In the field of stress management and behavior change, neuroplasticity is a bit of a buzz word right now. The fact that I can use a word that five years ago I had never even heard of in a sense defines the term, neuroplasticity.
What neuroplasticity means is that the brain is infinitely malleable like plastic. It is the only organ in our body that is designed to change throughout life. 50 years ago scientists thought the human brain was done growing by the time we turned three. 20 years ago it was considered to be done growing in early adolescence and we now know, that while the main structures of the brain are fully formed by the age of 25 there are thousands of new neurons created every day and the brain never stops changing and reformatting itself throughout life.
When we read new things, go new places and master new skills, there are new neural pathways that are formed in our brains where there never were any before. Some of the structural changes that take place can actually be seen on brain imaging equipment such as an fMRI scanning device.
Just think of the havoc that would occur if the brain didn't change. Anytime a new law was passed we'd still be obeying the old law. Anytime our job description changed, we'd still be working under the old description. And anytime we traveled somewhere we'd never been before, we'd have a heck of a time finding our way back home.
Brains are designed to change. It's what allows us to cope with the ever-changing world around us. So anything that restricts our brains ability to change - would be a major hindrance to personal growth and our own survival. And it turns out that one of the things that inhibits the growth of new neurons in brain is stress. In effect, chronic stress limits neuroplasticity in the brain. And as a result, unrelenting stress can have a major impact on our mental health and influence a whole host of psychological disorders from PTSD to depression. In our next blog we'll talk about stress, depression and neuroplasticity.
*Please do not make any changes in your approach to depression, especially in regards to prescriptions, without consulting your doctor first. The neurogenic theory of depression is just that, a theory. If you are affected by depression, let this blog be the start of a conversation between you and your doctor. Be sure to ask if he or she has seen the latest information concerning SSRIs in JAMA. Doctors trust JAMA to deliver information that is peer-reviewed.