Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Is it just Teenage Angst? 

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By Michelle Lee (24A01A) and Ramesh Eniya (24S03O, Peer Helper)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

“How do we differentiate between normal teenage angst and negative feelings and stress that is not normal?”

Angsty Andy

Dear Angsty Andy, thank you for your question—it can be difficult to differentiate between normal teenage angst and abnormal or excessive negative feelings and stress. In order to do so, we should think about the behaviour, emotions and circumstances of the teenager in particular.

Angst is usually defined as feelings of worry or dread. Teenage angst is brought about by feelings of insecurity, worry, or apprehension that accompany teenagers as they grow to become young adults. When we think of an ‘angsty teenager’, we may imagine someone who is angry and anxious, especially towards their parents or authority figures—essentially the ‘troubled teen’ trope in popular media (think Rodrick from Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

As teenagers, we may face such feelings as we grapple with a combination of confusing and daunting challenges such as hormonal changes, identity formation, increased academic rigour and complex relationships. Being a little angsty is part and parcel of ‘coming of age’—but there are some signs that are often mistaken for regular teenager behaviour that can be indicators of more serious issues. 

In moderate amounts, teenage angst can actually be useful in the process of maturation. When experiencing such strong feelings, we may not know how to deal with them, leading us to feel even more excruciatingly frustrated and uncomfortable. However, as we learn how to cope with and manage angst, it can make us stronger by forcing us to learn how to regulate ourselves emotionally.
On the flip side, extensive periods of ‘teen angst’ that consist of more extreme negative emotions can significantly affect one’s day to day life. In short, teenage angst, if not managed well, can ‘snowball’ into abnormal levels of stress.

Now, how do we differentiate between the two, and when it is time to seek intervention? Here are some signs that may suggest a more significant issue: 

Extended time period

Teenagers’ stressors (Source)

Normal teenage angst typically comes and goes. While emotions may be intense, they are relatively short-lived. In contrast, if such feelings continue to persist for an extended period of time or become unbearable, it could indicate a more serious underlying issue. 

Chronically high levels of stress often indicate an overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that can put us at risk of developing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, as well as problems regarding our physical health such as headaches, digestive issues and difficulty sleeping. 

High intensity

Moreover, normal teenage angst might not take a significant toll on one’s mood and behaviour, whilst abnormal stress levels are more extreme and reach a point where it interferes with one’s ability to function in school, relationships and other aspects in life. 

In short, if stress and overpowering negative emotions adversely affect your day-to-day functioning and interfere with your daily life, there is probably something wrong. 

Social withdrawal

Social withdrawal is defined as the process of removing oneself from opportunities for social interactions. While it’s not uncommon for teenagers to value independence and space, consistent social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family can be a sign of something more troubling. 

Such behaviour can be reflected through actions such as avoiding social activities that one previously enjoyed, turning down invitations to spend time with others, making excuses to be alone, being less talkative in group settings, or preferring to stay home and engage in solitary activities.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your alone time—in fact, being able to enjoy your own company is a great thing. However, there is an important distinction to be made between simply being introverted and being overly stressed, which causes one to withdraw from social activities they may have once enjoyed.

Sudden changes in mood and behaviour

 When experiencing too much stress, one may develop extreme mood swings. (Source)

You may find that you no longer enjoy activities you found solace in before, or that you’ve started engaging in more high risk ‘hobbies’ that you know have long term implications on your health and well-being such as—but it doesn’t seem to matter. 

Your mood may also swing from extreme to extreme like a pendulum, from excited to sad to fearful, and it feels like you’ve experienced every human emotion within an hour—or none at all. (Too much emotion and too little are both mood issues!)

Tracking your pattern changes in mood and behaviour can help you tell if your current behaviour is normal, using your past experiences as a benchmark.

Physical pains

Emotional distress such as intense negative feelings and chronic stress can sometimes manifest itself physically: you may find that whenever you take on a few too many projects, you start experiencing random headaches and find it difficult to sleep soundly with no apparent medical cause.

If this is what you are dealing with, you may be experiencing excessively high levels of stress, and it may be time to cut down on your commitments (this may also apply to other sources of stress, like relationships) and perhaps you should bring it up to a doctor or a trusted adult. 

In conclusion…


Experiencing some teen angst is very common, and many of us have probably snapped at our parents at least once when overwhelmed with work. An important way to figure out if the stress you are facing is at a moderate or excessive level is to talk about it with your peers. This also gives you an opportunity to share your experiences—which others will likely be able to relate to—or at least empathise with your experiences. 

Of course, common is not the same as healthy or normal, and it is possible that the people you are talking to are also struggling with detrimental levels of stress, sadness, anger and other negative emotions. In this case, it may be helpful to speak to a counsellor or another trusted adult to help you understand what you are going through. 

There is no hard and fast rule to determine the severity of your stress or negative feelings, so always remember that even if your struggles don’t feel severe enough to seek professional help, it’s definitely worth talking to someone about it. No one can call you dramatic—that’s just what angsty teenagers do. 

Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 3 – 5 p.m, and Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website

Do check Mental Health Awareness Week at the Canteen Walkway from 27th July to 4th August 2023! For more details: go to Instagram @rafflespeerhelpers or our website above.

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