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Under Pressure
Cover of Under Pressure
Under Pressure
Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An urgently needed guide to the alarming increase in anxiety and stress experienced by girls from elementary school through college, from the author of...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An urgently needed guide to the alarming increase in anxiety and stress experienced by girls from elementary school through college, from the author of...
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  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An urgently needed guide to the alarming increase in anxiety and stress experienced by girls from elementary school through college, from the author of Untangled

    “An invaluable read for anyone who has girls, works with girls, or cares about girls—for everyone!”—Claire Shipman, author of The Confidence Code and The Confidence Code for Girls

    Though anxiety has risen among young people overall, studies confirm that it has skyrocketed in girls. Research finds that the number of girls who said that they often felt nervous, worried, or fearful jumped 55 percent from 2009 to 2014, while the comparable number for adolescent boys has remained unchanged. As a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with girls, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., has witnessed this rising tide of stress and anxiety in her own research, in private practice, and in the all-girls’ school where she consults. She knew this had to be the topic of her new book.

    In the engaging, anecdotal style and reassuring tone that won over thousands of readers of her first book, Untangled, Damour starts by addressing the facts about psychological pressure. She explains the surprising and underappreciated value of stress and anxiety: that stress can helpfully stretch us beyond our comfort zones, and anxiety can play a key role in keeping girls safe. When we emphasize the benefits of stress and anxiety, we can help our daughters take them in stride.

    But no parents want their daughter to suffer from emotional overload, so Damour then turns to the many facets of girls’ lives where tension takes hold: their interactions at home, pressures at school, social anxiety among other girls and among boys, and their lives online. As readers move through the layers of girls’ lives, they’ll learn about the critical steps that adults can take to shield their daughters from the toxic pressures to which our culture—including we, as parents—subjects girls.

    Readers who know Damour from Untangled or the New York Times, or from her regular appearances on CBS News, will be drawn to this important new contribution to understanding and supporting today’s girls.

    Praise for Under Pressure

    “Truly a must-read for parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors wanting to help girls along the path to adulthood.”—Julie Lythcott-Haims, New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult

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  • From the cover chapter one

    Coming to Terms with Stress and Anxiety

    i have good news. actually, i have two pieces of really great news. First, stress and anxiety aren’t all bad. In fact, you can’t thrive without them. Understanding the difference between their healthy and unhealthy forms will change, for the better, how you help your daughter manage the tension she feels. Second, the field of psychology has a lot to say about how to alleviate stress and anxiety if they do reach toxic levels. Indeed, if I were to take an informal survey of my colleagues, the vast majority would agree that we have come to understand the root causes and inner workings of pathological stress and anxiety as well as we understand anything in our field. As a result, we have many ways to help people rein in psychological strain when it gets out of control.

    Taken together, these two happy facts mean that you can already start to worry less about how stressed or anxious your daughter feels because, to a degree, these mental states are essential catalysts for human growth and development. And if you suspect that your daughter’s unease far exceeds the healthy mark, then I’m here to reassure you that you and your daughter do not need to feel helpless. We’re going to tackle unhealthy stress and anxiety, too.

    Healthy Stress

    Stress gets a bad rap. Though people don’t always enjoy being stretched to new limits, both common sense and scientific research tell us that the stress of operating beyond our comfort zones helps us grow. Healthy stress happens when we take on new challenges, such as giving a speech to a large audience, or do things that feel psychologically threatening, such as finally confronting a hostile peer. Pushing ourselves past familiar limits builds our capacities in the same way that runners prepare for marathons by gradually extending the distances at which they train.

    Learning to brave stressful situations is also a skill that develops with practice. Researchers actually use the apt term stress inoculation to describe the well-­documented finding that people who are able to weather difficult life experiences, such as riding out a serious illness, often go on to demonstrate higher-­than-­average resilience when faced with new hardships. I can speak for myself in saying that being middle-­aged doesn’t seem to come with a lot of advantages, but it definitely has one particular benefit: problems don’t bother me as much as they used to. Like most of my agemates, I’ve got enough life experience under my belt that I now take in stride events—­such as having a plane flight canceled—­that would have put me on the ceiling when I was younger. While the saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” almost certainly overstates the point, it’s not all wrong.

    As parents, we should think of stress the way Goldilocks thought about making herself comfortable while trespassing. We don’t want our daughter’s stress level to be consistently too low or too high. But we can embrace reasonable levels of stress as a nutrient for our daughter’s healthy development that will help her to grow into the strong and durable young woman we want her to be.

    Much of what our girls learn about how to manage stress comes from observing how we manage it as parents. Our daughters watch us for cues about how alarmed they should be by life’s difficulties. When we let our own inner Chicken Little take over and panic in the face of manageable challenges, we set a bad example. When we accept that stress often leads to growth—­and help our girls do...

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Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls
Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
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Lisa Damour, Ph.D.
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