My name is Meenakumari. I am Tamil and I am Stressed

Busy woman practicing yoga

It seems obvious that the traditional Tamil upbringing does not exactly promote the carefree lifestyle we often witness from our non-Tamil friends. There are apparently many of us who share this notion of a dual-culture: those who have been raised in a Tamil household while residing in a Western society such as Canada, England, Australia, etc. Did you know, however, that some of the values taught to us from our strict cultural upbringing may be in fact considered as contributors to our stress in our Western lifestyle?

“How can my Tamil upbringing contribute to my stress?”

Did you ever get in trouble for using a calculator? Was anything under 100% completely unacceptable? Did you often pull missions to avoid being caught ‘hanging out’? Were you expected to have your future planned by the age of 11? I’m sure many of you could relate to these experiences growing up.

Four cultural principles you may have been raised with that probably contribute to your stress are:
1. Aim for perfection
2. Always be in control
3. Please others
4. Have great competence

In our present Western culture, these four factors are stress-building beliefs. In addition to external situations (stressors) that are occurring, our thoughts and beliefs play a large role in how stress impacts us. In reference to these four stress-building beliefs, think about this for example: do you regularly feel the constant pressure to achieve? Are you often hard on yourself? Do you tend to take on too much instead of delegating work to others? Does your self-esteem usually depend on others’ opinions of you? Do you have trouble saying no? If you’ve answered “yes” to some of the above, these reveal underlying beliefs (that perhaps you have been brought up to abide by) and they may be actually increasing your stress and negatively affecting your well-being.

“What if these traits don’t bother me and have made me successful?!”

If so, congratulations! You have found the positive side of stress! With pride I admit that many of these enforced beliefs from a Tamil upbringing have led to impressive results. We can observe this from the Tamil professionals within our own community. “Positive stress” is stress that can actually help individuals concentrate, focus, perform well, and even reach peak efficiency. Stress is negative only when you begin experiencing adverse effects to your overall well-being.

“How do I know if my stress is harmful?”

Stress is harmful only when it becomes ongoing, and negatively affects your physical and emotional health. That includes psychological symptoms like anxiety, agitation, restlessness, excessive worry or obsessing, feeling overwhelmed, and experiencing mood swings. It can also include physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, back, neck, abdominal and/or shoulder pain, nausea, shaking, fatigue, sleep and/or appetite disturbances, high blood pressure, diarrhea or constipation, substance use, and sweating.

Therefore, it is very important to recognize when our beliefs, including those that are culturally influenced, are leading to harmful consequences so that they can be addressed accordingly.

“Okay, so I realize I am stressed. Now what do I do?”

Address it! Recognize what you can change, what you can avoid, and if not, how you can cope. Some effective strategies for managing stress include exercise and nutrition, seeking support from family, peers and/or a professional, relaxation rituals, laugh and play, music therapy and motivational tapes, and abstaining from or reducing your use of harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs.

In addition, learn to accept that some things are out of your control and work more to respond to it rather than react. Following some of these strategies may help you to reduce your stress and promote overall wellness.

Aside from recognizing and targeting our beliefs that influence our stress, hopefully this article also gives us something to keep in mind when we ourselves are parenting the next Tamil dual-culture generation.

– Julia Arasaratnam, Counsellor (tweet her @JArasaratnam)

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Julia Arasaratnam

Julia Arasaratnam

M.A., OACCPP; Mental Health and Addictions Counselor committed to promoting wellness. She considers herself as a curious explorer with a passion for learning, creativity, and celebrating diversity. Through her work, writing, and personal interactions, she hopes to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

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