How will you handle that?

Developing Resilient Leaders  
Anxiety in teenage girls 

As a community we find ourselves at a time where there are increased rates of stress, anxiety, and depression amongst our youth.  

In each of these areas, girls are represented at a much higher rate in comparison to their male counterparts. A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on Australia’s youth focused on people between the ages of 12 and 24 (AIHW, 2021). The Report found: 

  • 30 percent of girls have symptoms of self-reported anxiety, stress or depression compared to 14 percent of boys. 
  • 30 percent of young women as opposed to 21 percent of young men reported having a long term mental or behavioural condition.  
  • Anxiety followed by depressive disorders are the most common disorders amongst young women.  

This gender imbalance is not limited to adolescents. Data retrieved from the American College Health Association from the National College Health Assessment shows 43 percent of young women in undergraduate courses are more likely than males to report feeling overcome by anxiety. They are more overwhelmed and exhausted, and experience higher levels of stress (ACHA, 2014). 

Building Resilience

Despite all this, psychologists continue to note that the mental states of both stress and anxiety have healthy forms (Wu et al., 2013). They believe them to be catalysts for the growth and development of humans. This is because the stress of operating beyond our comfort zone builds our capacity to cope with future challenges by developing our resilience. Similarly, anxiety, which produces emotional discomfort, alerts us to focus our senses to home in on our decision making capacity in difficult situations. 

As adults, we desperately want to help our young people navigate the challenges they face. When we see our teenagers experiencing emotional discomfort, the temptation is often to remove the obstacle in their path, thus eliminating stress or symptoms of anxiety. However, in the long term this can prevent our young people from developing agency, independence, and resilience (Ashokan et al., 2016; Damour, 2017). 

American clinical psychologist and author, Dr Lisa Damour specialises in the development of teenage girls. She suggests a better alternative is to empathise with your daughter and then to ask her what help she needs to ‘handle’ the cards she has been dealt. Not only does this generate acceptance, but also builds her sense of capacity to deal with the situation and develops ‘stress inoculation,’ enabling her to cope better in future moments of discomfort (Damour, 2017).  

Leadership 2023 

This Term, our Year 11 students have embarked on their 2023 Leadership journey.  

By way of introduction to the process, 2022 School Co-Captain, Madeline (Maddie) Powell and Environment Captain, Arabella Llewelyn addressed the Cohort about their own journeys. From the outset, Maddie and Arabella were clear and open about the fact that the leadership process would, at times, be stressful.  

Both Captains believed that the best way to deal with this stress was to acknowledge and accept it, but to also embrace the opportunity before them to lead change at St Catherine’s. Arabella explained that regardless of what position you do or do not get, “every person here has the capacity to lead, and you will find that you will work as a Cohort to shape the way you want the School to be.”  

The leadership process requires students to self-reflect, to recognise their skills, passions, and strengths. After watching others, year in and year out take up student leadership roles within the School, it can be challenging to find the courage to apply for a position. Often students feel uncomfortable recognising, recording, justifying, and revealing to others their ability and desires when in the pursuit of a position.  

It requires courage to place oneself in a vulnerable situation, where they are chosen by their peers. Once elected to a position, there are, as Maddie explained some rocky moments along the way. “You will encounter the storming, forming, norming process. Storming, where you encounter conflicts, you might initially find hard to navigate. Forming, where you develop your capacity and approach to dealing with adversity, and norming, where you finally get your leadership skills to a level where they become a part of everyday life.” Maddie explained that the difficult moments in the storming and forming phases built her capacity to lead and leave a better legacy than she would have otherwise.  

As we wish all applicants well, we acknowledge that there is great learning embedded in this process. The students will most certainly encounter challenges along their journeys. This might happen when applying, through the voting period, when unexpected results occur or during their leadership tenure.  

No doubt, there will be moments of emotional discomfort. As emerging leaders, with or without official titles, as difficult as these moments may be, if they are to grow from the experience, the question remains ‘how will you handle that?’ 

American College Health Association. (2014). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference group and executive summary. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association.  

Ashokan, A., Sivasubramanian, M., & Mitra, R. (2016). Seeding Stress Resilience through Inoculation. Neural plasticity, 2016, 4928081. 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Australia’s youth: Mental illness. Retrieved from 

Damour, L. (2019). Under pressure: Confronting the epidemic of stress and anxiety in girls. Atlantic Books, London 

Wu, G., Feder, A., Cohen, H., Kim, J. J., Calderon, S., Charney, D. S., & Mathé, A. A. (2013). Understanding resilience. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 7, 10.  

Ms Liv Cher, Acting Director of School Operations