Book Review: Under Pressure (Lisa Damour, Ph D)

When Lisa Damour first took the stage at Branksome Hall during her only Canadian stop on her ‘Under Pressure’ book tour, she immediately made us all feel comfortable and welcome to ask questions about some of the most important issues that we as parents and educators face for our daughters and students.

Let me begin by echoing her statement that these strategies, while they are grounded in her research of girls, can be equally helpful to those educating and/or raising boys.

Her talk was divided into 3 main sections, and her book into 6:
1) Coming to terms with stress and anxiety
2) Girls at Home
3) Girls among Girls
4) Girls among Boys
5) Girls at School
6) Girls in the Culture

You would be interested in reading this book if…
…you are a parent or educator of girls
…you have an interest in the new normal for adolescents
…you are looking for strategies and language to help connect and support girls
…you have questions about the epidemic of stress and anxiety in adolescents
…you want to do something positive for your students who are feeling stress and anxiety

I think that the most significant piece in this book is her articulation of how parents and educators can reframe stress and anxiety. In her talk, she said that schools are designed to stress our students – this is how they learn. In her book, she writes, “…both common sense and scientific research tells us that the stress of operating beyond our comfort zones helps us grow… Learning to brave stressful situations is also a skill that develops with practice.” (pg. 4)

From this concept flows the theme of her book: how might we work with our daughters and students to build their capacity to handle stress in healthy ways?

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 grow into the strong and durable young woman we want her to be. (pg. 4)

She goes on to explain three different types of stress: life events, daily hassels and chronic stress. She outlines how these manifest in each of the chapters listed above. She also connects stress to anxiety. I really like her work on anxiety and how we can understand it: “…but while stress usually refers to the feelings of emotional or mental strain or tension,  anxiety usually refers to fear, dread or panic.” (pg. 11)

Anxiety is like the center point of a radar – it is an early warning system for threats. Over time, it has evolved from the fear of a lion on the plains, to fear of social threats, “…anxiety works to protect us from the world and from ourselves.” (pg. 13)

So here’s the first thing that we can do to help our daughters take control of their anxiety: we can teach them that anxiety is often their friend. (pg. 13)

She goes on to explain how to listen to – not drown out or avoid – the feelings of anxiety. She outlines how anxiety can overload girls’ response system, and how sometimes they seek to blunt their feelings with alcohol, social media or drugs. Instead, we should use these feelings to give us a moment of pause.

The book is well laid out, and she uses narratives to really bring to life her strategies and approaches that, I believe, are valuable as a parent (of two boys I might add) and as an educator.

If you’re interested in learning more, please check out my notes that I just shared with my colleagues at my school:




One thought on “Book Review: Under Pressure (Lisa Damour, Ph D)

  1. Hi Garth,

    I too was at Lisa’s talk at Branksome Hall. I found it so helpful for putting in perspective what can seemingly be the overwhelming world of stress, anxiety and depression… not to mention teenage girls, technology, and all additional bits that can make teaching and parenting in this time so challenging.
    I thought you did a great job at summarizing and highlighting the key aspects of her book and lecture. My friends and colleagues who attended the talk with me did something similar for our faculty. We created a much simplified version of your impressive graphics. I wish I had seen this before our presentation! 🙂

    What I found particularly useful from Lisa’s talk was her practical solution-based approach… the ‘here’s what you do and here’s what you say”. So often these talks cover the data and the problems, but I leave feeling no closer to a solution… this was much different. I picked up a copy of her book too and will keep it close as my daughter grows up!

    Thanks for all your work on this! You did a terrific job synthesizing the material. Awesome blog!!!

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