emotional sphere of coping of athletes is also characterized by a certain predominance of the constructive strategy of “optimization” as compared with the students of the second group.

Conclusions. Mental state of student-athletes is distinguished by the lower frequency of subclinical manifestations of anxiety disorders and the lack of depression, in contrast to students from the comparison group.

Coping with stress among students of both groups has a sufficient adaptability. Regardless of the nature of physical activity, relatively constructive coping dominate in students in the behavioral sphere, constructive strategies of coping with the problem - in the cognitive and emotional spheres.

Students with different levels of physical activity are characterized by a similar structure of constructive behavioral coping with dominant coping strategies by the type of cooperation, handling and altruism.

For student-athletes sports classes seem to play the role of behavioral coping strategy, corresponding to "diversion".

Athletes have a more constructive (adaptive) cognitive sphere of coping behavior. Students actively involved in sports are distinguished by the presence of emotional coping in accordance with the type of "aggression" (outside), while students not engaged in sport, use the unconstructive strategy of " self-blame" associated with the risk of depression.

Thus, professional sports occupations involve students with the formation of a specific system of coping with stress, that contributes to prevention of affective disorders.


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Corresponding author: petrova_nn@mail.ru