Culture Shock

Many of us had to deal with culture shock at some moment of our lives, maybe during holidays in some estranged country, or due to work, study or other circumstances. Whenever we get confused or shocked about another culture’s values, practices, people etc, we say that we experienced a culture shock.

But what is the exact definition of culture shock? And why do we experience such phenomena?  Culture shock has been defined by psychologists as an initial process to adjusting to a new environment. This process is a psychological distress that is due to migration. It seems that we experience culture shock due to different reasons such as the stress of moving out to an unfamiliar environment, stress about the difficulty of adjusting when you do not have enough skills to do so, and how we perceive ourselves and others. 

Therefore, it seems that everyone that moves to a new environment has to go through such a process, which means that culture shock hinders our adaptation to this new environment. Culture shock can make us feel homesick, depressed, and anxious at some times, burnout, our sleep patterns change, etc. 

Imagine last time you moved to a completely new environment. Maybe at the beginning, you were enthusiastic and eager to explore the vicinity, meet new people and experience new things. This is what psychologists call a honeymoon phase. But maybe at some moment, you start missing home, feeling burnout or even a bit depressed, but you could not understand why. This is the moment when culture shock happens and our adaptation to this new culture seems to stall for a moment.

However, not everyone takes the same time to adapt to a new culture, different people experience more or less culture shock. This depends on their culture shock-associated emotional, psychological and/or physical stress. For example, people with higher cultural intelligence (a person’s capability of functioning efficiently in culturally diverse environments or situations) seem to be able to adapt better to a new environment, thus experiencing less psychological distress. 

 Good news! Eventually, the culture shock or dissatisfaction phase starts fading when you start understanding better this new culture and its people. Then, you start enjoying this new culture again

What can you do when you start feeling psychological distress due to culture shock? Or what to do when the psychological distress due to culture shock is prolonged that becomes mentally exhausting or draining? 

One of the approaches is trying to overcome or avoid culture shock by recognising situations in which you think cultural shock might happen. Learning about the new culture, its values, practices, and beliefs, quickens the adaptation process. 

Social support is an important aspect of many mental disorders. So, whenever a person is feeling psychological distress due to culture shock, having a supportive social circle helps with the negative feelings and helps with the adaptation to this new culture. Also, engaging in activities with close friends, family or partner might also help ameliorate this situation.  

Learning to manage one’s own stress is also helpful in overcoming, not only cultural shock, but many aspects of one’s life. 

All in all, culture shock is a natural process of migration. It takes time to adjust to a new culture, so give yourself enough time and accept that there will be challenges and stressful situations.  But with the right skills and attitude, you can overcome culture shock and even learn more about a new culture, and yourself as a person in this diverse world.