What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that carry important messages to help regulate your sleep, metabolism, growth and puberty. They can also impact your levels of stress, fluctuations in moods and the way you see yourself. They are incredibly important but can also make you feel confused, self-conscious and anxious. Sometimes this can feed directly into your negative self-talk and mental resilience.
Examples of some of the hormones I’m talking about are:
Cortisol and stress
Cortisol has many uses in the body, but it is also the primary stress hormone. Too much of this hormone in the bloodstream can cause and increase anxiety. This hormone is easily produced in teenagers, more so in sleep deprived teenagers. Faced with pressures some teenagers may find themselves in a constant stressed state and therefore constantly anxious. This may come out in sudden outbursts of powerful emotions such as anger like a volcano erupting or withdrawing.
Melatonin and sleep
Melatonin is produced naturally by the body to induce bodily changes that promote sleep. In most teenagers this is produced later in the evening, just as it is in adults, often leading to falling asleep later. Research has shown that teenagers need 9 ¼ hours of sleep but often they get around 7 hours – a sleep debt can build up quickly. This can lead to challenges such as anxiety, depression, poor judgement, poor memory and low resistance to illness.
Testosterone, oestrogen and puberty
The main sex hormone in males is testosterone and in females is oestrogen, although both are found in different levels in males and females. Teenagers have a surge of these hormones at the onset and during puberty.
Oestrogen prompts the development of female secondary sexual characteristics during puberty. These include the development of breasts, armpit and pubic hair, widening of hips and regulation of the menstrual cycle (period). Oestrogen also boosts dopamine (a neurotransmitter) that can cause mood swings from happiness and life is great, to sadness and sensitivity to your physical appearance. Oestrogen levels can fall the week before your period is due and can give rise to mood swings.
Testosterone plays a key role in the development of male sex tissues such as the testes and prostate. It is also responsible for promoting secondary sex characteristics such as armpit, pubic and facial hair. It regulates bone and muscle mass, as well as regulates the sex drive (libido) and deepens the voice. High levels and surges of testosterone can cause aggressive and competitive behaviour.
Dopamine and risk taking
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released by the nerve cells in the brain to send signals to other nerve cells. It helps to regulate movement, learning, attention and emotional responses. Research has shown that dopamine prompts us to be happy (thrill seeking) and that teenagers possibly take greater risks because they are focusing on the positives of the dopamine release rather than the risks of the activity. During adolescence this can lead to using alcohol and drugs, increased sexual behaviour and partaking in thrill-seeking activities. It is increasingly being documented that the brains dopamine-regulated reward system creates a self-reinforcing chemical and behavioural cycle of craving – you therefore seek the chemical or activity more and more to meet the cravings. This can set up a pattern of addiction.