Feeling out of sorts lately? Here’s how to help your mind get back on track.
Been feeling uncharacteristically moody or lazy? Or being unusually unreasonable? Don’t worry, science says this can be a normal reflection of the changes going on in your head.
Between the ages of about 12 and 25, your brain undergoes signiﬁcant changes that aﬀect emotions, thinking and learning. It craves stimulation and novelty, is eager to learn new experiences (really quickly) and it isn’t afraid to take risks during this process of development. It encourages you to explore further and face new challenges (and errors) every day. But this drive to learn also brings with it confusion and uncertainty. It’s a tough time, especially when many are struggling to forge an identity that truly reﬂects who they are. Navigating this seemingly never-ending and changing journey to adulthood can leave you feeling unstable and vulnerable – and, unsurprisingly, it can aﬀect elements of your personality.
The science behind your behaviour
Science has demonstrated there are neurological, biological and sociological reasons for any out-of-character behaviour. Let’s focus on the neurological. The brain is readjusting your reasoning, logic and decision-making, so it isn’t surprising if you become more impulsive, unpredictable and irrational while it does this. Losing self-control? Enjoying taking risks? Angry at people (and yourself)? These are often normal and inevitable reactions to neurological changes. It’s hard to adapt to the ups and downs and the many new complex situations, intense emotions, unexpected freedoms (and unfair limitations) – and to the new ‘you’ in progress. Neuroscientist Frances E Jensen compares the teenage brain to a shiny new car that you struggle to control: ‘The brain just doesn’t know how to regulate itself yet. They’re like Ferraris with weak brakes. It’s revved up, but doesn’t always know how to stop.’ Like a car, then, with guidance, practise and perseverance comes control.
How to unlock your brain power
Your brain can be blamed for many things, but try not to use it as an excuse. You could think of it as a supercomputer – hugely complex with extraordinary powers – and yourself as the programmer, on a mission to teach it to make sensible choices and to deal with difficult emotions (embarrassment or anger) and handle stressful situations (exams or public speaking).
Science has demonstrated that your brain doesn’t control you – the opposite is the case. You can learn to control it. Training your brain to work for you is like exercising any muscle, but it takes mental rather than physical strength.
Brain exercise can improve memory and focus, boost the ability to stay calm under pressure and even encourage feelings of happiness. Of course, this isn’t easy. It takes eﬀ ort and practise but the opportunity is there for everyone. It involves working hard enough to ﬁnd out how you personally can be more positive, energised and productive to improve your quality of life.
Yes, the changes going on in your brain right now are causing you some short-term hiccups. But rather than blaming it for everything, try to see your brain as the most powerful tool you possess – the key that will allow you to unlock and maximise your potential. Still, it’s all well and good to build mental strength and endurance… but how do you do that? There are a few strategies, which can help to manage difficult emotions and enable you to think more clearly.
5 TOP TIPS FOR A BALANCED AND HEALTHY MIND
1. Exercise – for energy
As well as the physical beneﬁts, exercising also brings a great mental boost. It increases brain power by improving mood and reducing stress, making you feel more energetic and helping you to sleep better. Physical activity burns cortisol, the hormone produced by the body under stress, and releases uplifting endorphins and serotonin. Just a walk around your local park, dancing in your bedroom or a friendly game of cricket will work wonders for body and brain.
2. Be positive – for happiness
The brain is wired to focus on stressful things that happen and sometimes small negatives can become bigger and bigger to the point where you see only doom and gloom. Try to focus on the positives. You can break the cycle and even reverse it. Ways to do this include not comparing yourself to others, making a note of all your achievements and focusing on the things in your life that make you happy, no matter how small they might appear. Added up they grow into a positive energy that ﬂoods your brain with those feelgood endorphins. Repetition creates new habits, and with time and practise, you can rewire your brain to automatically make you see life in a completely diﬀerent, brighter (and better) light.
3. Reveal yourself – for authenticity
In the heat of the moment, your inner negative voice may get to you, overwhelming you with fear, jealousy or anger. Intense emotions are natural. The important thing is how you manage them, and expressing how you really feel will help to release any emotional pressure. One solution is to write or draw your emotions in a journal, while another might be to talk to someone you trust and who won’t judge you. The process involves identifying difficult situations and thinking them through in a constructive and sometimes critical way, but in the end it will help to reframe what’s bothering you and, hopefully, lessen any emotional turmoil.
4. Sleep better – for productivity
Sleep, like exercise, is food for a healthy brain. Lack of sleep is one of the main contributors to stress and mood changes. If you haven’t had enough sleep, you may feel tense and ﬁnd it harder to take in new thoughts and concentrate. Experts suggest that young adults need between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night to function eﬀectively. If you’re feeling more grouchy than usual, think about looking at your sleeping pattern. Are you staying up a bit too late on weeknights? Is your sleep being disrupted by the constant pinging of Instagram notiﬁcations on your phone? Try to improve your sleeping habits by establishing a night-time routine (think about turning oﬀ your phone an hour before you sleep) so that you’re more likely to wake feeling rested and ready to face another eventful day.
5. Be cautious – for wisdom
Each day brings new temptations. When your brain says ‘go, go, go!’, stop and think for a second. You may feel invincible – the impulsive side of your brain is pretty much in charge and you’ll feel like breaking the rules and being as reckless as some of your peers. But be warned. Rules (mostly) exist for a reason and other students sometimes do silly things, so always think before you act. Take any new experiences suggested to you as an opportunity to learn. If uncertain, talk to a trusted friend, sibling or adult who will help to guide and give you advice. They may be able to safely accompany you on your journey to discover your hidden potential and the new you that your brain is working on right now.