Let’s be honest, as teenagers we are all far too familiar with those moments of angst when our emotions take over all logical thinking, and morph into a confusing and uncontrollable force. In internet terms, we’re feeling All. The. Feels.
If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re definitely not alone. The stage of life post-childhood and pre-adulthood is an especially tumultuous one when it comes to our emotions. And really, what else can we expect with all those pesky hormones, out of control brain development, and exposure to new experiences we don’t know how to handle yet.
It’s very easy to feel like our emotions are the enemy, but as it turns out, all of the angst and confusion we experience during adolescence serves a very important purpose. Basically, it’s all part of a process that turns us from relatively carefree - but completely emotionally immature - children into functioning adults, equipped with the ability to understand and control their own emotions (what kind of witchcraft??).
When we’re kids, we know several key emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared. We associate these with certain actions and facial expressions - smiling means happy, crying means sad, and so on. Ask a little kid how they feel, and they’re likely to give one of these basic answers. Ask them why, and the reason will be pretty straightforward: “I’m angry because Jessica won’t share her toys with me”, or “I’m sad because mummy said I can’t get ice cream”.
But then puberty hits, and suddenly everything’s way more complicated than that. We start to experience complex emotions like romantic love, jealousy, guilt and insecurity. The causes of our emotional state starts to become more complex too, and the things that upset us no longer tend to have quick fixes. Jessica can be put in the naughty corner until she shares her toys, but the kind of sadness caused by self esteem issues is far more deep rooted than that. Most of us are prone to the occasional emotion outburst for little or no reason - spontaneous crying and irritability are common examples of this. We can feel multiple competing emotions at once, which is always a recipe for confusion, and that’s not even getting into the mood swings.
In short, on the emotional front, teens have it tough. That’s why over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a fortnightly series of articles all about various emotions. I’ll go into the neuroscience behind different feelings, the purposes of various emotions in our lives, and how we can best understand and control them. Each instalment will focus on a different core emotion, and throughout it I’ll take you through the science behind the changes going on in the adolescent mind.
The first issue of All The Feels, focusing on happiness, will be posted to The Muse in two week’s time. Stay tuned!