GDST Book Club: Under Pressure by Lisa Damour

Beth Dawson, Deputy Head at Sutton High School, part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) reviews Under Pressure by Lisa Damour

Dr Lisa Damour is a consulting psychologist specialising in female adolescence and is also the Executive Director of the Laurel Centre for Research on Girls, Ohio. Through a variety of her own thoughts, her research and anecdotes from her patients, she explores the idea that stress and anxiety in girls, whilst on the rise, is part of teenage life and can be used to teach girls to ‘bounce back’. The book is solution-focused and primarily reflects upon the difference between stress and anxiety and between healthy and unhealthy stress within all of the key parts of teenage life, such as at school, in relationships and at home.

Both as a teacher of girls and a mother to a teenage girl, this book is engaging, informative and practically useful. Of course, we already know that girls face enormous pressure to succeed and that they have a tendency to turn this pressure inwards, but the author is adept at using practical examples to suggest strategies to re-think this and use it as a power for positive change in building resilience in young women. Damour recommends a change of narrative, away from attempts to avoid or ‘cure’ stress and anxiety, and towards a notion that we can harness these to empower girls. Much of the book’s content is expressed in metaphors which allow the reader to visualise what is being discussed to reframe anxiety.

As we are in all-through schools and part of a wider Trust, one of the most pertinent points that is made is about the opportunity for teenagers to develop resilience and alleviate stress through helping others to achieve. The opportunities for this within the GDST are endless and some of the ideas mentioned are already being used in our schools. Additionally, the idea that girls need to be given further opportunity to be imperfect and the recommendations made about friendships amongst girls are both elements of the book that will have a direct impact on my parenting and teaching practice.

Finally, a large part of the book is centred on the female voice and the different expectations upon males and females in this regard. Girls need to be encouraged to both find their voice and use it, not being anxious about others’ perceptions. In terms of our GDST values, this ‘fearless’ approach to encouraging girls to develop oracy and confidence is explored in depth, with practical suggestions.

Definitely five stars. I would be saying this even if I were not a teacher of girls, because as a mother who is always learning about the female teenage brain, the first-hand experience offered by Damour hits the bullseye on two separate levels.

Most memorable quote
“We should think about stress the way Goldilocks thought about making herself comfortable whilst trespassing. We don’t want [stress levels] to be too low or too high. But we can embrace reasonable levels of stress as a nutrient for healthy development that helps [a girl] to grow into the strong and durable young woman we want her to be.”

If you liked this book, you might also like…
Damour’s first book, entitled ‘Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood’ is also superb and is written in a similar style. In terms of finding a voice, Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography has this as a focus.