Girl to Girl: Honest Talk About Growing Up and Your Changing Body

CHAPTER SIX
You Are Still You!
Dealing with the Emotional Parts of Puberty

If you’ve learned anything from this book so far, it’s that puberty is a time of change. Major change. We’ve mostly talked about physical changes, but there’s a lot of emotional growth that happens during puberty, too. Your personality is growing—you are becoming smarter and more aware of the world around you. And you actually start thinking differently. Growing up is also about maturing emotionally and mentally, which means you are probably thinking about things in your life more.

One minute you might feel full of life, excited and happy, like a helium balloon flying and bouncing in the wind. And then, a few minutes later, you might feel like all the air has been let out of your balloon. You might feel tired or sad—you might even feel like crying. What’s going on? Sure, you’ve cried before, but not after you’ve had a perfectly good day at school or when nothing is particularly wrong. The answer is, your emotions are really close to the surface during puberty. You can thank all those hormones pumping through your body!

When I was going through puberty, there were times when I felt very emotional. Sometimes I felt like crying, even though I wasn’t sad or upset, and it was confusing. I remember crying one afternoon, and my mom asked me what was wrong. I said “nothing”—I really didn’t know what I was crying about. She gave me a hug and told me not to worry, it was “growing pains.”

She meant that it’s hard, emotional work to grow up. And sometimes, because of all this hard work (and those hormones), you just need to let it out. You’re going through a lot of changes, and sometimes you’ll need to take a break and remember that it’s totally normal to be emotional. Even with all the ups and downs, you are still you. You’re the same girl you’ve always been; you’re just adding to that girl. That’s what growing up is all about—adding to the experiences you’ve already had and preparing yourself for new ones.

So when you aren’t sure why you are feeling so up and down, remember that it’s all part of the process. Growing pains really can be a pain, but they are worth it!

Dealing with Feelings

You can’t stop yourself from getting emotional during puberty. But there are some things you can do to understand and deal with your emotions, so you feel more like yourself more of the time.

A Girl Who’s Been There:

Emotions and Puberty

“The main thing I remember about puberty was how emotional I was. I’ve always been and probably always will be an emotional person, but throughout puberty I felt like I was always on the verge of crying for no reason at all. Talking to my friends about their experiences, I realize that everyone feels emotional during this time of life. But when I was going through it, I thought I was the only one who felt like that. I was worried I might be a little crazy, but nope! Crying and being emotional is absolutely, positively normal.” —Reese

1) Listen to Your Feelings

Dr. Michele Borba works with teens and preteens almost every day and says, “It’s normal to feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster with ups and downs. You may suddenly find yourself with a big case of the grumps and, in the next minute, running for a tissue to help hold back your tears.”

Your feelings work as internal signals that will tell you how to take care of yourself. It might take a while to figure out what your feelings are saying, but be patient with yourself and try to look for patterns. Are you sad after you’ve stayed up late the night before? You might be tired. Do you feel annoyed with your little sister after a long day at school? Maybe you’re hungry. Sometimes feeling a certain way means we need to make a change in our lives. If a friend is making you sad, for example, maybe you need to talk with them about why. When you feel emotional, take a moment to see if your brain is trying to tell you something.

2) Talk It Out

With so much going on in your life, it’s important that you have someone you can talk to. Whether it’s your mom or dad or another trusted adult, you need someone with whom you can share your feelings, ask questions, and turn to when you just need a shoulder to cry on! Talking about your feelings is an important part of growing up and can even help you better understand yourself.

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If you need a boost of confidence, stand up straight. Hold your head high and pull your shoulder blades back and together. Good posture is a signal to others, and yourself, that you are ready to tackle whatever comes your way.

3) Do Things That Make You Happy

There’s no better cure for a case of the puberty blues than doing something you really enjoy. Painting, ballet class, shooting hoops in the backyard, or pulling out your bead kit to make a bracelet—whatever activity you like best, go out and do it!

Image GET CONFIDENT: Growing Up Scrapbook Image

Sometimes it’s hard to see how much you’ve grown up because you see yourself every day, and you don’t really look that different one day to the next. But you are actually changing a lot. To see how much you’ve grown, work on your scrapbook or start a new collage with pictures from the past few months. Include photos from your favorite activities (like going to a school play or having a sleepover at your BFF’s) and hang it up in your bedroom. To everyone else it will be a cute collection of photos, but it will remind you how much you’re changing and growing up!

4) Avoid the Comparison Game

Dr. Borba and I agree that “comparison is at the root of most teen angst.” When you compare yourself to someone else, whether it’s your appearance, your grades, how well you play sports, or who your friends are, you are never going to be happy with the results. You’re different from your sister, your best friend, and the girl who lives down the street.

Comparing yourself to others is a sure way to encourage insecurity. Everyone has her own strengths. Instead of focusing on what other people do well, focus on what YOU do well.

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If you’re feeling down, make a list of all the things that make you who you are. Maybe you’re a great friend. Maybe you’re a good soccer player. Maybe you’re a natural in math class. You’ll be surprised how much you have to offer!

Sarah’s Tip: Practice Does NOT Make Perfect

I know a lot of girls who feel like they have to be perfect, that they have to talk and act a certain way, look a certain way, and be the best at everything they do. But that’s totally, utterly impossible. You might think that someone you know has a perfect life. But, even if it seems that way, it’s not true. You never know exactly what’s going on in everyone else’s lives, and we all have something that we are working on or dealing with.

Trying to be perfect will only make you unhappy, since it’s not something that you can ever achieve. So instead, try to be the best you can be. Whether you are learning a new dance or trying to get an A in English, it’s healthy to push yourself and work hard. You’ll make mistakes, and you might not be good at every single thing you try, but you’ll never know what you’re good at or what you like to do if you don’t try new things. Don’t let the idea of “perfect” get in your way!

5) Breathe

When all else fails, remember to Take a Deep Breath. If you are feeling emotional, close your eyes, then inhale and exhale slowly a few times. Focus on how it feels to fill up your lungs before breathing out every last ounce of air, like a leaky tire. I like to count while I do deep breathing. This just keeps the breathing even (and sometimes the counting helps me take my mind off whatever’s bothering me). Breathing will give your brain a minute to refocus and will help keep you calm. It’s also a great way to take a step back when you need a moment to yourself.

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Find Your Mantra: Having a phrase or saying that you tell yourself when you’re feeling stressed can bring things back into perspective. When I’m having a hard time, I tell myself, “You are so much stronger than you think you are.” It reminds me that I can do it!

Girl Talk: How Can I Talk to My Parents About Puberty?

Dear Sarah,

There’s a lot going on right now, and sometimes I feel like I can’t talk to my parents. I have worries and questions, but I can’t even explain everything I’m feeling. I don’t even know how to talk about what I’m going through.

Leslie

Dear Leslie,

You aren’t alone. It’s hard to talk about your body and things that feel really personal, even with your parents. But your parents know what it’s like to grow up, and they want to support you.

One girl I talked to said her parents seemed almost as embarrassed to talk about puberty as she was. That’s normal—your parents are getting used to you growing up, too! It might feel awkward at the beginning of the conversation, but as things get rolling, it will get easier.

If starting a conversation out of the blue makes you nervous, try writing your parents a note. It can be easier to write out your feelings, because you have time to think about what you want to say. You can ask questions or just let your parents know what you are going through. Then you can suggest a time to talk about things in person. Being able to prepare for the conversation might make you feel a little less awkward.

You’re going to have a lot of questions, because, as you say, you have a lot going on! Don’t let the embarrassment keep you from getting all the info you need and most of all, remember that your parents love you.

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Depression Is More Than Just Feeling Down

It’s normal to feel down sometimes. Life isn’t perfect, and we all have bad days, get in bad moods, and just have moments when we don’t feel like ourselves. But feeling sad or unhappy every once in a while and being depressed aren’t the same things. Normally, after a day or two of being upset or just out of whack, you bounce back and feel like yourself again. With depression, feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness can last for weeks, months—or in extreme cases, years. So if you feel sad or anxious for more than a couple of weeks, you need to get some help. Depression is a serious medical condition and not something you can deal with on your own.

Depression is caused by a number of factors and isn’t the same for everyone. Here are some general symptoms:

Image You sleep too much—meaning more than you typically do, since it’s normal to need a lot of sleep as a teenager.

Image You don’t sleep enough, or at all, because you’re anxious or worried but can’t seem to pinpoint exactly why.

Image You feel like you don’t have any energy or that you can’t, or don’t want to, do anything.

Image You withdraw from the things that usually make you happy, like hanging out with friends, spending time with family, or playing the piano.

Image You get bad grades or stop caring about school.

Image You lose your appetite.

Image You eat more than normal, even when you’re not hungry, because you don’t feel satisfied.

Image You have moments of extreme fear or anxiety, when your heart beats faster and you feel like you can’t get enough air—these are called panic attacks.

Image You feel like you can’t live up to everyone’s expectations and that you just don’t want to try anymore.

Image You stop caring about the consequences of your choices and become uncharacteristically rebellious.

If you recognize any of these things in yourself or think you might be depressed, you need to talk to an adult you trust. That might be hard, especially if you feel like you don’t have a lot of energy or can’t explain exactly what’s going on. There doesn’t have to be a specific reason you feel depressed. Sometimes people think it takes a hard thing, like losing a loved one or getting bullied at school, to cause depression. But that’s not always the case. Depression can sneak up on you, seemingly out of nowhere.

So even if you don’t feel like you can put words to how you feel, it’s important to talk to a parent or an adult and share as much as possible about what you’re going through. They can help you and, in the case of serious depression, make sure you get the help you need from a medical professional.

There are a lot of treatment options for depression. Some doctors use talk therapy, others use medicine, and some use a combination, and new treatments are being developed every day. Your doctor will figure out what you need so you can feel like yourself again and get back to the things that make you happy. It might take some time, but remember that you aren’t alone and you won’t feel like this forever. Millions of teenagers deal with depression every year, and your family, friends, and doctor can help you get through this.

A Note from Sarah: You Are You . . . and You Are Amazing

If you only take one thing from this book, I hope it’s that you are amazing. When I was going through puberty, there were times when I felt like my body was out of my control. It was stressful not knowing exactly what was coming next and how it was all going to turn out. How tall was I going to get? How big were my breasts going to grow? When was I going to get my first period? There were wonderful moments and sad moments and moments when I felt totally overwhelmed. You probably feel this way, too. It’s a lot to handle. Growing up is all about change, but it doesn’t change the person you are. At the end of the day, you are still you, only with new skills and experiences enhancing your personality. And eventually, you will be an amazing adult. Until then, try to take it one day at a time, and when you have those out-of-control moments like I did, just remember that you are still you. And you are amazing!

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