In this blog I want to explore ‘mood’ in relation to teenagers and how it can manifest itself as anxiety, anger and depression. Going beyond the ‘moody teenager’ description, my aim is to help you as parents understand more about how we can support our teenagers and their moods through starting to explore the workings of the teenage brain.
From when I was a teenager myself, I have been defined by others and myself as an ‘anxious person’, and an ‘anxiety sufferer’, much as I hear people tell others they are ‘suffering’ from depression. I am proud to highlight the mental health journey I have been on, and the ups and downs of life, and I am equally pleased that people feel able to admit how they are feeling.
However, attaching ‘sufferer’ and ‘anxious person’ to these labels suggest we are defined by these emotions, and we need to live our lives pandering to them, trying to ‘get rid’ of them and ‘solve them. Teenagers themselves are becoming increasingly concerned about ‘being anxious’ and what that means and it can feel to them sometimes to be a downward spiral if they have no understanding of what it actually means.
Consider this. What if anxiety is a normal human response which everyone experiences, part of our make up as much as joy, happiness and excitement are? What if we can’t be ourselves unless we have these emotions and feelings too?
If you haven’t watched Inside Out, a Disney Pixar film, then I highly recommend it. It’s a children’s film with a fantastic and poignant meaning. It shows how all our emotions, feelings and reactions are important, when they work together, and it helps us to understand how they fit together in our mind.
What is the key to understanding anxiety, anger and depression for us, and our teens?
The key is understanding our brain, how it works and how it can impact on our daily lives.
What if I told you that anxiety was a primitive brain reaction to threats in our lives, to put us on high alert and lead us to looking at everything in relation to the worst-case scenario, as our mind is telling us that this is needed for our survival?
What if anger was again, a primitive, caveman brain response to that threat we are facing, where the anger makes us feel physically strong and invincible in that moment to stand and fight or run as fast as we can to get ourselves out of danger?
And depression, our brains way of retreating us from everyday life, interactions, to conserve energy and wait until things outside our cave were safer, more predictable and easier to manage? This is particularly relevant for teenagers right now to understand how some of them just do not want to return to school, and have withdrawn from everyday life. They have discovered that it is easier to stay at home, in a place where they feel safe and secure rather than re-enter and re-navigate the complex world of being a teenager.
Understanding these responses in relation to our brain gives us control back, gives us a sense of knowing where our emotions and therefore reactions are coming from at any given time. The pandemic this year has seen us all retreating into that primitive, cave man part of our brain so much more than usual as we have been told that our everyday life which we took for granted is dangerous, that stepping outside our homes needs to be done with caution, with us measuring all things in the light of what might go wrong, waiting for something bad to happen. I don’t need to tell you that this pandemic has not been good for ours or our teens mental health, how we live and cope with everyday life and how we feel about the world around us.
So what can we do about it?
We can learn more about these primitive brain reactions and how they affect us, and our teens, and what we can do to activate their logical, rational part of their brain. This is more challenging for teenagers as the part of their brain which regulates emotions is under development during this time, and they often experience emotions and feelings with much more intensity than us adults do. It is why a simple question or request from you can lead to a dramatic meltdown or extreme reaction in your teen. Understanding more about the teen brain will help you move through the next few months, and years and support your children to do so too.
What is the logical part of our brain?
This part (also known as the pre-frontal cortex) looks at the bigger picture, that perspective, rather than reacting to a situation as it presents itself in the moment. This is what I do, every single day, I bring people out of their caves and back into the real world, where anxiety, anger and depression is a natural, normal part of everyday life but is not the defining, life leading part. Reducing the impact of these emotions enables us to see the future more clearly, with optimism, stop waiting for others actions to make us feel better and allow us to get the most pleasure and enjoyment from life as we can. With teenagers it is about focusing on what they can do, rather than what they can’t and taking small steps to help them see that there is another way to look at things, even when their emotional, survival brain is dominant.
If you would like to learn more about how to support your teenagers mood as we get back on track after a challenging a difficult year, consider booking a place on my Tools for Teen – Understanding the Teenage Brain Online Course which starts on Monday 12th July.
Short, five-minute videos, which you can watch at your leisure, and the opportunity to gain knowledge, ask questions and feel supported as we continue to navigate the pathway of parenting teens. Places are limited as I want to offer my full support to every single person who joins.
More information and the link to book is here. Find out more by watching the video below…