Acculturative stress (its impact on you)

Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

In this blog post, we will explain how acculturative stress impacts our well-being as individuals, especially how it impacts our relationships. If you are an immigrant, or if you are interested in how moving to another country can impact your psychological well-being, this article is for you. 

What is acculturative stress?

Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of having to adapt to a new culture. Different authors point out that because of the intercultural contact and the acculturation process as a consequence of immigration, some challenges arise for any individuals moving to a new country. 

These stressors collected under the common denominator of acculturative stress include

economic, labour or unemployment problems, language difficulties, discrimination and lack of family support, among others.

Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

To explain the process of acculturative stress and its effects on adaptation

psychology of the individual, Berry and her collaborators (Berry, Kim, Minde and Mok, 1987) proposed an explanatory theoretical model. 

This model highlights the affective aspects and emotional aspects of acculturation and its relationship with psychological well-being and satisfaction

with life. 

The model also points out that the experiences derived from intercultural contact will cause individuals to find themselves in new and diverse situations that when assessed by the individual as threatening or problematic, acculturative stress will emerge. 

When stressors are faced with success, the stress reaction will take place in the form of problems and symptoms of physical and psychological health, which if they persist, will have as a long-term consequence to the appearance of psychological adaptation difficulties of individuals.

Different works carried out in different countries have related acculturative stress –or some stressors such as dissemination– consistent with various mental health problems, such as depressive symptoms, anxiety, symptoms of bulimia, substance use, suicidal ideation, somatization, and even a probability of having made a suicide attempt, in samples of immigrants from different origins and age.

As we can see in the literature, the study of acculturation and psychological adaptation

has focused on the negative aspects (Berry, 2003; Pan, Wong, Chan and Joubert, 2008) evaluating it through indicators of mental disorders and problems (e.g. depression, anxiety, schizophrenia), despite the fact that psychological adaptation has been

defined in terms of mental health, personal satisfaction and referred affective responses

to psychological well-being (Liebkind, 2001; Berry, Poortinga, Segall and Dasen, 2002; Ward et al., 2001). 

Therefore, there is a certain pathological bias in stress research.

acculturative, which does not include, for example, the recommendation of the World Health Organization (2008) that in the context of immigration must be taken into account the physical, mental and social well-being of individuals

At the same time, some authors have considered that the indicators of well-being and satisfaction are adequate to assess the level of adaptation, as well as the effects of acculturation experiences (Berry, 2003; Werkeuteen and Neuken, 1998).

A woman might suffer from wedding stress because of acculturative stress, as she might have to change her culture.

Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

The effects of acculturative stress on our well-being

There is very little research linking acculturative stress with levels of well-being of immigrants (Neto and Neto, 2011; Moreno-Jiménez e Hidalgo, 2011). However, some studies indicate that immigration, in certain circumstances, may have a negative effect on the cognitive component of one’s well-being. 

For example, Safi (2010) from the data obtained in three surveys for the European Social Survey (European Social Survey, 2002, 2004, 2006) found that immigrants and their descendants had lower levels of life satisfaction than those of the general population of different countries.

Furthermore, the time of residence in the new country did not improve satisfaction levels, since even those immigrants with twenty years of residence, were less satisfied with their life. 

However, immigrants from North America and Australia showed high levels

similar to those of the general population. These differences in satisfaction levels

could be partially explained by factors such as living conditions and

perceived discrimination, which would lead us to consider again, the existence of

specific stressors or difficulties that may affect adaptation in the new country.

Regarding the affective component of well-being, the few studies carried out seem to indicate that acculturative stress is fundamentally related to an increase in negative affect. 

Some studies with university students (e.g. Pan, 2011; Paukert, Pettit, Perez and Walker, 2006) and with refugees (Wekeuteen and Neuken, 1998) have found a positive relationship between both variables. 

As regards positive affection, the evidence is inconclusive, since while some studies

have found a direct negative relationship between acculturative stress and positive affect

(Shin, Hans and Kim, 207), other studies have found that the relationship was partially mediated by variables such as the meaning of life (Pan, Wong, Chan and Joubert, 2008a) and others have not found a relationship between both variables (Wekeuteen and Neuken, 1998).

Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

Acculturative stress and its effects on the relationship

Different authors have pointed out the importance of considering the context and

external circumstances to understand the development of relationships and the

relational processes.

The experience of stressful events has been related to:

  •  a decrease in satisfaction with the partner relationship;
  •  an increase in negative interactions; and 
  • a decrease in positive ones. 

In recent decades, the study of stress in relationships has adopted the perspective of interdependence from which members of a dyad are considered to exert mutual influence on results of the other person and their relationship (Kelley, 1979). 

From this perspective, stress external to couple relationships can be considered a dyadic phenomenon and a process of mutual influence. In this sense, research indicates that as a consequence of stress:

  •  levels of intimacy in the relationship decrease,
  • internal stress levels and marital discord levels increase 
  • individuals interpret interactions with their partner in a more negative and dysfunctional way.
Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

The impact of acculturative stress 

Acculturative stress, as a consequence of settlement in the new country and

intercultural contact can have important effects on the subjective well-being of

immigrants. 

On the other hand, the well-being of individuals is not conditioned only by an adverse context, but by the quality of the relationships, they establish with other people, and especially with their partners. 

In this sense, the relationship can, on the one hand, promote well-being when it is a rewarding relationship for individuals, and whether it provides a sense of security, belonging, support and care; but it can have a negative effect when marked by discord, hostility increases, negative interactions and the absence of positive experiences between spouses (Beach et al., 1990).

Research has been done on the changes taking place in the relationship after the migration process, even though different authors have pointed out that the couple and the family also have to adapt to the new context (Ataca and Berry, 2002). 

Some studies carried out with immigrants suggest that after arrival in

new country, the dynamics of the couple can change, and just as with the

individual, certain immigration-related experiences can strengthen the relationship

of a partner, while others can cause a withdrawal of the members of the couple,

an increase in conflict and negative ways of negotiating it, along with a change

in the power structure in the relationship.

However, we hardly have evidence or works that have considered to what extent acculturative stress can condition the development and quality of the couple relationship in the new country, and which one can be their role in the process of psychological adjustment. 

This lack of attention to the main intimate relationship that immigrants have, which can often be the only predictable context, a fundamental link with its previous life in the country of origin, and the main source of support in the new country.

Acculturative stress (its  impact on you)

FAQ on Acculturative Stress

What is Acculturative stress?

Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of having to adapt to a new culture. Different authors point out that because of the intercultural contact and the acculturation process as a consequence of immigration, some challenges arise for any individuals moving to a new country. 

What causes Acculturative stress?

The common denominator of acculturative stress include economic, labour or unemployment problems, language difficulties, discrimination and lack of family support, among others.

What environmental factors cause Acculturative stress?

Environmental factors such as language barriers, unemployment, lack of friends and acquaintances can cause acculturative stress. 

How can acculturation influence Acculturative stress?

The acculturation process as a consequence of immigration influences some challenges that arise for any individual moving to a new country. Different studies related acculturative stress with various mental health problems, such as depressive symptoms, anxiety, symptoms of bulimia, substance use, even suicidal ideation.

Conclusions

In this blog post, we explained how acculturative stress impacts our well-being as individuals, especially how it impacts our relationships.

Acculturative stress, as a consequence of settlement in the new country and

intercultural contact can have important effects on the subjective well-being of

immigrants. 

In summary, we know very little about how acculturative stress can affect relationships and the subjective well-being of individuals. Regarding the affective component of well-being, the few studies carried out seem to indicate that acculturative stress is fundamentally related to an increase in negative affect. 

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

Further reading

Acculturative Stress and Change in Nigerian Society, by Ezekiel Ette

An Impact of Nurturing factors on Acculturative Stress among International Students: Special reference to Sri Lankan students who study in Australia,  by Thanuja Jayawardena 

Acculturative Stress and Its Association with Academic Stress and Psychological Well-being of International Students, by Mubeen Akthar

The Acculturative Stress Experience of International Students: Acculturative Stress Experience of Chinese and Indonesian International Students, by Hugo Gonzales 

References

Born, D. O. (1970). Psychological adaptation and development under acculturative stress: Toward a general model. Social Science and Medicine, 3, 529-547.

Berry, J. W. (1986). The acculturation process and refugee behaviour. In C. L. Williams and J. Westermeyer (Eds.), Refugee mental health in resettlement countries (pp. 25-38). Washington, DC: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.

Berry, J. W., Kim, U., Minde, T., Mok, D. (1987). Comparative studies of acculturative stress. International Migration Review, 21, 491-511.

Caplan, S. (2007). Latinos, acculturation, and acculturative stress: A dimensional concept analysis. Policy, Politics and Nursing Practice, 8,

93-106.

Hovey, J. D. (2001). Mental health and substance abuse. Program for the study of immigration and mental health. The University of Toledo.

Ward, C., and Kennedy, A. (1996). Crossing cultures: The relationship between psychological and sociocultural dimensions of cross-cultural adjustment. In J. Pandey,

D. Sinha and D. P. S. Bhawuk (Eds.), Asian contributions to cross-cultural psychology (pp. 289- 306). New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.