Acculturation stress: what is it and how does it affect people?

The migration process is a stressful time for anyone who is forced to leave their country of origin to live in a place where they are not sure it will go well.

Doubts, fears, fear of being rejected or difficulties of adaptation make migrants fear that their migration project will not succeed. You may think that arriving in your new country is a new opportunity or, otherwise, a huge risk.

This psychological phenomenon has been called acculturation stress.An emotion which, while it is normal for any migrant to feel at some point in their migratory experience, if it is prolonged, it can pose serious problems for their mental health.

    What is acculturation stress?

    Acculturation stress is a psychological process that displaced people suffer when they arrive in their host country and face all kinds of changes and differences regarding their homeland. In itself we understand by acculturation all the processes that a foreign person implements to be able to adapt to the new society that he had to live.

    Normally, this process is not comfortable to do, because it involves profound changes in the individual, and it is not certain that it will succeed, which can generate (de) adaptive stress.

    The concept of acculturation stress was invented by John Widdup Berry, a psychologist specializing in issues relating to the adjustment of immigrants and indigenous peoples after establishing cultural contacts with other ethnic groups.

    He introduced it in the 1970s, using it as an alternative to “culture shock”, which had quite negative connotations because with “shock” (“blow”, “shock”) was given to understand that, by Necessarily, the introduction of people from one culture to another had to end, one way or another, in a kind of violence.

    When we talk about stress as an adaptive thing, some may be surprised. In the society we live in, the word “stress” tends to be seen as a negative thing.But that’s not all. Stress is the response to a situation in which our physical and mental integrity may be endangered and in order to survive or move on we need to provide some sort of response, especially the type of fight or flight.

    Extrapolated to the migratory process, stress can be understood as the feeling that it will not leave the displaced person indifferent. Faced with a new world, this person cannot stand idly by, he must do something to move forward. Stress is what wakes her up and motivates her to find the resources to be able to adapt to the new homeland.. By the time you get there, that stress, which has been essential to your survival, will go away.

    The problem with acculturation stress is that it can be a double-edged sword. As we have just mentioned, it is the motivation for the person to strive to be a part of where he has to live, by putting all the resources at his disposal. The problem is that your migration project doesn’t always work, added to a possible rejection of the premises and the difficulty of adapting to new traditions, languages ​​and other cultural characteristics.

    This causes the acculturation process to lengthen for a long time, as if the person was unable to adapt to the new place of residence. As acculturation grows, stress increases and this emotion, sustained for a long time, can be the source of all kinds of psychopathology. Migration is not a psychological problem, but it is a risk factor and, if not properly managed by the migrant’s own experience, it will lead to depressive disorders, anxiety and psychosomatization in the form of of fatigue.

    In short, the stress of acculturation, with migratory bereavement, is this process that can motivate the person to activate themselves to adapt to the new country but also if it is not managed properly and the person does not have the resources to do so, it can end in failure and later become a major source of discomfort. psychological and physical. As natural and motivating as the stress is, migration continues to involve a great sacrifice for the migrant and if the situation overwhelms him, the sustained pressure will hurt him.

      Factors that predispose it

      On its own, the pure, neutral definition of acculturation stress is simply the discomfort experienced in going to a place where the culture is significantly different from the original one.

      As we mentioned, this discomfort is not inherently bad but annoying, which will motivate the person to seek strategies to reduce it and these strategies focus on adjusting to the new place of residenceIn other words, to be able to carry out the series of psychological, social and economic changes that acculturation entails.

      This acculturation constraint will be greater or lesser depending on various factors, among which we can find the following:

      • Language proficiency.
      • Different gender roles.
      • Variation in the functioning of the family.
      • Intergenerational conflicts (for example, 1st traditionalist gene vs 2nd westernized gene).
      • Loss of social and family support.
      • Availability of employment and housing in the host country.
      • Access to health and education.
      • Migration status.
      • Difficulties in accessing nationality or residence.
      • Racial, ethnic, xenophobia discrimination …

      All of these factors lead to psychological problems if the person is unable to cope or is severely harassed.. It is clear that in itself, learning a new language is not as complicated or difficult to manage as seeing how the locals in the area you have ended up in are not very friendly with foreigners, or if the state does little enough to help people. feel comfortable with their new home.

      This is why if these factors arise and the person does not have the resources to cope with them, sooner or later his stress related to his attempts at acculturation will eventually develop into psychological problems, which will make it even more difficult. . new territory.

        What are the consequences?

        As we said, stress is not in itself a bad thing. It can be the ‘spark’ that scares a migrant to adapt to his new land, to seek support in his own premises, to learn the local language and to become actively involved in traditions. and the culture of his new country.

        If the country you must have lived in is very open to immigrants, even if you will never be completely detached from your country of origin, you will not feel separated from where you must have lived.. The main positive consequence of acculturation stress is: adaptation.

        But, as we have said, if the acculturation process fails and stresses, the same emotion that should help steer the migrant away from helping him adapt what he is doing is overwhelming – even more so when we speak of psychopathology. The person may want to adapt, but the environment in which they have lived does not welcome them with open arms, in addition to you may not have access to resources such as health, education and money that would help you move your migration project forward.

        Because of all of this, we have feelings of isolation, rejection, anxiety, psychosomatic disorders, and depression as negative consequences. In addition, these problems are gradually eroding the health of immigrants, not only because the migration project continues to fail but also due to lack of money or very poor knowledge of mental health, these people are very few. likely to receive psychological help.

        Acculturation stress could be considered the stage immediately preceding the experience of Ulysses syndrome. This painting, invented by psychiatrist Joseba Achotegui in 2002, results from the forced separation of loved ones, which means a rupture of the instinct of affection, a feeling of hopelessness in the face of the failure of the migration project and the lack of opportunities. with the struggle to get the basics, like sleeping food and a roof. Many people arrive illegally in their new country of origin through mafias, which means the constant fear of being deported.

        Interestingly, the stress of acculturation no it only affects migrants, but also locals. Associated with culture shock, the inhabitants of the host land, both “clean” and descendants of the 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation of other immigrants, may see in the new close circles an economic threat or competitors for them. resources. This is when intergroup contact conflicts arise between these groups, reinforcing the preference for the in-group and viewing the out-group as dangerous.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Urzúa, A., Basabe, N., Pizarro, J., and Ferrer, R. (2018). Coping with stress through acculturation: Latino immigrants in Chile. Universitas Psychologica, 16 (5), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.upsy16-5.aeai
        • Urzua, Alfonso & B, Osvaldo and quequesa-Urizar, Alejandra. (2016). Mental health and acculturation stress among South American immigrants to northern Chile. Chile Medical Journal. 144, 563-570. 10.4067 / S0034-98872016000500002.
        • Achotegui, Joseba (2014). Ulysses Syndrome: The chronic and multiple stress immigrant syndrome. ISBN 978-84-613-31116.
        • Achotegui, Joseba (2006). “Limiting stress and mental health: immigrant syndrome with chronic and multiple stress (Ulysses syndrome)”. Journal of Migrations (University of Comillas-Madrid) (19): 59-85.

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