From anxiety to empowerment

It is said that the work of the school is determined by the needs of society. In her latest book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, Lisa Damour identifies that while anxiety has risen among young people overall, it has skyrocketed in girls. Girls are feeling more pressure and enduring more of the physical symptoms of psychological strain, such as fatigue and changes in appetite. They are more likely to experience the emotions often associated with anxiety. Report after report has confirmed that girls are more likely than boys to labour under feelings of psychological stress and tension. One study found that the number of teenage girls who said they often felt nervous, worried, or fearful jumped by 55 per cent from 2009 to 2014 while remaining unchanged for adolescent boys over the same period. As Lisa notes, stress and anxiety aren’t all bad, in fact, we can’t thrive without them. Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy forms of stress and anxiety is important if we are to help girls manage the tensions they feel.

‘When we confront what makes us uneasy – and help our daughters to do the same – we find that anxiety is usually a warning that something is amiss and that stress is inherent to growth and change’- Lisa Damour, Ph.D.

Healthy stress happens when we take on new challenges or do things that feel psychologically threatening. Pushing ourselves past familiar limits builds our capacity. Much of what our girls learn about managing stress comes from observing how adults manage it. Daughters watch parents for cues about how alarmed they should be by life’s difficulties. When we accept that stress often leads to growth, and help our girls do the same, we create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. When we allow girls to persistently and continuously overexert themselves, they develop great confidence in their work ethic but not in their talents. We need to raise our girls to feel reassured that they can draw on both. Being low on self-assurance may have real and negative consequences not only at school but also into the working world. At Ruyton we recognise teachers are not simply facilitators of content and standards, rather we are social scientists, researchers and agents of change who occupy a unique position to impact student learning in ways that no grade, transcript, or standardised test can ever do. We challenge ourselves to continually improve, recognising that teaching and learning will only be effective if we continually reflect on the changing needs of learners and the best methodologies to provide rich learning experiences. As an act of continuing scholarship our educators conduct research, report their findings, and reflect on the research process itself. This process embeds and celebrates the culture of learning in our professional practice. In 2018 we launched the Anxiety to Empowerment Research Project at Ruyton, to understand the causes of academic worry for our girls and determine a clear schoolwide strategy focused on minimising and managing this worry. All of our teaching staff continue to be engaged in this research focus in 2019, refining practices and empowering every girl to flourish.   Ms Linda Douglas Principal Ruyton Girls’ School


As an independent, forward thinking girls’ school, Ruyton is committed to preparing girls for a lifetime of learning, leadership and […]

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