Effects of self-guided stress management interventions in college students: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Yagmur Amanvermez*, Ruiying Zhao, Pim Cuijpers, Leonore M. de Wit, David D. Ebert, Ronald C. Kessler, Ronny Bruffaerts, Eirini Karyotaki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Background: College students face several sources of stress. Self-guided stress management interventions offer an excellent opportunity for scaling up evidence-based interventions for self-management of these stresses. However, little is known about the overall effects of these interventions. Increasing this understanding is essential because self-guided stress management interventions might be a cost-effective and acceptable way of providing help to this important segment of the population during a critical life course stage. Methods: We carried out a systematic literature search of bibliographical databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, and Cochrane Library) for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of self-guided stress management interventions published up through April 2020. We conducted two separate meta-analyses for perceived stress, depression, and anxiety. The first included interventions for general college student samples. The second included studies for students with high levels of perceived stress. Results: The first meta-analysis included 26 studies with 29 intervention-control comparisons based on a total of 4468 students. The pooled effect size was small but statistically significant (g = 0.19; 95% CI [0.10, 0.29]; p < 0.001). Results showed moderate heterogeneity across studies [I2 = 48%; 95% CI (19, 66%)]. The second meta-analysis, included four studies based on a total of 491 students with high levels of stress. The pooled effect size was small but statistically significant (g = 0.34; 95% CI [0.16, 0.52]; p < 0.001). Results showed no heterogeneity across studies (I2 = 0%; 95% CI [0, 79%]), but risk of bias was substantial. Discussion: Our results suggest that self-guided stress management programs may be effective when compared to control conditions, but with small average effects. These programs might be a useful element of a multi-component intervention system. Given the psychological barriers to treatment that exist among many college students, self-help interventions might be a good first step in facilitating subsequent help-seeking among students reluctant to engage in other types of treatment. More studies should be conducted to investigate these interventions, sample specifications, mediating effects, and individual-level heterogeneity of effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100503
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternet Interventions
Early online date12 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first author of this manuscript is funded for her doctoral studies by the Ministry of National Education, the Republic of Turkey.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • College students
  • Self-help
  • Stress management
  • Unguided interventions


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of self-guided stress management interventions in college students: A systematic review and meta-analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this