You’re not handling life too well lately. The smallest problems make you mad, and sometimes, you secretly hate everyone in your life. Things that didn’t really upset you before, like waiting in queues, now tempt you to punch someone or break a window.
Why do you feel like such a crazy monster these days?
Okay, we all have problems, but there’s also a biological reason why you suddenly become very angry.
Basically, the calm, civilised and rational bits of your brain – the frontal lobes – are “closed for construction” during adolescence, explains clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller.
These fabulous frontal lobes are what make us decent humans. They help us to “plan, consider, control impulses, make wise judgments, and be kind, caring, considerate people”, he says.
The problem? This is the last bit of your brain to mature.
Imagine your brain as a house – and hormones as a bunch of unwanted guests who make a noise, wreck your stuff and won’t clean up after themselves.
Hormones become really powerful in adolescence, which means that you’re naturally geared up for extreme feelings, fighting, confrontation and
sudden bursts of anger over “minor” things.
“Aggressive behaviour peaks during adolescence in a number of primate species,” says Fuller.
“Aggression has its origins in the limbic [system] and particularly the amygdala [both of which relate to the emotions], and shapes ‘fight or flight’ responses. When emotional, adolescents have lower activity in their frontal lobes and more activity in the amygdala than adults.
“The amygdala may also be more easily activated in adolescents.”
So, you’re not crazy – and it’s completely normal to feel out of control sometimes. But obviously, you still need to be a functioning human. Here are three very important tips:
• Get enough sleep
• Look after your friendships
• Learn some cool calming tricks.
“Teenagers who are sleep-deprived do less well at school and are more prone to feelings of sadness and hopelessness,” says Fuller.
So how do you prevent this? Avoid caffeine after midday; don’t have a computer or TV screen flickering on in your bedroom at night; and make sure that you get plenty of light as soon as you wake up (open the curtains, switch on a bedside lamp, for example), as this kick-starts the body’s “wake up and get going” cycle. Cultivating good friendships is also a fabulous way to find your inner calm and avoid too many angry outbursts.
Research shows that teenagers spend almost one-third of their time awake chatting to peers, but only eight per cent talking to adults, explains Fuller.
It’s possible that close teenage friendships have a dual purpose: first, we learn from our mates because we love to imitate each other; second, we learn to be more independent of our families.
Anger is a sign of stress. “We get so used to being stressed that it can feel weird to wind down and relax,” says Fuller. So as soon as a teen starts to chill out, they may get jumpy and feel worse. If this sounds familiar, it’s a sure sign you are stressed and you need to do something about it. But you should know that it is going to take a bit
of time and a few practice runs before you’ll notice any changes, he adds.
Here are some things you can do to help you focus on your immediate tasks:
• Exercise. This lowers stress levels and increases blood flow to the “smart parts” of our brains, helping us to solve problems. Dancing, juggling, swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, drumming, roller-skating and table tennis are good choices.
• Write it out. Fuller advises that you “get your worries out of your head” by writing them on a sheet of paper or making a note or voice memo on your phone. “All human beings worry at times, so don’t feel strange or odd or different.”
• Talk to someone you trust.
• Breathe deeply. “Put your hand on your belly and take a big breath. Then slowly breathe out as you count to yourself, “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand”.
• Drink lots of water. This lowers the level of your cortisol, a stress hormone.
• Just do it. Just start somewhere, even if your first attempt isn’t perfect, says Fuller. “Getting started builds momentum and confidence.”
• Use a mood-shifting playlist. “Music is a powerful way of lessening stress. Make a playlist of your best feel-good songs and play them when you find the worries creeping in,” adds Fuller.