Girls Under Pressure: A Conversation with Dr. Lisa Damour
“Without question, stress and anxiety are on the rise for all kids, and especially for girls,” said Dr. Lisa Damour, at a sold-out presentation at Branksome. “Here’s the good news—there’s a huge amount we can do to address this.”
The clinical psychologist, Executive Director of Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls and New York Times bestselling author spoke to nearly 500 captivated audience members in the Athletics and Wellness Centre about her latest book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. This was Dr. Damour’s only Canadian stop on her international book tour.
“I wrote Under Pressure because I feel hopeful, not because I feel worried that we cannot address stress and anxiety in our girls and in the culture,” said Dr. Damour. “There’s so much we can do and so much we can change to make things better for our kids.”
Branksome parents, alum and the public listened intently to the mother of two girls speak about child development and psychological pressure—specifically stress and anxiety in girls.
“Psychologists see stress as a given, it is part of life, and makes you more capable and more durable,” said Dr. Damour, adding that stress is often good for you. “Stress is usually what happens when we’re operating at the edge of our capacities, and when we operate at the edge of our capacities we usually expand our capacities.” However, not all stress is healthy, she noted, as “psychologists don’t like chronic stress and we don’t like traumatic stress.”
Dr. Damour says parents can help their daughters with stress by emphasizing the benefits of it. “Your job is to make sure your child knows how to recover and make sure she has time and space to recover. Your job is not to prevent stress, it’s actually a critical part of her development.”
Likewise, Dr. Damour says psychologists like some anxiety. “We see it as a gift, handed down by evolution, designed to keep you safe. Anxiety is your alarm system that alerts you to threats. The worst thing you can do for anxiety is to avoid anxiety.”
“As long as we hold onto this notion that we’re supposed to feel good all the time and that stress is bad and anxiety is bad, we will have what we have now, which is that we are raising a generation of children who feel stressed about getting stressed and anxious about getting anxious.”
Dr. Damour offered tips on how girls can best take on stress and anxiety, including by getting more sleep and interacting less with technology. “What we know is that sleep is the glue that holds human beings together and when people are sleep deprived you will see rising stress and anxiety,” said Dr. Damour. “Elementary students need 11 hours of sleep a night, Middle School students need 10 hours and High School students need nine hours. Anything short of that, you will have a more fragile kid.”
In order to achieve this, Dr. Damour recommends parents remove technology from their children’s bedrooms at night before they go to sleep or simply not allow technology in the bedroom, ever. “Of all the things that disrupt sleep, technology is one of the major ones.”