It’s all about the brain science

Why all the feelings and emotions? Why can they be trickier now when you are growing in adulthood?

Our brains are amazing. At the moment your brain is doing things like keeping our hearts beating or making sure we’re breathing. All without us being aware. Until someone mentions it!  

our amazing brain


Anyway back to the amazing brain…

As well as all the breathing and the other stuff keeping our bodies going. The brain is where our all our learning and decision making takes place, and where our emotions and feelings are controlled.

A model of the brain

Unless you’re planning a career in neuroscience this is a really good way to understand what's happening inside our brains (click on the image to get a bigger version) 

hand model of the brain


You’ll not be surprised to hear adolescence can be a tricky time brain-wise. Your amazing brain is undergoing some pretty big changes:

  • You’re making lots of new grey matter and new connections as your brain develops.
  • At the same time there’s a bit of ‘pruning’ going on where old and unimportant stuff you don’t need any more is being cut away.

This is why teenagers need so much sleep as a lot of work happens when you’re sleeping.

The different parts of the brain develop at different rates, e.g. the limbic system (where the emotional processing takes place) develops faster than the cortex, the logic and decision-making centre.  

This means adolescents can be more reactive; emotional rather than being rational (‘flipping your lid’). Behaviour can be inconsistent and more risky.

BUT it’s not all bad news… as the brain develops at this time there is tremendous potential for learning and enjoying new experiences.

Your brain needs your help as it develops:

  • Lots of sleep
  • Exercise
  • A healthy diet
  • Relaxation

The 5 Ways to Wellbeing are a good guide to looking after yourself.

Brain Chemicals

Emotions are controlled by different levels of chemicals in the brain. The ones you need to know about are

1. The happiness chemicals:

  • Serotonin – helps stabilise mood and is responsible for our feeling of wellbeing and happiness
  • Dopamine – is released when we reach a goal or complete a task
  • Oxytocin – is stimulated by trust and touch. It forms when we are around other people and socialising.
  • Endorphins – are released to reduce stress and relieve pain. They can produce a feeling of euphoria – have you heard of the ‘endorphin high’ that comes from physical exercise?

 There are things you can to boost your happiness chemicals every day:

happiness chemicals graphic

The stress hormone

  • Cortisol - As your body perceives stress, it sets off the alarm system and your body makes and releases the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. It's your natural “flight or fight” response that has kept humans alive for thousands of years. Cortisol is increased if you don't get enough sleep. Less sleep = more stress.  

More about the brain: