In Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, Lisa Damour, Ph.D. examines the rising prevalence of anxiety and depression among adolescent girls and offers practical advice for parents trying to help their daughters (and sons) navigate these overwhelming feelings and find coping skills for life.
Whereas many people who write about girls and mental health take a bit of an alarmist tone, what I most appreciated about Damour’s book is that she consistently works to move girls and their parents away from crisis mode, so to speak. Damour begins the book by exploring the role of stress and anxiety in our lives and how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy stress and anxiety. From there, she guides parents through why their daughters come home and fall apart, or seem so overwhelmed and powerless that nothing they suggest to help is taken seriously. She offers quick, useful models for conversations to help girls and their parents find a calmer center before working through who or what is causing the girl such anxiety.
From there, Damour examines the changing culture around girlhood and various factors that lead girls to feel more and more anxious. Among these topics are: social media, peer group dynamics, sex and changing bodies, academic pressures, and the way beauty is presented in the media. Each section is fairly short, most just a few pages long, so while the book as a whole offers a lot of good advice, parents can also quickly navigate to a particular topic if the need arises and get a quick overview.
Although many parents and teens might feel like running away or suppressing feelings of anxiety in any way they can, Damour provides guidance for how to help girls confront their anxiety and work through what is making them anxious. She argues:
“Tension and turmoil, we find, are strange creatures. They don’t die down when our daughters avoid them. In fact, when we shrink from pressure and fear, they just take on new, harrowing proportions.
Stress and anxiety can be addressed only when faced head-on. We’re most useful to our girls when we help them confront, and sometimes even embrace, these two fundamental aspects of everyday life. They should ask, ‘What is the source of all this stress?’ and ‘Why am I anxious?’ These are the questions that will help girls master the challenges they face, because the answers put them back in control” (210)
That is sound, empowering advice for humans of all ages and I really appreciate that Damour’s work is fully not in the camp of “Save the Girls!”-type rhetoric. Her book is very helpful and I fully recommend it to anyone who has or is close to an adolescent or pre-pubescent girl. This is good stuff.
Over the weekend, I also watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage. She ends her talk in the special with a story about her daughter not wanting to swim a particular event in a competitive swim meet and how she and her husband allowed her to choose whether or not to compete. That story models really well the types of strategies that are discussed in Under Pressure (no surprise, since Brown is a social worker). The talk is worth a watch on its own, but it pairs really well with this book as well.