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Combating Cultural Stress

Howard Murad, MD September 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

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It’s 1:20 pm, and Karen—a longtime client—is late, yet again, for her 1 pm treatment. She rushes in, drops her things and collapses in your chair, saying, “It’s been a crazy day; please help me relax.” You’re guiding her through a few deep breaths when her cell phone starts to ring. She turns it off. You begin again. Although Karen’s time has been cut short, you do your best to provide excellent service. When her mask is on, you reach for your BlackBerry to check in with your son’s teacher. His report card is being e-mailed to you. You open it, gasp and think, “How can he get into college with these grades?” Your heartbeat accelerates. You are distracted. All you can think about is finishing with your client so that you can call the school. In the meantime, the receptionist slides a note under your door, alerting you that the computer system has gone down and the remaining appointments for the week have been deleted.

If you can relate to this scene, you are experiencing a new type of anxiety called cultural stress. It is pervasive and thrives in today’s world. The word stress as it relates to emotions became part of the English vocabulary in the 1950s and originated with the onset of the Cold War. During this time, bomb shelters were built to protect citizens from atom bombs, but American society would not permit people to admit fear. Instead, the feeling was dubbed stress.

The domino effect

In the years since, stress has evolved. Cultural stress started infiltrating people’s lives 20 years ago as society became more technologically savvy and prosperous. And it doesn’t affect only adults—cultural stress starts young and is initiated by parents. New moms and dads often are anxious about getting their children into the best preschools. In fact, it’s common for unborn children to be placed on a preschool waiting list. The next focus is on ensuring that the child is enrolled in all the right extracurricular activities—from preschool through high school. This cycle puts pressure on children to excel at a very young age, while placing a burden on the parents to make more money to pay for the education and activities.

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Tips for Reducing Cultural Stress

Practitioner, heal thyself. The first step in reducing cultural stress is trying to determine what gets you worked up. Identify its biggest causes for you, and then develop a plan of action to reduce its impact on your daily life.

Be mindful. Take some time each day to meditate or be quiet, and enjoy the simple rhythms of life.

Use psychology on yourself. Most of us have cell phones. If you are stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, make a call and then accept the fact that you can’t control the situation. One thing you can control is how you react to it. Try to make the best of the situation—why have a bad day when you can have a good one?

Exercise regularly. Go for a walk, do yoga or take an exercise class. Being physically active, even for just a few minutes, can make a difference in the way you feel.

Nourish your body for optimum health. Make it a habit to avoid the standard American diet. Consume foods that encourage and increase the water content in your body—a diet that is rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and good fats and proteins. Take a nutritional supplement to fill the gaps in your diet. And remember the water principle.

Get a good night’s sleep. Americans sleep less than people in any other industrialized country in the world, according to David Schardt, author of “How Sleep Affects Your Weight,” from the Nutrition Action Healthletter. You need seven to nine hours of sleep every night in order to fully restore the body. Don’t lose sleep. Find the time to recharge your body at night so that you have the energy to face the challenges that arise every day.

Find a hobby. It forces you to take time out for yourself and do something enjoyable. It also provides time for you to reflect.

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