A Girls' Guide to Coping with Anxiety



thanks to digital technology we live in a time where we have access to what's happening around the world 24/7 on our mobile devices but what's it like if you're a young person a girl to grow up in a world that's not always real Lisa d'amour is a clinical psychologist and executive director of the research on girls Center at the Laura school in Shaker Heights Ohio her new book is under pressure confronting the epidemic of stress and anxiety and girls and she joins us now and how to help them cope and even thrive through the tough times it's very nice to meet you dr. d'amour thank you for having me I really like this book I really enjoyed it I have an 8 year old and a six year old one is a girl and one's a boy but I think some of the things that you write about can address both yeah what are the unique pressures girls experience to create this epidemic of stress that you write about so we are seeing a rise of stress and anxiety and kids across the board but there are some extra weights that girls carry so girls are excellent students they take school very seriously and we have a lot of data showing that they feel more stressed by school even when doing better than boys they still feel stressed by school we also see that girls more than boys worry about their appearance and this is something our culture signals to them is very you have very powerful force and so girls are spending more time than boys preoccupied with their appearance measuring themselves against what they see online and that that creates a whole nother layer of stress for them we also see that girls share with us that they feel more stressed about how things are going socially that they talk about when they're when they're in social you know kind of discord with their friends they they express feeling more bothered by that it stays with them longer they share more they sometimes what we call ruminate they go around and around and around and talk about so it stays in their mind stays in their mind sort of you know grinding on it in a way that's not helpful boys by contrast are better at distracting themselves or letting things go when they're not going well socially sometimes this means that boys don't get the social support they need but it also means that they don't necessarily you know just really kind of way some of the same thing over and over and without feeling better about it when we think about anxiety we often think about it as a negative thing but you actually write that we should regard anxiety as an ally not an enemy what do you mean by that so one of the real forces that had me write this book was that the way we understand psychology you know psychologists understand stress and anxiety is very different from how the culture has been talking about it so the culture generally talks about stress and anxiety as though they are always harmful always bad but that's actually not how we see it so for anxiety in particular but we've long understood as psychologists is that anxiety is a normal signalling system it's a system that alerts us when there's a threat and it's built into humans to keep us safe so one way to kind of picture it is to think about say a caveman you know out on the plains who sees a saber-toothed tiger that caveman who gets the anxiety response who's you know a heart starts to gallop in their chest and their breathing changes and they feel all uncomfortable up their back Ainu has that response and feels terribly uncomfortable and thinks I have to do something I have to I have to do something about this and who runs then for the cave that caveman likely survived to pass genes down to us but if we picture a caveman who sees a saber-toothed tiger and is like that's a pretty cool tiger right oh hi tiger hi they probably did not survive to pass genes down to us so for psychologists anxiety is seen as a normal and healthy function and it can get out of control and it can be too much but most of the time it's there to keep us protected right when I talk with teenagers as I spent a lot of my time doing I will say to them look if you show up at a party and you feel really anxious pay attention to that feeling right don't so it's not necessarily a bad thing when you feel it when you feel it like usually it's cueing you that there is some threat in the environment and I'll say to them you know don't start drinking to make your anxiety go away and and I do think that a lot of the very heavy drinking we sometimes see in high school in college is that kids are in situations that they know are not really altogether safe and they're having a helpful any response and then because we've sort of given anxiety this bad name they feel like this is bad I got to do something about it and drinking does make your anxiety go down and then it can lead to other with that so what's the difference then between stress and anxiety so in many ways they're fraternal twins you know they have a lot in common when we look in very technical terms at how how we think about it stress is when there's a very heavy demand on you when what is being asked of you by circumstances is at the edge of your capacities when you feel stretched but a lot you know you're still working at your edge for anxiety we talked about it in terms of fear or dread right but in practical terms they get all wound up with each other right so I may have a huge amount of work to do which is very stressful and then I'm gonna become anxious about whether or not I can get it done you know so often in my writing and am i speaking I almost use them interchangeably because that's often how people experience them I mean under pressure you point out that studies find that girls are more empathetic than boys a difference that it's explained by how we socialize our daughters and sons not by some innate biological factor girls more than boys are raised on a steady diet of encouragement to think about how the other person would feel which means that if your daughter's friend finds yourself in the sharp end of a social stick your daughter will feel some pain – would you suggest that parents scaled back on the think how the other person would feel messaging for their daughters no I actually am all for empathy I think we should scale up on that messaging for our sons right because we do see this difference by middle childhood that boys in measurements that we can count on seem less empathic but it's not because boys are less empathic it's because we have not coached them in the same ways I do think though we have to be careful of what we call in that in that passage I'm describing vicarious stress and this is something girls are uniquely good at so if you're my friend and you're upset and you tell me about it now I'm upset because you're sad so that adds to the stress girls feel and boys are better than girls at not doing that right they may say like buddy I'm sorry that you're in pain but what would you also say that sometimes girls will think if I do and it hurts somebody else's feelings I don't want to do that I want to please that person well it can't encourage girls to be more cautious in their behavior especially when they're about to do something that might not be kind what we want to do as parents is intervene a little bit if we have a daughter who's worrying terribly about a friend's pain you know that's a place where we can step in and say you know you ruminating about how upset your friend is doing is isn't gonna make it better for her what could you do to make it better you notice her to move them from action to you know to action from just going over it again and again in the book too you have a study where you write about a young girl who wanted to quit I think she was a gymnast she wanted to quit what sports she was doing yes but her coach was like I really don't want you to leave I really want you on the team but she the girl was really stressed and then she stayed on the team mm-hmm so how do you teach girls to say there's a limit and I can only do so much when they're not when they're trying not to please other people yeah so girls really are trained by our culture to be agreeable you know we really expect if we ask a girl to do something she's gonna say yes and in that story which I shared the girl I was caring for really wanted to quit gymnastics and when she took it to her coach her coach was like oh I'll be so disappointed and so the girl went back on her own plan because she didn't want to let down this grown up so there are a couple of things we need to do to help girls out one is we can't abuse the fact that they want to please us right and this is something for teachers to be careful of and parents to be careful of that we say we want girls to be autonomous and empowered usually up until the point that they're not doing what we want them to do so we have to own that the other thing that I talk about a lot in this book is helping girls have ways to turn people down that still preserves the relationship because girls care about relationships and boys care about relationships but if we just say to girls just say no just say you're not gonna do it that doesn't leave them with enough to go on because they know full well if I just say to my coach nope I'm not doing it I'm actually really damaging our connection so I talk in this book about several strategies we can give girls where they can honor their own wishes and yet keep on good terms and so in that particular story I talked about what I called a yes no yes formula and I actually picked this up from a book by William ury called the power of a positive no and it's a business book but it has actually been game-changing for me and and in that book he talks about a formula where first do you figure out what you're saying yes to so for this particular client she was wanting to say yes to getting more sleep getting more rest taking a break from gymnastics so she had to say no to her coach and then the final yes is what you can say yes to so the way we finally resolved it for her is she said to her coach you know I am really tired I need more sleep I'm going to stop gymnastics but can I keep coming to meets and cheering for the younger girls and that formula allowed the girl to both stopped gymnastics and preserve the working relationship you also talked about glitter jars we're going to show a clip of it and how glitter jars can be used to reduce anxiety how did you first run across this idea and how do they work okay so glitter jars are relevant to the issue of these are great they're relevant to the issue of helping kids through meltdowns and it is true that at various points in development and certainly during maybe like 1314 for girls meltdowns can be pretty powerful and pretty intense and I take care of teenage girls in my private practice and I also consult to a girls school so I have seen a lot of meltdowns and I think like many adults I often felt sort of stupefied by his melt anyway you have a girl just loses it and so then you try to jump in and help you say like what's going on what happened and then she just gets worse and then you say I'm sure it's not that bad and then she just gets worse and so after sort of muddling through this for a while I am really quite by accident came across this terrific solution and I was in Dallas Texas sitting around with a bunch of counselors at this fantastic girl school called Ursuline Dallas and we were talking about girls having meltdowns and one of the counselors says oh well that's when I get out of glitter jar you were kind of skeptical you're like pop psychology said she said well I'll go get you on and when she left okay and she was gonna come back I thought whatever she's bringing back like I hate it and first I thought like I hate glitter look you know I'm a mom I hate glitter I hate it when kids have lunch with you after you forever you can never get rid of it um and then I hate pop psychology and I thought this sounds like it is you know the all-time pop solution so she comes back and she has a jar it's about this big it's clear it's filled with water the lid is glued on and she sits down it's got oh it's got two tablespoons of like sparkly purple glitter in the bottom and she sits down and she says so when a girl comes to my office like that she goes I do this you know and she shakes it like a snow globe and it does it turns into this purple storm in there and then she sets it down and she says and then I say to the girl honey this is your brain right now and I'm thinking okay and then she says and then I say so first we're gonna settle your glitter I thought okay this is genius this is absolutely genius right so what she had is a perfect model of the neurology of the adolescent brain teenagers brains are renovating through the course of adolescents becoming more efficient and more powerful but they renovate in the order in which they initially developed which is bad news for the teenager because the first renovation happens in the more primitive regions back here later the more sophisticated regions up here get renovated and the emotions are back here and the ability to maintain perspective is up here so there is a juncture in adolescence where teenagers when they are upset the more primitive regions can override the whole system and take it down and and that's what a glitter storm is I think it's so helpful for parents to understand that instead of saying oh my kid doesn't listen to me what's wrong with my kid yes but it's also helpful for the child because they realize it's not really my fault the brain is just regulated it's just all that's happened and one thing I found really interesting about your book was that you know as parents as grown-ups we always want to fix this but you say that it's important to validate whatever feeling the child is experiencing and then to offer them some problem-solving skills if they still need it exactly and and what I've really come to appreciate is we have tremendous as power as parents to determine what comes of our kids anxiety how we react really drives what happens next so if a young person comes to us and is hugely upset and we become upset and seem very anxious and we react to them almost as though they're on fire and they need to be put out we actually I think make them more frightened of their emotions if we react and this is what the glitter jar is so good at reminding the grown-up to do if we react as though they are fundamentally self-correcting and the brain will reset and if we are calm and we just honor that they got overwhelmed emotionally and we wait and that the brain will reset all by itself we're actually sending a message of you are self-correcting you can handle this I can handle you being upset and it makes a huge difference for what happens next some of the helpful words you use stinks and what's the other one handle the things I found so when teenagers especially tell me about difficulties yeah you know like I have this horrible test I've got to take tomorrow wear this like terrible task got dropped on me I have found that just those two words so first I say oh that stinks that stinks and that one little word is me saying I'm not gonna disagree with you I'm totally gonna empathize I'm gonna take this at face value I'm not gonna question it I'm not gonna minimize it and usually it's very powerful for them and then once that has sunk in I will say how are you gonna handle that and and that combination of both utterly endorsing the emotion and also endorsing the sense that they can manage this they've got the resources I find moves things in the right direction I mean for a teenager is something else that they we do too or is our phones we have our phones on all the time but you say that they are at the world handiest trashing shoots what do you mean by that so one of the things that has always been true of teenagers is that if they're having an uncomfortable feeling they often want to dump it on a parent right and I remember being in college right long before cellphones and having a like some Saturday night when I was upset about something and calling my mom I was in college in Connecticut calling my mother in Colorado and who you know about whatever it was and then I think as soon as I had dumped it I felt much much better and probably went out and had a good time and I remember she called me the next morning she's like are you okay I'm like yeah I'm fine you sound tired and I realized she had been up all night you know worrying about me so we now have this process on steroids we now have the technology that allows kids to give their parents real-time updates on their mood and it is really quite common at this point for teenagers who are in the middle of their school day who get a bad test back or have a fight with a friend to text a parent and tell them that this has occurred and usually they have the same experience I did in college which is as soon as they've dumped it they feel much better but now you don't but now the parent is a disaster and the parent is really upset and so we have to really mind this process both because we want teenagers to develop coping resources that go beyond dumping emotions on their parents and we also don't want parents who get to the end of the day completely frazzled because they've spent all day worrying about a kid who is actually able to manage independently if they wanted to and journaling you say is something that's good they can write down their feelings and then at the end of the day they can show it to you if they want you if they want yeah and under pressure you point out that there are three unhealthy forms of conflict management what are they so kids come into conflict with each other this is a very common source of stress and we're not always good as adults at teaching them how to do conflict well and and often it's because we're not that good at doing conflict well so I know really like to teach kids conflict and teach them how to do conflict so I say to them okay there are three unhealthy forms of conflict there's being a bulldozer sort of a metaphor for running people over there's being a doormat where you allow yourself to be run over and there's being a doormat with spikes which is the most common form which is basically passive-aggressive behavior and there I even say to kids okay we can even break that down there's using guilt as a weapon there's you know playing the part of a victim and there's involving third parties in what should be really a two party disagreement so those are the unhealthy forms and then I say there's a healthy form and it's to be a pillar which is where you stand up for yourself while being respectful of everybody else and then I like to give them scenarios that we play with and they're very good usually at playing out all of the different unhealthy forms they can readily imagine how they would know if they saw say a friend put something up online of a party that they invited everybody to but you know except for the kid who happened to see it um if they're injured by that like we can imagine all the bulldozer door Matty and certainly door Matty with spikes things they might do and once they've done that I'll say okay and if you were gonna pillar this you know what might you do and they can say oh I would have asked the friend I'd say hey at a party or we okay but it's really helpful to teach them like everybody's got these impulses a lot of people are using these unhealthy forms you can imagine them you can play them out in your mind but if you're really gonna act you want to act as a pillar I mean these are tips that you're using for young women but I know people my age and me sometimes guilty I created not-so-great ways so why do we find the unhealthy approaches to conflict management so much easier than taking the pillar approach um I do think some of it is just we don't talk about conflict and we don't talk about doing it effectively and so we just sort of Bend towards our less healthy options I also think it's the case that to act as a pillar is exhausting right to really contain ones strong reaction and give the person you're upset with a chance to handle themselves well is hard I have increasingly in thinking especially with girls about conflict though I've increasingly also asked them the question is this a conflict that's worth your while because we often feel especially with girls when we're trying to sort of empower them we're often like you know she said that you've got to respond to her you know she hurt your feelings you got to let her know that was bothering you and when I see the kids is this a conflict that's gonna go well is this worth your while if you pillar this is she gonna pill her back often they'll say no you know it's not that worth it to me or I know her and I can pill her all day long and she's just gonna doormat with spikes you know so I've increasingly given girls the chance of saying like I'm not sure this is a conflict I want to have and what I say to them then is you have the option I'm gonna give you one more healthy option here and it's what I call a motion Aikido right so in the martial art of Aikido if something is coming at you the first move always is actually to step to the side and let them go by and I'll say you know you might want to emotional like you do this okay so she didn't invite you to the party but you're not that good of friends you weren't thinking about inviting her to your next party what if you just tactically not respond to this and I have watched so much drama die for kids just saying you know what I don't care that much about the relationship this isn't gonna be a valuable conflict it's not worth it to me I'm just gonna not ignore this I'm gonna make a decision that strategically it's not worth my time really gives kids a lot of power and the only thing you have to be sure to do is to say to them don't worry this is not the same as door matting you know sometimes I feel like if I don't say something I'm letting her roll all over me I think no doormat is if you're crying in your room wondering why you want to invite it to the party emotional Aikido is to say you know what I'm gonna let this one go choosing your battles yeah something that we've had a lot of conversations about lately is the me2 movement yes but you recently had a discussion with a group of girls at the school where you work what was that conversation like it was eye-opening really it was shortly after the Harvey Weinstein story broke and I was meeting with a bunch of high school girls and I said to them do you guys want to talk about this me too stuff and I naively really naively went into the conversation thinking that I was gonna use that conversation to prepare them for what was ahead you know when they were in the professional world if somebody crossed a line with them how were they were gonna handle it and instead what happened and this isn't an all-girls environment this this conversation happened they started to pour out stories of how much harassment they are dealing with from boys outside of school and I was really quite floored and and floored both because I really feel like I'm kind of on top of what's happening with kids like I really am with teenagers all the time and also just by how pervasive what they were describing was but what they were describing is actually backed by the research that we have surveys showing that by eighth grade half of girls in co-ed environments have dealt with all sorts of harassment you know boys touching them boy starting rumors boys drying inappropriate stuff on their notebooks that this is very much standard and normalized in middle school environments less so a little bit as kids get into high school but I have really started to think you know the me to movement like we got to deal with the middle school level of the meet to movement that has not yet really been at the center we all need a few more minutes left and I want to get a few more questions in yeah but you write that culturally we've placed young women in charge of regulating adolescent sexuality yes in what ways have we done that so one of the things that concerns me is there's a bit of an offense defense framework that we advanced when we talk with young people boys and girls about romance and we do it in various ways so for instance when we talk about the talk it turns out the research tells us there's two talks so there's the talk for boys and the talk for girls so the talk for boys usually comes down to us saying all right buddy when you have sex get consent and wear a condom and when we talk to girls we usually say don't get pregnant don't get an STD don't get yourself in a bad position some adults say this I don't say this don't harm your reputation but it's sort of like go go go for the boys and stop stop stop for the girls and in this in other ways we whether we mean to it or not we basically say all right girls you're gonna regulate adolescent sexuality because we're not gonna ask the boys and and this is something we need to really reconsider it as adults because this is not the position we want anybody in you also write that we routinely teach girls that the only way to turn down sexual activity is where they're clear direct i modulated and unvarnished no what do you see as a better alternative to that advice I think we want to keep that advice on the table I think we also want to recognize that feminist linguists such as Deborah Cameron who I write about in this book have questioned that advice because it may not match the context a girl is in so here are two contexts we need to be mindful of one is where she actually really likes the person she's with but she doesn't want to go as far as that person to go it's very rare in friendly interactions for people to give a flat refusal so if I invite you to dinner I say we'd like to come for dinner and you say no oh yeah you don't do that you don't do that with people you actually don't really exceed you meet you make excuses yeah this is a widely accepted and understood way in our culture that you refuse things so one option we need to give girls is if they want to say no and not harm the relationship they do have an option of saying I need to leave someone is expecting me or something like that the other reason Deborah Cameron questions this advice is that a flat no is actually seen as a fairly hostile gesture and she has pointed out if we have a young woman who's in a situation where she feels threatened or frightened do we really want to encourage her to use a speech act that is widely regarded as a conversational yes and so we also want to give girls an option of using an excuse for safety right and what I further kind of develop in my thinking in the book is we can't really tell girls there's one right way to speak under any conditions right communication is wildly context-dependent even nonverbal communication is hugely complex and then you throw words on top of it it's usually complex so I talked in this book about helping girls build out a verbal toolkit right where they have a whole variety of options at their disposal so every girl should have a hammer right there may be times where a really blunt no is exactly what is called for but she should have other tools too because the context will change and we don't want girls feeling like they don't have the tool they need in the moment to make what they want to have happen happen even if it means if you just use your parents say you know if I do this my parents yeah whatever anything I mean we're I am much more interested in having girls do what it is they want to do than telling them there's one right way to make it happen right this is a fantastic book thank you so much for writing it and congratulations I said yours I was a best-seller I appreciate that it's been a pleasure having you here dr. Moore thank you thank you the agenda in the summer with namkyu Anika is brought to you by the chartered professional accountants of Ontario CPA Ontario is a regulator an educator a thought leader and an advocate we protect the public we advance our profession we guide our CPAs we are CPA Ontario and by viewers like you thank you

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