Neuroplasticity – What is it & Why it Matters
You might have heard the word but…..
What is it & Why does it matter?
Well in the words of Norman Doidge, considered the Father of Neuroplasticity
It’s NEUROPLASTICITY that got you into this mess
it’s NEUROPLASTICITY that will get you out.
Remember though, the brain is NOT just for thinking. Its primary job is to control the workings of the BODY. So if you are feeling stuck in your health understanding the brain’s role can be useful.
So what is NEUROPLASTICITY?
At its most basic, NEUROPLASTICITY is the brain’s ability to change. That’s big. Because if the brain is so influential in health, having a ‘control centre’ that is changeable is exciting.
Not only does NEUROPLASTICITY tell us that the brain can change, it shows that we can do things deliberately and proactively that can harness that change process in our favour – we can retrain our brain.
Not to just think differently – although we can do that too. I am talking about retraining the brain to control the body differently. So this is relevant for people stuck in chronic pain and fatigue as well.
We have a brain that controls our lives and NEUROPLASTICITY shows us that we can influence it.
And this is why NEUROPLASTICITY is such a huge concept in health.
Suffers of pain, fatigue, trauma, anxiety and PTSD can now understand they are not crazy. All these conditions are intimately tied into networks in the brain that are changeable and trainable.
NEUROPLASTICITY & LEARNING
The key thing to remember is that the brain changes with EXPERIENCE.
Repetitive experiences OR single experiences with heightened emotional intensity change the physical wiring of our brain.
NEUROPLASTICITY is active in all learning. But that’s not why the Nobel Prize for science only 20 years ago went to work on NEUROPLASTICITY.
Scientist Eric Kandel showed that if you touched a sea slug AND gave it an electric shock, the nervous system changed. Even these simply nervous systems learnt and rewired itself. It learnt touch was dangerous. Then it you touched the sea slug without the electric shock it responded AS IF it was being electrocuted. It treated a safe thing as if it was dangerous because of a past experience.
The brain changed with EXPERIENCE.
Think of the process of learning to drive. Repetitive body movements change the wiring of the brain and in time driving becomes automatic. Not just the physical movements though. All of it. The thought processes required. The calculations on speed and distance, parking and braking. The road rules. The meaning of signs. All of this complex physical and mental processing becomes automatic.
We learn then the brain does the rest – AUTOPILOT thanks to the PAST.
Other experiences also wire up the brain to run automatically. A thought, is an experience. If repeated it can become automatically triggered and create a WAY of thinking automatically – anxiety, perfectionism, negativity, worry.
A stressful event can trigger a style of thinking like worry. Lingering Stress (or chronic stress) can change the brain so that style of thinking becomes automatic. Even after the initially stressor passes. We get STUCK.
We now also understand an immune or fatigue response can become habitual. After a virus has past, changes in the brain can get very good at firing the neural networks in the brain responsible for fatigue. So we may be left with Post Viral Fatigue or flare ups. Here’s a link to an Interesting article on this.
NEUROPLASTICTY plays in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is not a crazy person, but someone who has gone through an intense emotional experience that has changed the wiring of the brain and nervous system. The brain goes on an autopilot even though the threat has passed. It starts to treat safe things as dangerous.
The brain is also very active in the experience of ALL pain. We now know that an injury can heal but the wiring in the brain involved in the pain processing continues to fire off pain networks unnecessarily.
This is all NEUROPLASTICITY in action and what Norman Doidge means when he says – It’s Neuroplasticity that got you into this mess and Neuroplasticity that will get you out”.
So if experience changes the brain can we use that to help change the brain back? Can we retrain the brain?
This is at the core of a brain based approaches to health. Some use technologies like computers, or inserted electric devices in the spine or brain. Other techniques use mirrors to fool the brain. More recently there is research into the role hallucinogenic drugs might play.
Some, like the work I do, show people how you can use your OWN brain to change itself.
There’s a plug for Norman Doidge’s famous book – “THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF”.
This might sound obvious NOW, but not that long ago, these concepts were not known.
Two things changed.
1. We now know the brain can change.
2. We now know how critical the brain is in sensations like fatigue, fear or pain.
So much so that last year the world’s main PAIN RESEARCH group changed its definition of pain adding “Through our life experiences we LEARN pain”.
Past experience might have wired your brain in a particular way.
But in the words of Norman Doidge -it’s NEUROPLASTICITY that got you into the mess and NEUROPLASTICITY that will get you out.
With a brain based approach to health you can learn to enhance NEUROPLASTICITY in your favour and make the most of your inheritance – a changeable brain.
CHANGE IS IN YOUR DNA
Keep an eye out on my Youtube Channel for my next Neuro Nugget video that will explore this exciting topic in more depth.
If you want to EXPERIENCE this work for yourself, email to arrange a chat.