Mental wellbeing for young people

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Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 20 Jul, 2020

Difficult emotions are one of the HARDEST bits of being a teenager. One minute you are feeling fine and the next something happens - sometimes you don’t even know what! - and your mood plummets.

You feel flat, low, sad, rubbish - or incredibly cross and crabby - or anxious and unsettled - and you don’t know why.

WHAT ON EARTH is WITH all those feelings?

Teenage emotions are different - and that can be rough. So you might feel all at sea - and sometimes storms will blow up and you’ll find yourself riding waves of emotion. Sometimes you’ll know why - sometimes not, but that doesn’t make it easier.

The thing to remember with emotions is that their job is to grab your attention. So, particularly the negative ones - which tell us something significantly bad COULD be going on, so we might need to react - are hard to ignore. They trigger changes in your body AND your brain that are about making sure you don’t miss something important and setting you up in case you need to act.

There are two main things going on with teen emotions that make them more of a nuisance. First of all - WHEN and WHY are they triggered? Your brain kind of decides when to trigger an emotion by following rules or beliefs about life, or seasons where something is particularly important. So anything that might clash with a rule or belief, or relate in any way to something your brain thinks is important right now will trigger an emotion.

So, let’s say that you step out into the road and a bus is coming. That clashes with your rule of ‘staying alive’ (we all have that one). So your brain triggers anxiety and you gasp, leap out of the way and avoid disaster.

Or - what if you REALLY like someone. I mean - REALLY like them, hope they like you, have serious romance plans, get it? And you’re in the dining hall or something at school or college and someone says something and it SOUNDS like their voice. Think heart rate RACING, cold sweat, attention GRABBED - you’ve guessed it, that’s another emotion your brain used there.

When you’re a teen there are key things your brain needs to figure out - because it is changing to become ‘adult’ in the way it works. These include anything to do with who you are/your identity (so your best mate beat you in a yes and you WANTED to feel pleased for them but really you are just P-ed because you wanted to do better and you WANT to be the kind of person who is pleased but REALLY you are the second kind), what people think of you (so sarky comments, things people THOUGHT were a joke but REALLY weren’t funny - those things are annoyingly hard to ignore) or anything to do with friendships (why didn’t s/he reply to that text? Ok you know they probably didn’t see it but it is making you PROPERLY anxious and flirty and you want to be all cool but really you can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve checked your phone like a HUNDRED times already …), just to name a few.

All of that means you have a lot more emotion to handle - and that you react in different ways to the adults in your life. SO they can think you are over-reacting - but to you, it really does feel that bad because your brain is playing tricks on you. Nice.

The second thing about teen emotions is that they are not super fine-tuned so they tend to be a bit reactive. So if you think of any emotion on a 0-10 scale, usually you can feel yourself gradually going up the scale - so getting more and more annoyed, say … - but teen emotions can JUMP up and feel rather more ON and OFF. So you do feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. But that’s pretty normal.

When is it not normal? Well, if your emotions are really messing with your life then it can be good to get some help with them. So if you’re finding your mood drops or you hit another emotion like anxiety, and you feel really rough and cannot lift it - and this happens a lot, lasts a long time, or means you can’t even do basic stuff like sleep, eat, have fun, go to school, etc definitely worth a trip to chat to your Dr. And sometimes powerful emotions make us more likely to do things in an attempt to cope with them that just ain't that positive - so if you know you’re in that zone get some help.