Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • Neuroplasticity offers hope for mental health, trauma, and cognitive decline. It empowers individuals to reconfigure thought patterns, emotions, and cognitive reactions, providing a pathway for healing and recovery.

  • Retraining your brain is a multifaceted endeavor that can encompass therapy, physical exercise, and supplements.

  • CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is known for its effectiveness in promoting neuroplasticity, facilitating positive changes in thought patterns and behaviors.

Change Your Brain: How Neuroplasticity Offers Hope

This content has been updated from previous article on December 15, 2020.

When you’ve lived with a mental illness for a long time, you can start to believe that you will always have negative thought patterns. For example, people with chronic Anxiety disorders may assume they will always worry a lot. People with depression may not see a way to be consistently happy or even content. Trauma survivors may believe that they will forever be on-edge. With a mindset like that, it’s easy to lose all hope. One relatively new, hard-to-pronounce concept offers optimism: neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire and adapt, can benefit virtually everyone. It’s not limited to specific groups; rather, it’s a fundamental property of the human brain. People of all ages and backgrounds can harness neuroplasticity to enhance cognitive abilities, recover from injuries, or overcome various challenges. It’s particularly valuable for stroke patients, those with learning disabilities, individuals seeking to improve memory or motor skills, and even those looking to optimize cognitive function. Brain training exercises, therapy, and mindfulness techniques can all tap into neuroplasticity’s potential, making it a valuable tool for anyone seeking personal growth and well-being.

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity (a.k.a. brain plasticity) is the term for the fact that the physical structure of the human brain can change, even in adulthood. These changes can transform a person’s thought patterns, personality traits, and behaviors. This phenomenon means that recovery is possible.

Though some evidence of neuroplasticity was found in the early 1900s, the idea didn’t start gaining traction until the 1960s. Before this time, scientists believed that once a brain was damaged by injury, trauma, or illness, recovery was impossible. Scientists now know that recovery is possible by changing the pathways in your brain. This process is neuroplasticity. It’s also closely related to a process called neurogenesis.

What is Neurogenesis?

Neurogenesis is the process through which the human brain creates new brain cells, even in adulthood. When these neurons are formed, the brain develops and changes. Some people lump this in with neuroplasticity. though they are different concepts.

People once believed that at some point in adolescence or early adulthood, people lost the ability to form new brain cells, which are also called neurons. This belief is so common that you have probably heard something like this and may have even learned it in school.

In exciting news, neuroscientists now widely accept that people can form new neurons throughout the lifespan. Factors like physical exercise, a stimulating environment, and certain supplements can enhance this process. Neurogenesis is a dynamic and essential aspect of brain health, with implications for learning, memory, mood regulation, and recovery from brain injuries.

We never stop growing and changing. Understanding this can be life changing.

How Can Neuroplasticity Change Your Brain?

Neuroplasticity means that people can and do change. By changing how existing brain cells function, we can make healthy behaviors and positive emotions easier to experience.

Behavioral and thought patterns are made up of groups of brain cells that form neural pathways. The more frequently you engage in a thought or behavior, the stronger the neural pathway and the easier that thought or behavior becomes.

For example, consider someone with Depression. They may automatically think things like, “I’m such a failure.” That’s because the neural pathways for negative self-talk have become strong after living with depression. On the other hand, thoughts like, “I’m worthy of love,” can be difficult because pathways of self-love have become weaker.

Neuroplasticity can change all of that. You can strengthen neural pathways that serve you and lessen those that don’t. Not only can you change the pathways of your existing neurons, but you can grow new ones. Changing your brain is not easy, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Activating brain pathways that enable you to cope well leads to adaptive neuroplasticity. It sharpens your cognitive function, balances your mood, and keeps you motivated. But letting the stress get to you can give you maladaptive neuroplasticity, leading to persistent brain fog, depression, anxiety, and loss of motivation.

How to Start Retraining Your Brain

Retraining your brain is a multifaceted endeavor that can encompass therapy, physical exercise, and supplements. You should see a licensed therapist to start changing your thoughts and behavioral patterns. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of talk therapy offered today, and it’s rooted in the fact that people can make these changes. In many ways, neuroplasticity is the neuroscience that backs up the psychology of CBT.

A licensed therapist can give you tools to retrain your brain between sessions. For example, they may ask you to write down three things you love about yourself each day. This repetition strengthens those neural pathways, making it easier each time.

If you’ve considered therapy before but thought that your brain could never truly change, here’s the sign you needed. Though difficult to pronounce, neuroplasticity is scientific and physical proof that brains do change–and yours can too.

Physical exercise plays a significant role in this process as well. Regular physical activity has been shown to enhance neuroplasticity, promoting the brain’s ability to adapt and change. Exercise increases the production of neurotrophic factors that support the growth of new brain cells, contributing to improved cognitive function and mood regulation.

Supplements, such as Lion’s Mane mushroom, can further complement these efforts. Lion’s Mane contains compounds that have been associated with promoting neuroplasticity and potentially enhancing cognitive function.

By integrating the cognitive restructuring of CBT, the cognitive-boosting potential of supplements, and the brain-enhancing effects of physical exercise, you can develop a holistic approach to retraining your brain, fostering cognitive wellness, and cultivating a more positive mindset.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.