What is Neuroplasticity? A Psychologist Explains
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The human brain is not static, but is shape-shifting, upgrading, maintaining and housekeeping itself all the time.
The constant rewiring, adapting and upgrading is happening not just in our formative years, but through the course of our lifetime. This neuroplasticity of the brain can be nurtured and stimulated for further development.
While neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form fresh connections and to rewire itself, neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to grow new neurons.
Experiments in the 1960s discovered that traumatic events, stress and anxiety are detrimental to the neuron cells of the brain. This led to new understandings about the brain being a regenerative organ, where cells can regrow and replenish, also known as neurogenesis.
Neuroplasticity has two broad types:
Just like medications and chemicals change our brain, neuroplasticity has the potential to reinvent oneself and get over the traumatic events of the past. It has the power to dissolve our hardwired memories which are fear-based.
When the brain learns new things, it connects neuron cells and creates new pathways. Learning new facts may not be very useful, but if one learns a new language, skill or a musical instrument, the neuron magic starts to happen and the rewiring begins.
If we have a growth mindset, where our skills and abilities can be consciously developed, the magic of the brain’s neuroplasticity starts to happen.
Apart from forming new pathways and connections, neuroplasticity can also:
One can boost or enhance neuroplasticity by:
Patients with severe brain damage are able to rapidly heal themselves, practically remodelling the brain a few days or weeks after the trauma.
What’s weird is that a brain injury is a great time to take advantage of the rapid reorganization, recovery and other significant changes that a brain can perform on itself. During stroke recovery, learning something new or even re-learning something can result in significant gains.
Psychiatric disorders, stress, anxiety and depression are by itself neuroplasticity, but in a negative, destruction-oriented way.
The damage caused to the brain by these mental disorders encourages unhealthy and dangerous pathways.
Breathing exercises, body awareness, changing thought patterns using meditation and memory exercises can help with the reversal of the negative neuroplasticity caused by mental disorders.
Depression and anxiety can be regulated and reversed by certain exercises:
These techniques can also be used for treating ADHD, OCD and autism. Online games and apps work more or less the same if the other aspects like learning and exercising are also engaged with.
Neurons are by themselves responsible for the experience of pain. The brain can adapt and manage chronic pain by:
Apart from these, there are some regular things that we can do to treat chronic pain: exercising, avoiding junk food, quitting smoking, keeping the mind engaged and practising mindfulness.
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