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Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis

Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis

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I was having a discussion with a colleague of mine on this topic. Most of the books and lectures on this topic in my classes are so overly scientific that I loved her simplified explanation. It is very pertinent to our discussion on brain structure and function so I thought I’d summarize: 

Neuroplasticity refers to the dynamic adaptability of the physiology of our brain. Unlike computers, our brains can actually receive “hardware updates in addition to software updates.” Different pathways form or become dormant, are created and are discarded (or neuroprunned), according to our experiences. Our brains can even grow new neurons (neurogenesis) throughout our lifespan {Bergland, 2017}. Research is now showing that we can consciously direct these neurological changes to either occur in the limbic system (which happens by default), or to further develop the prefrontal cortex. 

Let me explain. Say you experience a perceived threat. Instantly, your fight or flight response is triggered. This occurs on auto pilot in the limbic part of the brain. This is our default mode. It is fast, efficient, and requires little energy. Because the limbic state is intimately connected to the amygdala which regulates emotions and stress response, this may trigger a toxic cycle. Over time, this ongoing cycle is experienced as chronic stress (and a sense of victimhood). 

The way we process memory is also important in the scenario. Memory retrieval happens from various parts of the brain as it restructures the original memory. These memories are never the actual event, but a perception of recollecting the event,or alternative memory. Emotionally charged memories add to the intensity of the brain’s wiring of the stress/trauma cycle.

If instead we want to trigger neurogenesis, down regulate (the default limbic state), and develop our prefrontal cortex, we must activate our parasympathetic system instead of the sympathetic system. Victor Frankel said, “The pause between stimulus and response – this is where our freedom lies.” He was referring to the activation of our neo cortex, (which requires way more energy), and engages the intellect of the prefrontal cortex. There is about a 90 second hormonal reaction (reptilian brain/sympathetic system) in response to a perceived threat. If we can pause for these 90 seconds, then blood, oxygen and glucose begins to go back to the organs and brain. After that (90 seconds), we can  choose to operate from the prefrontal cortex (parasympathetic engagement). 

When operating from this more evolved part of our brain, we are also creating memories with less emotional charge. We can even train ourselves to shift to emotional states that are regenerative or renewing. It’s much like building a muscle – the more we invite the prefrontal cortex to be our CEO – the more that part of our brain will develop. So, the question is – which part of your brain do you want running your life?

 

Sources drawn from:

Art of Brain Change – www.vijarogozina.com

Positivepsychology.com

 

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