I’m a 12-year-old guy, and recently I’ve noticed I get really easily irritated with people—and I cry so easily! My mom says it’s just teen angst. Is that true? Or is something wrong with me? What can I do to stop feeling so emotional all the time?

In short? Yes. It’s completely normal.

Here’s what’s up. When you begin to experience puberty, your body releases a ton of hormones to encourage your body to develop. This includes growing pubic and underarm hair, developing breasts, having your penis and testicles grow, and many other changes.

These hormones don’t just affect your body though—they also affect your brain. You may begin to think about sex and develop romantic feelings for others. Puberty means you’re beginning the long process of turning into an adult, which is super cool! Unfortunately, one of the side effects of bathing your brain in all those hormones is that you’ll probably experience a lot of intense emotions, which is what your mom means when she talks about teen angst. It’s completely normal to be excited and all over the place one minute, and then want to do nothing but sleep the next. Or go from enjoying someone’s company to needing to be by yourself. It may also make you more emotional—hence the crying.

And on top of these hormonal changes, you may want more independence from your parents, or be stressed out or self-conscious about the physical changes in your body.

Some people have the false idea that only girls have intense emotions, but that is SO not true. Everyone does, and crying is a completely normal and healthy way to express your emotions for people of ALL genders. Don’t let anyone convince you differently!

You can manage your emotions so they don’t get too overwhelming. The next time you find yourself getting irritated, take five slow, deep breaths to calm yourself. Try going for a jog or doing some other form of exercise. Talk to your someone you trust about what you’re feeling. Express your emotions—just leaving them bottled up is no good. Try journaling, painting, playing music, singing—anything you want, even if you think you’re no good at it.

Keep an eye on your feelings, though. It can be easy to mistake depression for teen angst, since a lot of the symptoms are similar. While teen angst is completely normal and will pass with time, depression is a serious mental illness that’s treated by health care providers. Remember that having depression doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person, or what you can accomplish in life. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Having a hard time going to school or completing normal, everyday activities.
  • Crying a lot, and not feeling better after.
  • Feeling like you’re worthless or no good.
  • Feeling numb or empty.
  • Having a hard time concentrating.
  • Feeling irritable, restless, or anxious all the time.

If you’re having a hard time managing your emotions with the activities we suggested or are worried you might have depression, talk to your doctor or a therapist. You don’t have to have a mental illness to see a therapist—they help with all kinds of problems, and it may be useful for you to talk to one even if you’re sure you don’t have depression. But if you DO have depression, it’s important to talk to someone you trust about it.

Again, chances are that you’re experiencing the average growing pains of adolescence. If you live near NYC, you can make an appointment at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for completely free, confidential, comprehensive health services, including primary care and mental health services. Our physicians can answer any other questions you have about what you’re going through.