It’s only the first week of school and I’m already having a rough time. In fact, on the way home yesterday, I cried on my bike for the whole trip.
It seems like there are always mountains of stress on the shoulders of teenagers. Mine are specifically: not being appointed captain of the girls’ basketball team, my phone falling in water and dying, the enormous stress on my GPA in the new academic year, and getting into a small fight with one of my best friends.
I’ve noticed that instead of immersing myself in an extreme state of funk, my emotions fluctuate with extreme rollercoaster highs and lows. One second I’d be confident of being the leader of the student council, the next I’d be distressed because someone asked me who was the captain of the basketball team. If you feel this sometimes too, remember that it’s VERY NORMAL.
In fact, teenagers experience much more extreme shifts in emotions than adults because our hormones tend to be more unbalanced. In a phase of fast physical and mental growth, the hormonal levels in our body are still trying to keep up. Furthermore, the area of the brain that controls emotions, the amygdala, is still at its phase of maturity during the ages leading up to your 20s. Thus, I guess you could say it’s absolutely normal for teenagers to feel like we’re constantly on an emotional rollercoaster.
Life is hard enough without pivoting emotions getting in the way. As sojourners in the modern age, we no longer afford to engage in and reflect on the nuanced shifts of our happiness and stress whenever they pop up. We’re unlike, say, the characters in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, who give in and ponder in depth every strand of thought that happens to cross their minds. Most people would rather have a stable mental space so they could socialize, study, and enjoy themselves at ease.
This article aims to tell you how to properly leverage your emotions. There are changes you can make either in your life or in your mind that can steer you clear of tumultuous changes. But before we start, it’s important to know in advance that the brain is a highly gullible organ.
This means that every slightest mental signal we offer will alter how it perceives the tasks at hand. That’s why positive psychological hints are legitimate ways to manage your stress levels. I guess you could say we’re all capable of controlling our brains and throwing them hints to boost our happiness levels.
Find yourself some support!
Solitude can be amazing. In the constant hustle and bustle of the world, having some time alone is priceless for any introspections and observations that would form links between you and the world. A lot of my introverted friends also reflect that solitude serves as a chance for them to reboot after stressful socializing.
However, the downside of solitude is also painfully obvious. We are generally left naked to the ruthless stings of our own thoughts.
Whenever I’m by myself, I always feel my thoughts wandering to things like “how come last time in class, our business teacher had more eye contact with xxx and not with me? Does she like her better?” And “two months ago on that little pop quiz, I was so close to getting that 95%!
If only I had written…” and “Alright let’s make a list of all the reasons why xxx is better than me: she’s rich, she’s tall…” Yes I know— contemplations that are absolutely stupid and a total waste of time. Yet it is precisely these meaningless thoughts that tend to leave me in total anxiety and distress.
Being with others gives us a pathway to external affirmation. The physical presence of another body of soul eliminates negative possibilities of criticism. Because at its core, anxiety comes from the unknown: we are nervous because we don’t know how others perceive us—does she hate me?
Does he like me? What if what I said annoyed her? But if someone else sits right there beside you, you’d be open to a reliable, existing source of social communication. Positive or negative, the social codes you receive would be set in stone and wouldn’t require excessive thinking to ponder. (Of course, it’s always a better choice to surround yourself with people whom you know will give you positive signals. But in the case of emergencies, believe it or not, negative souls work as well.)
Speak to yourself!
All those motivational TED talks and books and podcasts you listen to will tell you that anxiety comes from the gap between what you are right now and what you think you can be. In other words, people tend to beat themselves up as a bad friend because they think they can make everyone in the world like them, but the reality doesn’t match up with their imaginations. A lot of students also freak out because they know they could be better students but they can’t always get the grades they anticipated.
Here is where inward affirmation comes in. If we know negative comments magically stir up our anxiety, why can’t positive comments have the same level of effect? Forget emotional ups and downs, what’s one thing that stays the same no matter how dramatically the dichotomy of mentality shifts?
The answer is literally yourself. Your personality and originality are stable. Workout YouTuber Pamela Reif said in her TED talk: “Originality always prevails.” The world and the social rules in it are always changing, but as long as we thrive as unique individuals, we can bring special things into this world.
That’s why the best inward affirmations are usually about your originality. Tell yourself about all the things that make you special. These could be your character traits and mental thoughts—you can also get a little egotistical and come up with things that you do better than those around you, your areas of confidence.
A little something more: learning to run away.
Emotional shifts always have triggers. When these triggers are external, you have to learn to run away. A lot of the time, someone close to you may be an outlet of negativity.
He or she may be a little too demanding or judgmental. Sometimes they might even make you feel bad without doing anything wrong: maybe they took a toll on your confidence by beating you at something you hold valuable. When these things happen, there’s no penalty to taking a break from these triggers. Instead of trying to soldier through all the time, try to give yourself the freedom to rewind and reset. You might come back feeling stronger when facing that trigger.