A couple of nights ago, we were lucky enough to have a PTO sponsored speaker at our high school. Even luckier, that speaker was Lisa Damour, Ph.D. , psychologist and bestselling author of Untangled. She is also a monthly New York Times columnist and regular contributor to CBS News specializing in the development of teenage girls and young women.
As a mother and a guidance counselor of an all-girls school, Damour has much experience in helping young girls navigate the pressures of academics, sports, social media, friends, and boys. Her advice is not only directed toward girls, but to their parents as well. As mothers of teen and tween girls, Dr. Damour’s discussion about her book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls couldn’t be more poignant.
Under Pressure, which is set to come out in paperback, discusses our misconceptions about stress and anxiety. Rather than fearing or avoiding stress and anxiety, Damour informs us that these are natural responses to difficult situations. In fact, being under stress is the standard way for our mind to learn and develop – much like a weightlifter who has to put their body under stress in order to develop and strengthen her muscles.
Similarly, she tells us that anxiety is the body’s way of notifying us that something is up. For teenagers anxious about an upcoming exam, anxiety is the body’s response to feeling unprepared. Damour teaches us that since anxiety is natural, we need to teach this to our girls and explain that they can work to be less anxious by preparing more for the exam.
Damour also emphasized that chronic stress and anxiety are not healthy. Our girls need a way to destress from homework, peer pressure, and constantly running from one activity to the other. This decompression, she told us, will look differently for everyone. So, if your daughter is spending a Saturday afternoon watching reruns of her favorite show – let her.
Listening to Damour, you get a better perspective of what is going on with your girls. For example, when your teen girl is freaking out about something, most times, she is just unloading those emotions on to you as her parent. They don’t really need anything in return except maybe a hug. The release of getting it out is often enough.
The beauty of Damour’s books is that she gives clear tools to use with our teens. For example, she offers a breathing exercise when they are feeling extremely stressed and panicked. The science behind doing this is the important part. It signals the brain and the lungs to calm themselves. It sounds so simple and yet it works.
Her books are insightful, practical, and most importantly effective. Our hope is to continue to implement these tools when our girls are feeling stressed or anxious. Frankly, they are helpful even for ourselves.
The most important takeaway is that our girls need stress and anxiety to actually grow into adults. We can’t solve it all for them otherwise they won’t have these important skills later in life. If you have tweens and/or teenage girls – we can’t recommend this book enough!