If you are like me, I am sure that you have come across social situations wherein either you or your friends or family discuss stuffs related to mental health. Since we are acknowledging the importance of mental health and striving to learn more about mental health disorders in order to lead a well-informed life rather than living under a bubble of ignorance, let me ask you a question!
Have you ever given or received a piece of unsolicited advice from someone like this?
-‘‘Just think positively, you will be fine!’’.
I mean, Wow! Really? Only if depression, anxiety disorders and the like worked that way, isn’t it? It’s much easier said than done. We are human beings and a lot of us aren’t void of emotions or feelings. We often experience bouts of sadness, happiness, anger, disgust, amusement, horror, etc. That’s part of life. But, if we are constantly in one state of being or emotion, I guess that would be a cause of worry too. The beauty of life is that we get to experience all these emotions and the best part of it? Nothing is permanent, neither happiness nor sadness.
If we evaluate, we are part of a depressing world. I say that because when I look at all the young millennials out there (including me, at times), I feel and have observed that most of us are sad. I don’t care what the reason is but that’s a fact. The statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO) about the prevalence of mental health disorders and mental health issues only continue to emphasize the fact that we have a long way to go to end this never-ending problem of being unhappy, stressed, unsatisfied, and scared in life.
Sometimes, I have also observed that we feel empty at times. Even the healthiest person would feel that. The point I am trying to make is that we live in a sad world. We get out, we see smiling faces (most of the time, as that’s what is expected by the society) hiding their sorrows behind, putting up a façade to masquerade whatever problems they have in life.
I’ve already mentioned about the difference between mental health and mental health issues and mental health disorders/illnesses in one of my previous articles about the signs of a mentally healthy person. Positive mental health doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of mental disorders. And, from whatever I have learned in Psychiatry, I believe that we all suffer from mental health issues from time to time.
Mental health issues are not the same as mental health disorders (which are diagnosed by a mental health professional). So, my point is that we might have poor mental health from time to time, but I am sure that if given a chance, we would try our best and strive to possess positive mental health, any day. And, it certainly isn’t an easy process. It takes time. You need to love yourself, embrace your flaws and work towards fixing yourself, and taking small steps to contribute to your positive mental health.
Just like what I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have found myself in situations wherein people tell me to ‘just think positive’ and I never knew how that was a piece of valuable advice until I learned the power of neuroplasticity. Now, I am not an emotional person per se. I am a thinker and not a feeler. I am convinced about theories and concepts when it is backed up by facts, preferably scientific facts that have been tested and proved time and again!
I don’t know who you are, what kind of personality you have or what kind of mental health issue you struggle with, or whether you have any mental health disorder. This article is meant for everyone and inclusive of each one of you who can maybe incorporate the magic of neuroplasticity in your daily routine to lead a chaos-free and peaceful life.
The most common mental health disorders include depression, bipolar (mood disorders), anxiety disorders, suicide, eating disorders, etc., amidst other disorders which include personality disorders, psychosis, etc. It could be in varying levels and can impact the person in varying degrees in his or her personal or professional life. For example, if you have depression, it could be mild-moderate, moderate-severe, or chronic depression. Whatever the case, if you struggle with mental health disorders, I don’t care even if it is mild or chronic, you must definitely seek help from a mental health professional. Sometimes, depending upon what works for you, they might prescribe medicines or anti-depressants, along with maybe therapy. And, from what I have observed, the concept of neuroplasticity plays an important role in such cases.
Is This Toxic Positivity?
I don’t want to give in to the ‘toxic positivity’ culture that already exists in our society. That’s definitely not what I am advocating for, here. I certainly don’t support that either. Toxic positivity is a way of invalidating our feelings and thoughts and asking us to ‘just get over it’. That’s rude and obnoxious. But don’t mix the science of neuroplasticity with this toxic culture of always demanding us to keep a smiling face and conclude that all that is part of the toxic positivity culture. It isn’t and I am here to prove it to you.
Now, the significance of neuroplasticity comes in handy even if you don’t suffer from any mental health disorder or illness. Look at the vast majority of us. We aren’t chronically depressed, as far as I have observed. Most suffer from high functioning depression or any other kind of mild mental health issue and most commonly have poor mental health or not sufficient positive mental health. That’s what I have understood from what I have studied and read and from whatever I have observed from being alive in this world!
In such cases, things like positive affirmations and keeping your mind positive can help. I will prove to you how! As I said before, I am more likely to believe in things that are proven and scientifically accurate or correct and that’s why I loved the contribution of Neuroplasticity to the world of mental health.
For that, let’s find out what neuroplasticity actually means and how we can incorporate the power of neuroplasticity in our life to make it a little better.
What On Earth Is Neuroplasticity, Anyways?
Our brain is made up of 86 billion neurons and these are fired off like mini-missiles all the time. If we brood over negative thoughts constantly (which is a human tendency, of course!), these neurons would form neural pathways that would make our thought patterns negative. But, if we focus on positive affirmations and force our thoughts to be more positive, continuously, consistently, and consciously, then we can deepen the new neural grooves and formulate a neural pathway that would enable our brain to focus more on the positives.
From a scientific perspective, Neuroplasticity which is also called as ‘Neural Plasticity’ or ‘Brain Plasticity’ is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. These changes range from individual neuron pathways making new connections, to systematic adjustments like cortical remapping (whoa! that was too much of science!).
Certain instances where the effect of neuroplasticity can be found would include circuit and network changes that unfold as a result of learning a new skill or a set of skills, mental, physical, and emotional stressors, environmental influences, etc.
Does The Power Of Neuroplasticity Work On Us?
A few decades ago, neuroscientists thought that neuroplasticity and childhood were the only concepts that were interconnected and that neuroplasticity manifested only during childhood. Thankfully, most of the research works that were conducted right from the last half of the twentieth century indicated that numerous parts and aspects of the brain can be modified (or are ‘‘plastic’’) even during adulthood. I feel like that makes absolute sense because I am sure that you might have seen fully functioning adults re-parenting themselves and trying to heal their inner child wounds and emerging out to be successful. In all such instances, I feel like neuroplasticity plays a vital role in helping us to rewire our brains.
With all that said, the developing brain of a child obviously showcases a more significant level or degree of plasticity as compared to that of the brain of an adult. Brain plasticity that is dependent on activities can have significant implications for healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage. This means that neuroplasticity works wonders in our brain to transform it into a garden of love, peace, tranquility, and calmness.
If you’ve made it this far, let’s get to know about the two types of neuroplasticity!
Two Types Of Neuroplasticity
It refers to the brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas.
It refers to the brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.
Isn’t it a ground-breaking discovery? Now, we have a scientific reason as to why thinking and engaging in positive activities in life can actually transform us from a caterpillar to a butterfly!
Neurogenesis – A Related Term?
This is something that falls under the same umbrella but people tend to confuse neurogenesis with neuroplasticity; although both are two different concepts! Neurogenesis refers to the process wherein our brain makes new brain cells even during the course of adulthood (good news!). At the point when these new neurons are shaped and formed, the human brain also develops and goes through related changes. A few groups generalize this with the likes of neuroplasticity.
A vast majority of people once believed and accepted the fact that in adolescence or early adulthood, individuals would ultimately lose the capacity to frame new brain cells, which are likewise called neurons. This conviction is basic and popular that I am sure that you might have presumably heard something like this or may have even learned it in school! But, it isn’t true!
Thanks to these concepts of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, we can help ourselves in rewiring our brain even if we aren’t a child anymore! Therefore, from this, we can learn that we never quit developing and evolving. Understanding this can be an extraordinary way to fill our brain with all the positivity and kindness it deserves.
Neurochemistry is the study of the identities, structures, and functions of compounds (neurochemicals) that are generated by and that modulate the nervous system. Neurochemicals include oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter-regulating substances. Next time you talk about brain chemicals, use the word neurochemicals to sound smart!
Alright, those were some of the concepts related to neuroplasticity. So, why don’t we incorporate the power of neuroplasticity and things related to it in our daily life and try to rewire our brains for a better life? Before going onto that, let us explore the various benefits of neuroplasticity.
Benefits Of Neuroplasticity
- Helps in building strong, meaningful relationships in life with yourself and others.
- Reduces stress and helps you in decluttering your brain.
- Helps in untangling chaotic feelings that you may experience.
- Helps you in developing and practicing empathy.
- Helps in increasing your mindfulness and enables you to be present, physically and mentally, without being distracted by thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
- Aids in boosting your immunity and keeps you mentally and physically healthy.
- Improves your quality of sleep and helps you have a better appetite.
- Supports your working memory and also helps in building your capability to remember things and thereby, increases your memory power.
- Guides in decreasing emotional reactivity.
- It can also help in lowering your high Blood Pressure.
- Aids in restoring childlike wonder.
- Improves your cognition and thinking capacity and helps you in becoming more intelligent.
- Can also help in managing chronic physical or mental pain that you may be experiencing.
- Assists in building cognitive flexibility.
- Improved sense of wellbeing in all spheres of life.
How Can Neuroplasticity Help Us?
Neuroplasticity implies that individuals can and do change. By changing how your existing brain cells work, you can make healthy practices and positive feelings simpler to encounter.
Behavioral and thought patterns are comprised of gatherings of brain cells that structure neural pathways. The more regularly you take part in an idea or conduct/behavior, the more grounded and stronger the neural pathway becomes and the easier that idea or behavior becomes.
For instance, think about somebody with low self-esteem. They may naturally think things like, “I’m such a disappointment.” This is because that person’s neural pathways for negative self-talk have gotten solid in the wake of living with sorrow and low self-esteem. Then again, considerations and thoughts like, “I’m deserving of affection,” can be tough in light of the fact that these neural pathways of self-esteem and self-love have gotten more fragile. So, what should we do? Stray away from these negative thoughts and force ourselves to build new, positive neural pathways by obsessing over positive thoughts, literally! As I said, it can make the world of a difference. And this is how ‘thinking positively’ is the best measure you can resort to when things are slipping away from your hands. Try to rewire your brain to construct a neural pathway that only encourages you to think and be positive!
With that being said, let’s move onto the more interesting part! It’s time to find out the various ways in which we can incorporate the science of neuroplasticity into our lives. It is honestly no big deal. You don’t have to do something overwhelmingly tough for you to handle or even go for brain surgery! All you got to do is to try to follow some of the versatile activities that incorporate the power of aiding you to rewire your brain for the better.
Practical Ways To Retrain Your Brain Through Neuroplasticity
Learn New Skills
Try learning something new. It can be anything that would eventually help your brain to stay active. Our brain is always active but we need more neural activities that would have a positive impact on our brain. Therefore, invest your valuable time in trying to learn a new language, vocational skill, musical instrument, etc. You can even adopt a good hobby that encourages you to learn a new skill (like pottery for example). Skills are never bad for us. The more the skills, the merrier we are. By chiseling your skills, you can even be involved in a side hustle and use it to generate an income. So, keep your brain engaged. Don’t let it rust. When you let your brain rest, it rusts!
This is cardinal with regard to the concept of neuroplasticity. Our brain and body go hand in hand and both are interconnected. That’s a known fact. So, if we stay physically active and regularly do exercises, it can have a profound impact on our brain as it helps in creating new neural pathways, and isn’t that what we are aiming for here?! After all, studies do indicate that exercising on a daily basis helps in developing our memory and cognition.
Yoga And Meditation
Just like exercising, the power of yoga, meditation, or guided meditation has been proved time and again through various studies. It plays an important role in rewiring our brain. Why do people adopt yoga and meditation to calm their minds and be at peace? It is because it actually helps them in doing so and while they are at it, it also acts as an added benefit and keeps them fit and healthy, both mentally and physically.
Yoga and meditation help in stimulating the growth of new brain cells and thereby help us in rewiring our brain. You don’t need to be an expert in it though. Just sit on your bed and light up a candle and close your eyes for some time and practice various breathing techniques. Slowly, you will get the hang of it. I guess unplugging ourselves from the chaos in the world and just closing our eyes and listening to our body breathe is the best way to understand our soul better. Why not try it?
If you can’t do all of that and still want to engage in an activity that helps in rewiring your brain, you can try some mental exercises that are intended to boost your brain. As I mentioned before, always keep your brain active! You can try doing Crosswords, Sudoku puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, play memory games as well as download games from the App Store that are mentally stimulating. There are a lot of games that focus on building our memory power, helps in testing our brain-power index level, testing our connective and organization skills, etc. I have tried one of those games once when I had nothing to do at one time and I must say that it was extremely beneficial. In fact, I almost got addicted to it and I could feel that I was making my brain active again! So, do try online games that are designed for our brain to develop.
Sleep is the most essential activity that we require in order to function as healthy individuals. The worst thing that can happen to me is when I wake up sleep-deprived and have to depend on coffee to carry me all through the day at work. Getting sufficient sleep is very important even if you are a night owl or a morning lark. So, make sure to not compromise on that and get adequate sleep. Make sure to consciously steer clear from sleeping too much or sleeping too little.
Ah! This is my favorite kind of activity. I love anything related to art. You don’t really have to be Picasso to do art therapy! Anything you create is art. By painting, drawing, sketching, or doing arts and crafts, we become more self-aware and psychologically resilient. A bit of art therapy also results in increased neural connectivity in the area of the brain that deals with introspection, memory, and self-monitoring. Therefore, creatively stimulate your brain’s cells and rewire your brain by engaging in any art-related activities.
Studies show that reading at least for 6 minutes a day can help in reducing our stress, sharpen our mental acuity and even improve our quality of sleep (I tried reading my math textbook once and it totally worked!). Jokes apart, read whatever you can, a random news clipping on social media, fiction or non-fiction, just about anything that positively strengthens the neural circuits and pathways of our brain while lowering heart rate and blood pressure! I remember a friend of mine who said that she used to read Harry Potter when her major exams were due on the same day as it helped in alleviating her stress. Now, I understand why!
I am the kind of person who prefers writing over reading and I write whatever I want to, just about anything under the sun, to ease my mind. I guess most bloggers can agree with that. I need not explain the mental health benefits of writing. But hey, more than helping us emotionally just like in the process of journaling, just writing about random things would also help in giving your brain a much-needed exercise.
Research in the Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging found that after 3 months of intermittent fasting, the participants reported having improved moods and decreased tension, anger, and confusion. Forget about intermittent fasting, fasting, in general, has great mental health benefits. It is known for having the ability to protect brain health and increase the generation of nerve cells so as to help enhance our cognitive function. So, you can always try fasting!
Learn New Words
This comes under the learning part. But, I made a separate category for this as the importance of expanding your vocabulary should not just be limited to incorporating that in your verbal or non-verbal communication processes. It is to be noted that it also helps in developing our brain cells and reinventing the neural pathways that would ultimately help us in creating a healthier and intelligent brain. So, pick up that dictionary and be a language wizard! Learn new words in any language you like.
I guess most people love traveling, be it solo traveling or group traveling. By traveling to different places, subconsciously and consciously, we get to learn a lot of information, get to meet different people, and observe various cultures. All this will have an impact on our brain and would help it to expand and take in more information. Haven’t you noticed that traveling to different places and meeting different people and knowing their different perspectives can sometimes change our own thoughts, opinions, emotions, and behaviors? I guess we should remember the vital role played by neuroplasticity in such instances. This is why it is often advised to get yourself surrounded by positive people who emancipate nothing but optimism. It can have a profound impact on our life.
Getting up and moving your body is important. Let yourself loose and dance till your heart’s glory or even partake in dance classes to learn a new skill. Dancing helps improve our mood, reduces stress and anxiety. Within the scientific community, a growing number of researchers have proven that, while dancing, an abundance of mood-improving chemicals are released within the body of the dancer. Therefore, dance to whatever rhythm is in your mind and make it a habit to dance at least once a weak! Let me know how that turned out!
Practice Non-dominant Hand Exercises
I am right-handed! I guess the vast majority of us make use of our right hand for most activities. Making your non-dominant hand do one or more activities every day will help you stimulate and grow new neurons. Try brushing your teeth with your left hand if you are a rightie. If you want to pick up an interesting and useful habit, try doing it continuously and consistently for 21 days and you yourself would see the magic! So, it’s time to make our brain stronger and healthier, go ahead and practice something with your non-dominant hand!
When we discuss about neuroplasticity, we can’t stray away from mentioning mindfulness. It’s cardinal. People who meditate strengthen the neural circuitry involved in the voluntary control of attention through repeated practice in focusing attention. Furthermore, mindful activities like yoga, meditation, etc., help in reducing stress and controlling unwanted anxiety in us and make us more self-aware and keep our mental and physical faculty fit. Mindfulness can be developed not only through yoga or meditation but also through various other activities like walking, sketching, journaling, gardening, cooking, reading under a tree, bird or cloud watching, mindful breathing, blowing bubbles, etc.
Even though the importance of eating right is overrated, who actually follows it? Just mentioning this because just like sufficient sleep, eating right makes the world of a difference in your life. Include fish in your diet, if you prefer non-veg as it is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are proven to relieve depression, stimulate our brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. Nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans and lentils are also excellent brain foods.
Quitting Bad Habits
Bad habits could include anything ranging from picking your skin, overusing social media, negative thinking patterns, and harboring guilt to smoking or gambling. Try engaging in positive activities which would give rise to positive outcomes in your life. Life is simple. Please don’t complicate it. Even if you can’t quit it altogether, take conscious efforts to rewire your brain the right way.
I’ve always mentioned about the importance of journaling on our mental health in most of my articles. This one is no exception either. Journaling helps us in noting down everything that’s on our brain and helps us to understand ourselves better. It also provides us with an opportunity to do positive self-talk and identify our negative thoughts and behaviors and recognize triggers that might come in the way. Therefore, journaling has scientific benefits. Make a new neural pathway by journaling every day.
Various studies and research works have indicated that music is therapeutic. It is extremely beneficial in cases of depression, trauma, and schizophrenia, to name a few. The various rhythm at which your favorite music moves might help in strengthening your brain cells and help in formulating new neural pathways. That’s why it’s always advised to listen to calming music for anxiety or deregulation of emotions.
Quality Social Interaction
Just like what Aristotle once said, man is a social animal. No matter if you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, social interaction is essential to stay sane in this insane world. But, don’t just engage in any conversation. Try indulging in social situations or interactions that encourage you to be involved in intellectually stimulating conversations. Try hanging out with quality people and fill your brain with useful information. See the difference it can make in your life yourself!
The above-mentioned ways to incorporate the science of neuroplasticity into your life are things you can do by yourself. However, if things are beyond your control and you don’t have the dopamine or serotonin to do any of that, you might want to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. I always stress the importance of it because people are just unaware and ignorant about the profound positive impact mental health treatments can have on you. Your therapist, depending on whatever issue you are dealing with would chart out a tailored mental health plan for you. Furthermore, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy, relaxation therapy, etc., are a game-changer altogether.
Be inquisitive. I know that not everyone is curious to see, explore and learn more but in order to rightly stimulate our brain, we ought to do so. To instill that childlike wonder in us, we must learn to look at life from the eyes of a child. It is only when you have curiosity and interest in something that you would spend time on knowing more about it. If Isaac Newton wasn’t a curious guy, he wouldn’t have discovered gravity! Therefore, stop being uninterested in things and start developing an interest in the things that motivate you to excel. Who knows? You might be the next Isaac Newton!
Thinking Positively And Neuroplasticity – Things To Remember
Next time someone tells you to think positively, know that it is backed up by science, even if they never knew anything about neuroplasticity! My point is, never underestimate the importance of engaging in positive activities and being optimistic as it can make the world of a difference in your life and elevate your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing to new heights that you never knew you could reach.
‘Think positively’, no matter how much of a cliché and generic advice it is, have thus proved to be scientifically effective! So, start thinking positively (no matter how difficult it may seem) and try to adopt all these positive activities mentioned above to rewire your brain.
Be your own neurosurgeon! Exercise control over your brain and recreate those neural pathways to unlock a beautiful and promising life of learning, growing, and excelling.
Let the magic of neuroplasticity transform your life! ❤
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