What if you could change your thought patterns, habits, and behaviors, and bend them to your will? What if you could rewire the entire unhealthy mindset responsible for poor eating habits, autoimmune disease, unhealthy relationships, and weak personal boundaries.
Well, you can with a little trick commonly known as neuroplasticity.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to reorganize and form new connections, as well as discard old connections. If we break down the word itself, neuro (nerve) + plasticity (malleable), in other words, means molding your nerves. Neuroplasticity allows us to evolve, adapt, and grow. The best part is that although this process happens naturally, it can also be stimulated. In fact, neuroplasticity can happen through learning, traumatic injury, or forming new habits.
The 2 Types of Neuroplasticity
There are two types of neuroplasticity that include functional and structural. Functional neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to move functions from one area to another as a result of trauma. So if you had a stroke for example (knock on wood), you would rely on the unaffected areas of your brain to pick up the functions that could no longer be performed by the areas of your brain that suffered damage.
Next, we have structural neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to open new pathways due to learning. ie. When you learn a new way of cooking that you can then improve with practice.
What are the Benefits?
Neuroplasticity really has endless benefits. It can help us to form healthier, more productive habits, or learn a new way of doing something. It allows us to recover from physical trauma such as strokes, or head injuries, as well as emotional trauma like abuse, or attachment injuries. Additionally, it improves our memory along with a whole host of other cognitive processes, and even aids in learning.
Neuroplasticity and Age
Children are of course the masters of neuroplasticity, as they have to be constantly learning in all aspects of their lives. They are incredible healers and have a remarkable capacity to recover from injury and trauma as well.
However, this doesn’t mean that as an adult the ability to transform your brain, your habits and your behavior, doesn’t exist. By making an effort not to sink into a constant routine, and looking for new experiences and learnings every day, you can help your brain stay malleable and adaptable.
Neuroplasticity and Mental Health
Unfortunately, mental illness can cause damage to aspects of the brain such as its neural connections. However, in treating these diseases we can actually heal the damage and regain brain health and function. For example, if you suffer from anxiety, the brain can get locked into neural loops that keep repeating, and with no alternative brain paths, we can struggle to break the thought patterns and think differently. By creating, and practicing new thought patterns, we can help them to outcompete the anxiety loops that we get stuck on, and thus respond in a more productive way.
How to Build Neuroplasticity
There are countless ways to build neuroplasticity that mostly involve just “switching it up.” Even something as simple as taking a new route to work, or trying a new dish at your favorite restaurant can help you experience new things and keep your brain flexible. We’ve put together a list of ideas however, for if you’re feeling stuck.
- Traveling: It allows you to not just experience new sights, sounds, and flavors, but a new way of life as well. Learning how others think and behave and their unique way of seeing the world will help your brain build new pathways and stay flexible.
- Sleep: It helps just about every function in your body and your brain activity is no different.
- Use the other hand: Swap over from your dominant hand to give your brain a real workout. This simple act will help you form new neural pathways and improve neuroplasticity.
- Learn a language: It doesn’t have to be a foreign language, even adding a new word to your vocabulary every day helps.
- Exercise: In particular aerobic exercise improves brain function and memory, plus it helps you sleep better!
- Listen to new music: The sound patterns, lyrics, instruments, and rhythms all build new connections.
- Mindfulness: It’s good for lowering stress, achieving your goals, eating healthily, and you guessed it, neuroplasticity.
- Rewards: Perhaps the most important of the bunch, celebrating any new habit builds a stronger neural network so that pathway is favored over the old pathway.
As we strive for healing, recovery, and healthy habits, neuroplasticity is a huge part of our program.
We rely on it to help us change patterns and substitute them for new practices that will ultimately help us reach our goals. Working on brain health, neuroplasticity, the health of our whole being is paramount if we want to heal from trauma, chronic pain, illness, and syndromes, so make sure to include exercises to build your neuroplasticity on a daily basis.
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