As a growing child or youth, there are lots of changes going on in your brain. Even though it only weighs 3 lbs, the brain is very complicated, and controls almost everything in our bodies, and almost all of our behavior! The fastest growing area of your brain is the area right behind your forehead and above your eyes. Being in the front of the brain, this area is often called the “frontal lobes”. Just like in a car, our brains have brakes and gas petals. The “frontal lobes” contain the brakes. Our emotions or feelings (happy, sad, mad, scared, and others) are controlled by a deep area of the brain called the “limbic system”. The “limbic system” is like the gas pedal because our feelings drive our behavior. But when things are working well the “frontal lobes”, or brakes, keep these feelings in check, so we feel in control.
Unfortunately, the way nature works is that the gas pedal of the brain (“limbic system”) grows first, and is revved up by the all of the chemicals that help the body grow when we’re teenagers (hormones). The brakes of the brain (“frontal lobes”) are slower to develop, and aren’t fully developed until your mid-20s. That’s part of why teenagers sometimes have a harder time with their feelings, and why these years can be so stressful! Different mental health problems affect different parts of the brain, but most involve these two main areas – the “limbic system” (gas), and the “frontal lobes” (brakes).
The cool thing is that the brain is “plastic” – which means it can grow and change. So you can learn how to change your brain to better deal with stress and strong feelings or emotions. A healthy diet and regular exercise can change your brain for the better and help you deal with stress. A mental health evaluation can help identify what other types of help might work the best. For some kids this may include psychotherapy and/or medication.
A good resource is the Canadian Mental Health Association's website.