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The Use of Smartphones to Cope with Stress in University Students: Helpful or Harmful?


Although research into the effects of stress on university students is plentiful, research on the association between technology and stress is not. The increasing access to smartphones raises concerns about their impact on university students’ abilities to deal with stress. The present study aims to understand stress in university students as well as the impact that smartphones have on coping with stress. Emotion-focused coping, avoidance-focused coping, and problem-focused coping were examined to better understand stress in this sample. A total of 250 university students completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and Test of Mobile Phone Dependence (TMD). The Brief COPE was used to measure emotion- and problem-focused coping and the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-2 (AAQ-II) was used to measure avoidance coping. Students who were highly stressed were also more dependent on their smartphones. Smartphone use to cope was also associated with smartphone dependency, and smartphone dependency was highly associated with avoidance and emotion-focused coping. It was also found that students reported being almost as likely to use music and talking with friends and family to cope with stress, as they are to use their smartphone to cope with said stress. This study illustrates that smartphones may be both helpful and harmful to a university student’s ability to combat stress but that it may depend on the student’s coping methods and the extent of their usage. Future research is needed to examine individuals’ smartphone usage in order to understand whether specific applications may have an effect on coping methods and stress levels.

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Correspondence to Éric R. Thériault.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests to disclose.

Ethical Approval

This study was approved by the Cape Breton University Research Ethics Board with the reference number: 1718013.

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All participants provided written consent to participate in this study.

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Flynn, E.A., Thériault, É.R. & Williams, S.R. The Use of Smartphones to Cope with Stress in University Students: Helpful or Harmful?. J. technol. behav. sci. 5, 171–177 (2020).

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  • Smartphone dependency
  • Stress
  • Coping
  • University Students