New York Times author and psychologist Lisa Damour shares virtual presentation on teen stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety were two big themes of 2020, and with vaccinations starting to roll out across the nation and continued uncertainty regarding what the next few months will look like means that those feelings have persisted into the early days of 2021.
Lisa Damour, Ph.D., is regarded as a thought leader in modern psychology by the American Psychological Association. She’s published numerous academic papers, chapters and best-selling books, but also regularly translates her work for average teens and parents through her monthly New York Times column, her Ask Lisa podcast and her contributions to CBS News and UNICEF. She also serves on the Advisory Board for Parents magazine, as her focus is primarily on children and teens.
Damour will share her strategies for coping with anxiety and stress in a virtual presentation for parents, “Stress and Anxiety in Children and Adolescents,” on Thursday, Jan. 28. Hosted by the Vail Mountain School, the presentation is open to the public and starts at 5: 30 p.m. Students in grades 7-12 will have their presentation at 2:15 p.m.
“Anxiety is a normal and healthy function, we see stress as something that inevitably happens when we’re adapting to new conditions. Both can reach unhealthy levels,” Damour said. “Most of the time, when we’re anxious or stressed, we’re having the right reaction. We walked into the pandemic with this misunderstanding.”
And when the pandemic hit, the culture and society hadn’t normalized feeling these things. Then, Damour said, add in a whole generation of young folks who get stressed and anxious about being stressed an anxious, and suddenly a normal reaction to a situation quickly snowballs into something much larger and harder to control.
The first step to correcting this problem, Damour said, is educating teens about how anxiety and stress operate.
“It was amazing to me how much better teenagers and kids feel when you say you are supposed to be anxious about COVID,” Damour said. “They immediately feel less anxious, they immediately feel less stress, because they’re not worried that they’re somehow doing it wrong. And then we can have very effective conversations about managing anxiety. But we came in with a misunderstanding that’s made it more challenging to deal with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. And yet, it also gives us an opportunity to reset the definition.”
Particularly this year, Damour has noticed that the self-care moments that had been built into routines for years had vanished overnight. Driving from work back home marked a transition from work to home. Seeing coworkers added a hugely important social element to our days. Physical activity was built into the day.
Damour will offer suggestions for teens to use, even if they only have 15 minutes between dinner and homework time, to help reduce stress and anxiety. She suggests connecting with a friend or relative, distract themselves with something enjoyable or do an activity like going for a walk or taking a shower that will help the mind and body focus on the present, a technique called soft fascination.
This year, Damour has also realized the importance of connecting with kids on their level. Previously, many of her New York Times columns were written towards parents of teens rather than the teens themselves. She received a comment from a teen who read her column, “The 2020 Back-to-School List for Teens’ Emotional Well-Being,” and said that she should write directly to teens rather than their parents. So, she did, and she’ll be doing the same during her virtual presentation.
Damour is also the wife of a teacher and has two daughters, aged 10 and 17. So, like many, she’s been experiencing the pandemic professionally and personally. Her daughters have spent a combined 12 days in school this year.
“It is so exhausting, and so joyless. The fun of school is that an all-time low this year,” Damour said.
And what she hopes parents and teens will take away from the presentation is the same as what she hopes the world will take away from the pandemic.
“I’ll probably end up saying this to both groups directly, but we should just say it as many times as possible. The definition of mental health is not that people feel calm and relaxed,” she said. “The definition of mental health is you have the right feeling at the right time. And you can weather it.”