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How to Help Teenage Girls Reframe Anxiety and Strengthen Resilience

stressed teen 401In the last decade, rates of anxiety-related disorders in teenagers have steadily risen, particularly in girls. Researchers and psychologists posit several hypotheses about why these rates are on the rise — from digital hyperconnectivity to heightened external pressures to simply a greater awareness, and therefore diagnosis, of mental health concerns.

Whatever the causes, Dr. Lisa Damour has hopeful news for parents and teens: first, some degree of stress and anxiety is not only normal but essential for human growth. And if those levels become untenable, there are tested strategies for reining anxiety back in.

Damour, a psychologist and author of the new book “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls,” has spent decades working with adolescent girls and their families. In recent years, she has noticed a change in how society views stress. “Somehow a misunderstanding has grown up about stress and anxiety where our culture now sees both as pathological,” said Damour. “The upshot of that is that we have adults and young people who are stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious.”

Anxiety is a normal and healthy function, according to Damour, and much of the anxiety that teenagers express is a sign that they are aware of their surroundings, mindful of their growing responsibilities, and frightened of things that are, in fact, scary. Adults can make a difference simply by “reassuring them that, a great deal of time, stress is just operating as a friend and ally to them.”

Sometimes anxiety and stress reach levels that impede a girl’s ability to navigate life effectively. That said, Damour cautions that an emotional outburst — in and of itself — is not a reliable indicator of mental health. “If you are raising a normally developing teenage daughter, she will have meltdowns. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent that,” said Damour.

Teenage girls are particularly sensitive to the cues they receive from parents and teachers –  from words to facial expressions. How adults respond to teens’ emotional reactions matters a lot, said Damour. When adults become anxious in response to a teen’s anxiety, it exacerbates the situation.

Helping girls weather stress storms can be “excruciating for parents,” and Damour said she understands the almost primal desire to alleviate the pain, solve the problem for them or remove the stressor —  such as letting them stay home from school if they are anxious about a test. But avoidance feeds anxiety. Girls often feel stressed because they overestimate the difficulty of a situation and underestimate their ability to deal with it, said Damour. When they avoid a situation, they miss the opportunity to correct that perception and recognize their own strength.

According to Damour, the most powerful force for good in a teenager’s life is a “caring, working relationship with at least one loving adult.” Within that context, adults can offer teenagers empathy, grounded perspective and a vote of confidence as they work through challenges —  helping them aim for courage, not avoidance.

Excerpted from “How to Help Teenage Girls Reframe Anxiety and Strengthen Resilience” in MindShift online. Read the full story for more strategies for helping your teen handle stress and anxiety.

Source: MindShift | How to Help Teenage Girls Reframe Anxiety and Strengthen Resilience, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/52994/how-to-help-teenage-girls-reframe-anxiety-and-strengthen-resilience | Copyright © 2019 KQED INC

A screening can help you determine if you or someone you care about should contact a mental health professional. Clinical Services Coordinators can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. Call or email our Clinical Services Coordinators at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Consultation appointment.

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