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Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Award-Winning Science Journalist & Author

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Award-Winning Science Journalist & Author


Donna Jackson Nakazawa is an award-winning science journalist, author of seven books, and an internationally-recognized speaker whose work explores the intersection of neurobiology and human emotion.

Her latest book, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media, was named one of the best health books of 2022 by The Washington Post and Mashable. Donna’s other books include The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine, named one of the best books of 2020 by Wired magazine, Childhood Disrupted, a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award, and The Last Best Cure.

Her writing has appeared in Wired, The Boston Globe, Stat, The Washington Post and Health Affairs. She has appeared on The Today Show and NPR and is a regular speaker at universities, including the Harvard Division of Science Library Series, UCLA Health, Rutgers, Johns Hopkins, Learning & the Brain, Children’s Hospital Association, and the University of Arizona. Donna is also the creator and founder of the narrative writing-to-heal programs, Breaking Free From Trauma, and Your Healing Narrative, which help participants to create a new, powerful, inner healing narrative that calms the body, brain, and nervous system.

Speaker Videos

Chronic Unpredictable Stress and the Effect on Brain Health

Childhood, Disrupted, and How we Can Heal Communities, Families, and Ourselves

GIRLS ON THE BRINK: Something is Happening to Our Girls When They Hit Puberty

Speech Topics

Raising Emotionally Healthy Girls

From award-winning journalist and author of GIRLS ON THE BRINK, CHILDHOOD DISRUPTED, and THE ANGEL AND THE ASSASSIN: a new and important talk exploring the causes of the mental health epidemic facing girls today – and revelatory new strategies to help girls thrive.
Our girls are simply not okay. As anyone on the front lines will tell you, girls are more anxious and prone to depression and self-harming than ever before. But until recently we haven’t had the science to explain why this is happening—and why it is happening now.

At last, we have a roadmap to help them. In this lecture, Donna deftly braids together this latest research to show why so many girls today are struggling – and how we can help them thrive even in troubled times. She delves deep into:

  • Revelatory new science on how unrelenting stress affects girls’ health and development in unique ways – and why we’re just learning about this science now.
  • How and why chronic stress during the critical neurodevelopmental window of puberty can ramp up girls’ stress machinery in body and brain in ways that derail mental health.
  • Why this translates into double and triple the rates of anxiety and depression in girls compared to boys at the onset of puberty.
  • What it means for girls’ well-being that puberty is happening earlier, before adolescence.
  • The critical importance of social safety for female health and development – and why a girl's sense of safety shapes her well-being long into adulthood.
  • Why excessive social media use is so harmful during puberty, especially for girls.
  • What it means for girls’ mental health that they no longer experience a period of pressure-free exploration during the “in-between years” of 7 – 13.
  • How girls’ experiences and the unique pressures they face today are triggering a mismatch between our deep evolutionary wiring and modern life.
  • What all this means for raising and educating emotionally healthy boys, too!

Lastly, Donna answers the question: What can we do to help girls thrive? The good news is this: the science that’s shown us the why has also shown us how we can solve this epidemic. Puberty is a time during which the female brain is highly flexible and responsive to specific kinds of support and powerful new approaches. Donna lays out science-backed “antidote” strategies to help girls flourish in our troubled times. This illuminating talk provides a new playbook for how we—parents, families, and communities—can ensure a healthy emotional life for all of our girls.

Girls on the Brink: A Talk for High School Girls

In this interactive lecture, Donna talks directly to high school girls about:

  • The issues and pressures they’re facing in this era of overwhelm.
  • The neuroscience behind why they may be feeling the way they do, including how chronic, unrelenting stress during puberty can ramp up girls’ body and brain’s stress machinery in unhealthy ways.
  • Why we’re just learning about this science on the female brain now, while also addressing the question of how this frame intersects with non-binary individuals.
  • What it means for girls’ emotional resiliency that puberty is happening earlier today, before adolescence, and that they no longer experience a period of pressure-free exploration during the “in-between years” of 7 – 13.
  • The critical importance of social safety and how social media interferes with their felt sense of safety at a critical age.
  • Why rumination can be particularly harmful at this age, and an array of powerful strategies to step out of rumination and bring down their body and brain’s stress machinery. (Here, Donna asks girls to stand up and try a few techniques!)

As a powerful close to this event, Donna collects Post-it notes from girls in the audience – notes on which they’ve written what they wish the adults in their lives knew, what they worry most about but have trouble saying out loud, and what they wish the adults were doing differently. Donna reads these powerful messages out loud, anonymously, to help girls voice their struggles and be heard.

This talk is often paired with a separate talk geared to parents and/or educators.

The New Neurobiology of Trauma & Pathways to Well-Being in Troubled Times: A Talk by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

In this talk, Donna opens a new doorway into understanding the link between trauma, chronic stress, and our physical and mental health. Based on her award-winning books, Childhood Disrupted: How our Biography Becomes our Biology, and The Angel and the Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell that Changed the Course of Medicine, Donna delves into the latest science on how trauma and toxic stress affect the brain, nervous system, and stress-response in ways that shape health from cradle to grave. She shares up-to-the-minute neuroscience on how modern stressors affect our sense of safety and well-being; why young people are uniquely affected; how powerful immune cells in the brain crosstalk with our body's immune system; the way in which our brain dances with ever-changing cues in our environment and how this profoundly shapes mental health; why a sense of unsafety can lead to powerful epigenetic and neural changes, which, in turn, can manifest as mental health disorders, addiction, and cognitive decline. This presentation leaves audiences with a new and deep understanding that the brain is forever plastic, and sets forth new hope for addressing mental health and cognitive concerns. Together, these findings create a radically reconceived picture of human health; one that helps us to better address and promote human flourishing in our troubled times.