Thursday, October 28, 2010



Everyone has their own unique triggers causing them unwelcome stress, including girls. For many, stress is caused by their own perfectionism and expectations for themselves. For others--too many--it is stress about body image. And that's just a start. There are school issues, along with interactions with family and friends that can add or reduce stress in their lives.

In the following article on Jill Zimmerman Rutledge, Psychologist and Author, provides us with tools to identify and address stress in our lives and the lives of young girls.

How To Know It’s Stress:

Girls often report physical and emotional symptoms, which they and their parents may be treating without linking it to stress. Girls talk about being sad, low-energy, anxious, or irritable. They get chronic headaches, stomachaches, muscular tension, or say that they are just “not feeling good.” Often they can’t get to sleep, or they sleep a lot. They might be eating all day, or not eating at all. Sometimes these eating behaviors can indicate a disorder, but often it’s just stress. They might be doing drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating for stress.

Girls and parents can often make the connection with stress by just being observant. Make a log when feeling symptoms, like what you are thinking about and doing when you start feeling bad. Parents can chart their own observations as well. When girls are able to change a situation or attitude to make it less stressful, they’ll often see symptoms subside.

What Are The Top Stressors For Girls?

Top 10 stressors often include:

Body Image
Substances (smoking, drinking, and drugs)
Sleep Problems
Bullies and Friend Relationships
Sexual Identity

Overall, the Top 3 stresses are body image, school, and guys.

Soothing Stress About Looks:

Body image stress is #1 with girls. Body image is strongly linked to self image for girls. Talk with girls about trying to accept that there are some things about how we look that we may like a lot, and some things we may not like very much. Ask girls to say to themselves and their friends "I’m good enough and I don’t have to be perfect."

Another way we can help is to focus on accomplishments and not looks. Tell girls to look at athletes like Mia Hamm’s legs--they aren’t feminine, they are muscular because that is what she needs to accomplish her athletic goals. Try looking at baby pictures. Noticed how happy we are then, when we never thought about how we looked.

Taming Stressful Expectations:

A tremendous source of girls’ stress is all the work that is piled on at school. There is so much pressure to take honors and AP classes and to do lots of extracurricular activities. There is a lot of emphasis on test scores. And parents are sometimes the worst about pressuring girls to do more. But we have to remind ourselves and our girls that these kinds of classes aren’t always necessary. There are a lot of successful people who didn’t go to Harvard. The important thing is to feel good about yourself--that’s when you can achieve in whatever area you choose.

Girls often keep adding things on because they want to please other people. Many girls have a hard time saying no. We can teach girls to say things like, "I can’t do this now." Create a "don’t-do" list or help develop ways to relax when we are feeling frazzled. Do puzzles or work in a garden. Meditation is always a good option. It doesn’t require any training or special equipment; just find a place you like to relax. Even 15 minutes can make a real difference toward rejuvenating.

Easing Anxiety And Depression:

Many girls are just really anxious. To them, anxiety feels free-floating, and they can’t put a finger on what causes it. Figure out what the trigger is, even if it’s related to family. Behavior at home can sometimes bring on anxiety. Often, it’s school stuff that brings on anxiety.

Unless there is an acute danger, it is important that we give girls a chance to learn coping skills on their own or with a counselor. When we learn coping skills, our neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) can change to make us feel better, just as it can with medication.

Helping Girls See The Big Picture:

What we should teach girls is that sometimes life includes bad feelings, sadness, and disappointment. The focus should be on how to comfort ourselves. Sometimes switching activities helps, going to see a movie, taking a walk, or just talking. Another thing we can do is to think about times in our lives when we were hurt and then learned that life goes on. To girls, these kinds of situations can seem like the end of the world.

Don’t hesitate to start young--a nine-year-old will need more assistance from a parent, but she can still develop coping techniques to reduce whatever stresses she has. If we can teach girls at a young age to self-regulate their stress, they’ll be so much more prepared for the increasing challenges to come. Coping skills are a great gift because they last for a lifetime.

To learn more about the topic of stress and read summary findings from Girls Inc.'s The Supergirl Dilemma nationwide survey of school-aged children, visit

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