Neuroplasticity (also referred to as a rewiring of the brain) is the brain’s ability to change and heal neural pathways. Dr Jeffrey Schwarz, one of the world’s leading experts in Neuroplasticity believes that you can change the circuitry of the brain over only a few weeks.
Our brain is constantly processing cues from our surrounding environment and we are who we are because of that environment, the way we are raised, our life experiences etc. Williams and Gordon’s ‘Intergrate Model’ outlines the brain’s core motivations of minimizing danger/threat and maximizing reward. It also clarifies our six basic emotional responses, which are: Sadness, joy, disgust, anger, fear and surprise.
Very deep in in our medial brain lays to almond shaped structures which are called the Amygdala. TheAmygdala is also referred to as the emotional part of the brain and is highly associated with fear and anxiety. When we are experiencing anxiety and depression the activity in the Amygdala is at an extreme high. In neuroscience language we are talking about that an ‘Amygdala Hijack’ is taking place, because the rational part of the brain (The Pre-Frontal Cortex) is being suppressed and can’t come to the table.
Luckilythere are ways to self-regulate (assist ourselves with minimizing or managingthose fears) when we are feeling a ‘threat response’ coming on. Here are some ofthem:
- Practising mindfulness:
- Label the situation/put a name tothe emotion
- Reappraise/reframe your interpretation of anevent. See if you can turn a negative to a positive
- Prime your brain for anexperience. If you have already “prepared for” a particular event in yourhead (perhaps worst case scenario) it can minimise the anxiety ordepression when you are faced with it
- Avoid a situation which you knowwill cause a reaction for you
- Distract yourself purposely
- Express it/let it out. Scream, kick,cry if you need to. Suppression can have an extreme negative effect on our health and mental state
Brain scans also called Functional MagneticResonance Imaging or functional MRI (fMRI) have shown that activity in theAmygdala is highly reduced when using one or more of the self-regulating strategies above. These strategies are said to do for your brain what physical exercise does for your body and health.
So this is where is becomes incredibly interesting. Many Neuroscientists, among them Dr. Kevin Ochsner say thatre search suggests that cognitive strategies (like the ones above) are the most effective treatments of depression as these strategies buffer us against negative emotions short term so that we don’t develop long-term emotional disorders.
Dr Ochsner goes on to say that it is important to take control over your emotional life as repeated failure to do so will compound the long-term psychological and physical health problems.
In the past when you asked the question, why some people suffer from depression the response was because he/she suffers from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Wouldn’t it be amazing if preventing or curing anxiety and depression was “just” a matter of re-wiring the brain? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could get millions of people off addictive medication? Is there such thing as a placebo effect when it comes to antidepressants? Scientists believe so.
I am completely aware of the sensitivity of this subject, however I think it is amazing to think about how many lives could possibly be turned around for the better. Not to mention the tools (strategies above) we can provide our kids with to (hopefully) prevent them from sufferingMental Health issues.
It is a very long road, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I would love to hear you thoughts.
I have attached links to related articles – very interesting readings:
“Antidepressant and the placebo effect” by IrvingKirsch: http://1.usa.gov/1R4yWu7
“DepressionTreatment” by Brain Performance Centre: http://bit.ly/1Mdodtd
For information on depression,anxiety and related disorders, available treatments and where to get help,visit www.beyondblue.org.au, call the beyondblue info line on 1300 22 4636 (local call cost from a landline), or firstname.lastname@example.org.