Stress and Anxiety Are Your Friends

As part of the School’s ongoing student wellness programming, adolescence expert Dr. Lisa Damour spoke to the community during an All-School Meeting on Jan. 8 about the role stress and anxiety plays in teenage lives—and how they can manage those emotions.

Over the past several decades, stress has been talked about as toxic, she said. “But stress is a healthy function, and an essential part of a normal life, and it happens when you have to adapt to a new situation. It allows us to grow,” she told students.

Damour is a psychologist and the author of the New York Times best sellers: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

She is a regular contributor to CBS News, columnist for The New York Times, and a senior advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She also maintains a private psychotherapy practice, consults and speaks internationally, and serves as the executive director of Laurel School's Center for Research on Girls. She received her B.A. from Yale University and her doctorate from the University of Michigan.

“There is a ton of misunderstanding about stress and anxiety," she said in her address. "But they make us more durable and help us to grow."

“Think about school stress like a weight lifting program for your mind. Your prep year you are introduced to the weight room; your lower mid year you are locked the weight room all year lifting. By upper mid you are stronger and more capable, and by the time you are a senior you feel more powerful and in control."

She noted it is important to recover in restorative ways, from watching childhood movies, to sports, to talking to a friend, to crying.

Anxiety alerts us to stressful situations: an exam or athletic competition. But think of it as a gift from evolution that protects us, she said. A little anxiety can help us do our best in situations that involve performance. But when it is out of proportion it can make you less productive and make you feel out of control, she said.

To hack into anxiety, she demonstrated a breathing technique called square breathing, which involves taking slow, deep breaths. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.

"Stress and anxiety are your friends; they will always be there, so don’t fight them,” she reminded students.

In the morning Damour met with faculty members to review the seven transitions that teenage girls undergo from adolescence to adulthood that she explores in Untangled.  

“Think of adolescence as a series of tasks teenagers have to accomplish. It starts with parting from childhood and ends with developing healthy habits."

In the afternoon, Damour met with students who identify as girls to talk more specifically about those transitions.

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