Dealing with Teen Emotions
Medically reviewed by Nathan Greene, PsyD — By Gia Miller
Teen life isn’t like the movies. It’s stressful trying to balance school & homework, plus your family & social life. There’s drama and trauma to work through, too.
Whether your best friend is canceling plans to spend more time with the next shiny object, or someone’s spreading rumors about you online, you’re upset and frustrated… yet again.
You might be under pressure to perform better than everyone else to secure “your future” and it’s got you so anxious your losing sleep and seeing weight changes.
Or when teen life is buzzing with excitement and possibility all around you, for seemingly everybody but you, and you’re filled with an empty sinking despair, how do you get better?
There must be a way to handle this roller coaster of emotions. But how?
Take control of your emotions
Are you mad? Angry? Sad? Frustrated? Take control of your emotions by identifying how you’re feeling.
Putting those feelings into words makes them less intense. Researchers believe there are a few reasons why this happens:
It gets you out of your head
Taking the time to figure out what you are feeling allows emotions to take their course naturally. Identifying the feeling clears the way to feel relief from it.
It’s a mindfulness exercise.
To put your emotions into words, you’ll need to figure out what you’re feeling. This mindfulness technique will help you calm down so you can do some self-reflection.
It gets rid of your doubt.
We’re often confused by our negative feelings. We feel something but aren’t sure exactly what. When you name your feelings, not only do you begin to understand what’s upset you, but you also begin to understand how you’re feeling about it. That clarity and acceptance can help you feel better.
Learn to surf
Therapists who specialize in working with teenagers suggest you learn to “ride the wave of emotion,” a strategy taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Here’s how it works. When upset, we can get caught up in the details about what we’re upset about and think we can soothe the feeling through thinking. But this can cause us to get stuck in negative thought loops.
Instead, we have to step outside the loop and into the feelings so the emotions can take their natural course.
Get it (healthily) out of your system
When you try to hold your feelings in or ignore them, it can make everything worse. Your emotions are sending you a message, and it’s one you shouldn’t ignore.
Even if holding it in makes you feel better for a little bit, you’ll still have those feelings inside. Bottling up your emotions can actually give you a stomach ache, or worse.
Another reason for getting it out of your system: It’s actually healthy for you! Specifically, crying releases “feel-good” chemicals in your body called oxytocin and endorphins.
They help soothe your physical and emotional pain. You’ll literally feel better after a good cry.
Besides a good cry, here are some other ways to release your emotions:
- Exercise. Skateboard, ride your bike, go for a run, surf, box, lift weights, or do something that helps you release those same endorphins and pent-up energy.
- Move to your favorite music. Dancing, and enjoying yourself, like going to karaoke, can lighten your mood.
- Do an activity you enjoy. Whether you like to make social media clips, play a sport, fidget with a hobby, or game (for a bit!), doing a fun activity can help you remember the good things and move on.
- Unwind. Whether it’s taking a bath, baking, or even cleaning, a relaxing activity can give you some time to think through — and get through — your feelings.
No one can do life alone. We all need support from time to time.
Reaching out to a friend or family member isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of confidence, emotional intelligence, and strength. It’s the side of “adulting” even many adults haven’t gotten right yet.
Talking with someone can help reduce your stress. And, when someone hears how you feel and validates your feelings, it can make you feel better.
Talking with a friend, family member or therapist can also help you put things in perspective. Often, that person will even help you come up with solutions to what’s bothering you.
Therapy is an ideal option because it’s:
- confidential — therapists are legally bound not to share details with your parents or anyone else (as long as you’re not expressing imminent danger to yourself or another)
- therapists are experts in emotions
- If your parents have insurance, it may be covered.
Post on social
Posting on social media when you’re sad or angry often makes things worse. When your emotions feel strong, you might write things you’ll later regret.
And, depending on how angry you are, your post might be a form of cyberbullying.
Using social media in a negative way won’t make you feel better. And once it’s posted online, it can do real damage to your future. Even if you delete it, it can still be found. This could potentially affect your future relationships or even a potential job.
Have a knee-jerk reaction
You’ll probably regret a knee-jerk reaction as well. Sitting with your feelings and calming down is important. Impulsively saying or doing something to the person who upset you (even if that person is you!) is a recipe for disaster.
Acting without stopping to think about what you’re doing could cause you to feel:
- embarrassed about what you said or did
- guilty about hurting the other person
- angry at yourself because you made the situation worse, not better
Plus, if you react too harshly, it could damage your reputation.
Bite the hand that feeds you
If someone is offering to help you, consider how you respond. Whether it’s a parent, another family member, friend, teacher, coach, or whomever. If they’re offering to help, they care about you.
If you respond by yelling at them or telling them to leave you alone, they probably will.
What’s worse, when you approach that teacher or coach for a recommendation letter or hit up your parent for cash, they may remember how you responded and choose not to help you.
If you really don’t want their help, decline kindly but clearly. Thank them for their offer and tell them you need to figure this one out on your own.
Take it out on yourself
Hurting yourself won’t make what’s upsetting you disappear. Whether you’re cutting or burning your skin, starving or bingeing and purging, or doing anything else harmful, self-harm is only a temporary release.
It can feel good to control your emotional pain for a few minutes, but it doesn’t actually help you work through your issues.
Plus, self-harm can become habit-forming or lead to far worse.