Managing Meltdowns and Teenage Distress

Article by Amy Smith,, Assistant Principal Wellbeing
Stella Maris / 26 July 2022

Dr Lisa Damour, a leading psychologist in the realm of child and adolescent development, presented at a recent webinar hosted by the Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia, titled, “Helping girls manage intense emotions”. Dr Damour co-hosts the “Ask Lisa” podcast, and regularly writes about teenagers for the New York Times. She is also the author of two New York Times best sellers, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

Dr Damour’s fantastic presentation focused on teenage meltdowns and psychological distress. A keystone of the Stella Maris Pastoral Program is the self-regulation of emotions and the importance of reflection before reacting in a circumstance. For young people (and adults) to feel capable of self-regulation, Dr Damour shared some useful insights:

  • Top of the list is sleep: to successfully deal with psychological distress, teenage girls need 9-10 hours sleep per night
  • Take time to allow your daughter to verbalise her feelings. It lowers cortisol, has a calming effect, and provides direct relief
  • Take the time to be curious and show empathy about your daughter’s experiences to help them self-regulate their emotions
  • For young people who do not like to talk, self-regulation occurs through activities such as exercise, art, or listening to music that matches their mood
  • Distraction can help regain perspective and find emotional relief
  • Asking your daughter to express what they can control helps reduce stress
  • Walk (or drive) alongside your daughter, rather than talk face to face, to help them verbalise their feelings

Whilst psychological distress in varying degrees is normal, Dr Damour gave examples of when to worry that the distress has become a mental health issue:

  • When a young person finds no relief from the above strategies
  • When a shift in behaviour or interests is observed, impacting normal life
  • When a young person shuts down and stops expressing emotions
  • When distractions are used in a long-term sense to numb the senses
  • Risk taking behaviour

Dr Damour has some excellent resources at: She has separate sections on family relationships; mental health; peer and friends; risky behaviour; school and college; and stress and coping. Each of these topics are broadly covered with a variety of media.