“Scientists once thought the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life. But new research has shown that the brain can form new neural pathways and create neurons even in adulthood” (Nguyen, 2016).
Up until recently, it was common belief that the brain stopped developing during childhood. Current research, however, suggests this is not actually the case. As discovered by Michael Merzenich, the brain is highly plastic (i.e., able to adapt and change) and scientific-based treatments can drive improvements. Marian Diamond, who is considered the “mother of neuroplasticity” influenced this significant scientific paradigm shift when she was able to prove that the brain shrinks when someone is in a distressed environment and the brain grows when one is in an enriched environment, regardless of age (Shafer, 2016).
One study, which analyzed MRI brain images of participants during an eight-week mindfulness meditation program showed changes in areas of the brain that affect learning and memory, as well as regions connected to introspection, compassion, and self-awareness. This study also revealed a decrease in the density of gray-matter in the amygdala, known as the fight or flight region of our brain. This area plays a significant role in stress and anxiety, which is a common symptom of trauma survivors. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing our brain and can increase our well- being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, who was the first author of this paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany (Lazar, 2016).
What does this mean for survivors of trauma and vicarious trauma?
Brain studies have shown that early attachment disruptions and trauma can influence brain development, actually hindering important regions of the brain to fully develop. Some of these brain regions affect our memory, concentration, self-awareness, and emotional regulation. Up until recent years, there was a belief that there was no possibility for healing and growth, leaving many survivors of trauma feeling damaged and hopeless. Now research is proving that our brains can continue to grow and develop past childhood into full adulthood when utilizing certain healing modalities. We now have the opportunity to take the driver’s seat in our healing process and learn to thrive rather than just survive.
“One could speculate that this process opens up the possibility to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo or to overcome past traumatic events that evoke anxiety and stress.” -Christopher Bergland
Some methods that have been shown to enhance neuroplasticity include:
- Intermittent fasting (Bair, 2015).
- Traveling (Nguyen, 2016).
- Aerobic Exercise (Nguyen, 2016).
- Meditation (Nguyen, 2016).
- Using mnemonic devices (Nguyen, 2016).
- Learning a musical instrument (Wan & Schlaug, 2010).
- Non-dominant hand exercises (Nguyen, 2016).
- Reading fiction (Berns, Blaine, Prietula & Pye, 2013).
- Expanding your vocabulary (Tom, n.d.).
- Creating artwork (Bolwerk, Mack-Andrick, Lang, Dörfler & Maihöfner, 2014).
- Dancing (Powers, 2010).
- Sleeping (NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine, 2014).
- Cognitive Therapy (Shaffer, 2016).
Resilient Retreat can help you find evidence-based tools that promote neuroplasticity. For further assistance call 941-343-0039 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are here for you!
Bair, S (2015). Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health. https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/
Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., and Pye, B., E. (2013). Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain. Brain Connectivity: 3(6), 590-600: http://doi.org/10.1089/brain.2013.0166
Bolwerk A, Mack-Andrick J, Lang FR, Dörfler A, Maihöfner C. (2014). How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101035. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101035
Powers, R. (2010). Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter, Longer. http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm
Lazar, S. (2016). Now and Zen: How Mindfulness Can Change your Brain and Improve your Health. Longwood Seminars.
Nguyen, T. (2016). 10 Proven Ways To Grow Your Brain: Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-proven-ways-to-grow-yo_b_10374730
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine. (2014). Sleep After Learning Strengthens Connections Between Brain Cells and Enhances Memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605141849.htm
Shaffer J. (2016). Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health. Frontiers in psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01118
Tom, A. F. (n.d.). Vocabulary and the Brain: Evidence from Neuroimaging. https://www.academia.edu/169612/Vocabulary_and_the_Brain_Evidence_from_NeuroimagingStudies
Wan, C. Y., & Schlaug, G. (2010). Music Making as a Tool for Promoting Brain Plasticity Across the Life Span. The Neuroscientist : a review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry, 16(5), 566–577. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858410377805