Current Issue cover

Combating Cultural Stress

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

Thank you for your inquiry. Please note that the author cannot provide individual medical advice. Also, if you have a customer service question, email customer service at

Fill out my online form.

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.
 This has a far-reaching domino effect. In order to make more money to pay for all the activities in which you and your family are involved, you must work longer hours.
        The more money you make, the more things you buy. And this phenomenon extends well beyond possessions. All of this has put a great strain on people’s health and well-being, especially because the vast majority is barely keeping up.
        As a result of this pursuit to stay ahead, workers are experiencing extreme levels of on-the-job stress.
        Americans’ busy on-the-go lifestyles have created yet another problem: There is no time to cook at home, so people have grown accustomed to eating out.
        In order to help maintain mental and physical health, it is important to consume complex carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and good fats—especially omega-3 fatty acids.
Cultural stress and clients’ skin
        How does cultural stress affect the skin? As skin care professionals know, all of these conditions are reflected in the way the skin looks and feels. First of all, any kind of anxiety leads to a tremendous amount of nervous system activity. It can cause an outpouring of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related hormones.
The water principle
        The good news is that cultural stress can be counteracted, and health can be improved both physically and emotionally by understanding what I have dubbed “the water principle.” Cultural stress contributes to damaged cell walls, allowing the precious water that keeps them functioning to escape. This water loss has a myriad of effects. It causes the cells and connective tissues to break down, preventing your heart, lungs, brain and other organs from functioning at optimal levels—all of which become apparent when you look at the skin. You can encourage more water in the cells and reduce cultural stress by teaching these three simple steps to your clients.
       1. Topical care. As the largest organ of the body, the skin is extremely responsive to topically applied products.
       2. Internal care.
With topical skin care, you can treat approximately 20% of the skin—the epidermis. The remaining 80%—the dermis—responds by feeding the skin from the inside.
       3. Emotional care. Maintain connections with others. Discover a passion, such as painting or dancing. Reducing isolation promotes a healthy sense of self.
The esthetician’s role
        Estheticians are health care providers. You are in a unique position to help your clients reduce the symptoms derived from cultural stress and achieve an improved state of well-being.
 It’s important to understand cultural stress and its pervasiveness. Keeping this concept in mind is a necessary step in creating spa surroundings that are completely free of the factors that can contribute to this type of anxiety, including cell phones, PDAs, television and loud music. The atmosphere should be focused on creating the optimum healing environment.
 Also, simplify the remedies that you prescribe to clients. Another simple way to help ease the weight of cultural stress is to make clients aware of the problem. Most people are feeling this tension without even knowing its cause.

Develop coping tools
      Cultural stress is a part of life. It’s something that affects everyone, but it doesn’t have to overtake your life. Although clients initially may come to you with a skin condition, they ultimately return to you because you do more than just care for their skin. By helping them to develop tools to cope with the cultural stress in their lives, you will be giving them a benefit that they will see on their skin, as well as feel physically, internally and emotionally.

This is an excerpt of an article that ran in the September 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine. Contact Allured Publishing to purchase an issue for the entire article: 630-653-2155.