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Cultural Differences in Coping Strategies

The effects of culture are seen in virtually every aspect of life, including those to do with mental health. For a further understanding of how culture can potentially reduce or cause mental health issues and impact treatment options, check out our article on the topic: Cultural Effects and Perspectives on Mental Health. In addition though, once these mental health problems and conflicts arise, how does culture also impact the way people cope with them?

Differences: When discussing coping, we often talk about stressors, which are any sort of conflict or situation prompting concern, as these stressors need to be coped with to mitigate their negative impact on health. Culture means that we cope with these conflicts and mental distress in different ways. For example, research shows that Chinese and European-American people take different strategies to minimize their distress from interpersonal conflicts. China has a very collectivist culture that emphasizes maintaining social harmony, and likely because of this, Chinese people were more likely to seek immediate gratification in conflict by garnering supportive responses from the person they were conflicting with. Contrastingly, European-Americans tend to reflect their individualistic culture by claiming full independence in decision-making, and thus concerning themselves less with social unity. In the same study, European-Americans were found to confront a conflicting person. These coping strategies, shaped by culture, resulted in Chinese people feeling more immediate pay-off but less positive emotions towards their resolution in the long-term, while European-Americans felt less positive emotions during the conflict but more satisfied with how they dealt with it later on. Culture thus appears to both shape how people cope, as well as how satisfied they are with the chosen coping method depending on how congruent their practices are with their surrounding culture. 

Similarities: Even with these observed differences, in large, global data shows that people also have similar coping mechanisms across the world. When comparing how people in North America, Asia, Europe, South America, and Africa, and specifically the United States and Spain dealt with anxiety or depression, all these places reported people frequently talking to their loved ones, making a change to personal relationships or increasing healthy lifestyle behaviors, and even just spending time outside. The categories people did express differences on were seeking religious support and talking to mental health professionals. So overall, while culture’s influence on coping strategies is important, we may be more similar to those around the world than we think. 

From these cultural differences and similarities, countries develop wellness strategies that can be used as inspiration by anyone, anywhere. Upon reading them, maybe you’ll be motivated to implement a few new wellness ideas into your toolkit. 

Laughter Yoga From India: Laughing lowers our stress and improves our mood, regardless of whether it's fake laughing or real laughing. Because of this, a Mumbai doctor developed laughter yoga which combined forced laughter and more common breathing exercises. While you can improve your wellbeing by joining one of the global “Laughter Clubs” that practice this type of yoga, you can also reap the benefits of this practice by intentionally adding a bit of humor into your life- queue up those funny animal video compilations!

Fika from Sweden: Coffee breaks, though not uniquely a Swedish idea, are used by Swedes to appreciate more simple moments in life. Over their beverage or sweet treat, they slow down and savor the simplicity of the moment around them. Implement this in your routine by using your break from the day to take a deeper acknowledgement of the beauty in the world around you. 

Mate Tea From South America: South America’s yerba mate tea is taken in the morning because it provides similar caffeine benefits to coffee, while also boosting energy and focus, and protecting from obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. So next time you’re looking for that caffeine fix, maybe try swapping out that cup of coffee or soda with a glass of yerba mate tea for additional health benefits and a burst of energy. 

Nature Escapes from Canada: With Canada’s ample natural offerings, it is no surprise that they, like several other cultures, turn to nature as a sort of reset. Specifically, during the colder months, Canadians prioritize comfort activities and foods on these trips, such as bonfires, to create a cozy atmosphere. Practice this yourself by disconnecting from your electronics and comfortably enjoying nature alongside your favorite things and people. 

Hot Baths from Hungary: Hungary has a multitude of thermal baths, which not only provide a more soothing setting, but contain minerals that reduce joint pain and lower blood pressure. Even if a thermal bath is not readily available to you, you can still incorporate the philosophy of this practice by running yourself a hot bath and allowing yourself to relax into the surrounding warmth. Several middle eastern cultures also emphasize the clarifying and detoxing effects the steam from warm water can have. 

Overall, while cultural differences in coping do exist, we can actually create mental health benefits by exploring the cultural practices of wellness that exist around the globe. 

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