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Acculturative Stress

by Anureet Gill, M.A.

Psychology terms the specific stress that emerges while an individual adjusts to the new culture of a host country acculturative stress (Berry, 1997). Acculturative stress is experienced when individuals immigrate whether it be for a short period of time with the goal of returning to one's home country or indefinably with the goal of making the host country their new home. Given the spark differences historically seen between American culture and language and Asian culture and language, immigrants from countries in Asia were more likely to experience acculturative stress than immigrants from countries with cultures and languages more similar to America, such as countries within Europe (Ra & Trusty, 2015).

Risk factors for acculturative stress are the experience of loneliness, homesickness, cultural differences, discrimination, and financial challenges. The experience of acculturative stress has long been known to impact well-being and mental health; in particular, individuals with acculturative stress report anxiety, depression, and somatization concerns. In addition, acculturative stress leads to physical health concerns (Ryan & Twibell, 2000).

A psychological theory that explains the psychological distress seen with acculturative stress is the concept of unmet psychological needs (Orkibi &Ronen, 2017). The following three psychological needs are unmet: autonomy (i.e., having volition), relatedness (i.e., feeling connected with others), and competence (i.e., feeling effective and capable; Orkibi &Ronen, 2017). A psychologist and therapist can use this concept as a framework for therapy. Moreover, when these three needs are grown in therapy the client experiences an increase in well-being (Milyavskaya & Koestner, 2011), happiness (Howell et al, 2011), and self-esteem (Wouterset al., 2014).

Additional therapy goals have been found to improve well-being and psychological distress. Research has found building skills in therapy, such as developing coping strategies, increasing social support, and assertiveness training to be helpful (Ra & Trusty, 2015). Research has found exploring personal and cultural strengths and problem-solving be to helpful. Of course, one can work with a therapist in a one-to-one setting; yet, given the goal of increasing social skills and assertiveness group therapy can be especially helpful.

After reading this, if you believe you are experiencing acculturative stress. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Interaction Dynamics. At Interaction Dynamics, we can work with the above goals to decrease your experience of acculturative stress.


Berry J.W. Immigration, acculturation, and adaptation. Appl. Psychol. 1997;46:5–34. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.1997.tb01087.x.

Howell R.T., Chenot D., Hill G., Howell C.J. Momentary happiness: The role of psychological need satisfaction. J. Happiness Stud. 2011;12:1–15. doi: 10.1007/s10902-009-9166-1.

Milyavskaya M., Koestner R. Psychological needs, motivation, and well-being: A test of self-determination theory across multiple domains. Personal. Individ. Differ. 2011;50:387–391. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.029.

Orkibi H., Ronen T. Basic psychological needs satisfaction mediates the association between self-control skills and subjective well-being. Front. Psychol. 2017;8:936. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00936.

Ra, Y. A., & Trusty, J. (2015). Coping strategies for managing acculturative stress among Asian international students. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 37, 319-329.

Ryan, M. E., & Twibell, R. S. (2000). Concerns, values, stress, coping, health and educational outcomes of college students who studied abroad. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(4), 409–435.

Wouters S., Duriez B., Luyckx K., Colpin H., Bijttebier P., Verschueren K. Parental goal promotion and college students’ self-esteem level and contingency: The mediating role of need satisfaction. Personal. Individ. Differ. 2014;66:140–145. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.03.036.

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