I am often surprised at how quickly children heal. They can be very troubled, yet with help, they may bounce back quickly. How are things different for teenagers? The difference between teenagers and younger children is that teenagers are dealing with more emotions and the intensity of those emotions can be overwhelming. The ability to learn how to deal with these emotions and developmental changes is an important stage of life in the transition to adulthood.
As a teenager, the strength of emotions can hit them all a once leaving them unsettled and unable to cope with what is going on in their bodies and minds. Its is a this point it can be helpful to learn that much of what they are feeling is normal, everyone goes through it a different intensities, but it is normal to feel many of the emotions they are feeling. That statement is probably not very helpful or useful by itself, because it hasn’t said much about how we actually deal with these strong thoughts and feelings, but it is important to vocalise, because most teenagers feel like what they are feeling is only happening to them and because they may feel isolated, they often don’t even talk to their friends about it.
It would be just easier if we could just switch out brains off for a bit of time, to stop the thoughts and feelings that can hang around. However thoughts and feelings often have a way of their own. If I ask you not to think about pink elephants for a minute, then you will likely think about pink elephants at some point. The lesson in this is that it is very difficult to control our thoughts and feelings, most time they just happen. However having said that just because we have an intense thought or a feeling doesn’t mean that we have to do something with it. Some tools to deal with this is to acknowledge the emotion… then stop… breathe… and let it pass. In this way we are learning to observe and become aware of what’s happening for us, recognise a trigger rather than reacting to the emotion immediately.
For example, when feelings of anxiousness and anxiety surface about a situation or person, we can be anxious about our anxiousness. Anxiety causes the lowering of oxygen in our blood, causing us both to be less smart, and also more anxious, because our body is physically going “Heh, we got a problem, there’s not enough oxygen.”
When we use awareness, to be aware that we are starting to feel anxious for example, then we have the opportunity to remember to breathe, and to be a bit technical, our higher noticing brain (the part that makes us smart) stays switched on and aware, and actually calms our body’s emergency response centre, the amygdala, which is in the middle part of our mammalian or emotional brain. This is important because if these things are triggering us and we are not aware, our amygdala can be overactive, and then it sets off the primal part of our brain, which raises heart rate, increases blood pressure, releases all sorts of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These are good for our fight or flight responses, our primary need to survive, and to fit in with others, but not so good for trying to manage our emotions.
So becoming aware of what is about to happen or happening to use… stopping… breathing, is more important than we think. What is emotionally tiring is not handling this increased sensitivity and strength of emotions. This can lead to some bad habits, responses and behaviours and also create more difficulties for us as well as from those who have to live with us.
I hope this post has been useful. Let me know your thoughts.