This blog has to start with a bit of neuroscience, a focus on the brain. The key term that must be understood is neuroplasticity - a term highlighting the brain’s ability to change even past childhood. Neuroplasticity means that the brain can rewire and even create new connections and neural networks. Neuroplasticity means that it is possible to alter dysfunctional and harmful thoughts and behaviors. Neuroplasticity is why our thoughts matter.
Altering neural networks, creating new neural pathways and rewiring connections is a byproduct of use and habit. The more one particular synapse and pathway is activated and used in the brain, the stronger it becomes. When a pathway is avoided, the brain prunes away the synapse noting it is no longer needed. Think of this like your math formulas from high school. If you finished your academic career and went into a career that did not require you to access those formulas, your brain will note this information is no longer needed and prune away these synapses. You may not even realize the pruning occurred until your teenager needs help with his math homework, and you cannot recall much of the information at all.
Neuroplasticity is why our thoughts matter. When we are stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts (be it anxious thoughts, thoughts about our self-worth, or thoughts stemming from our inner critic), we strengthen the pathways in our brain that carry these thoughts. When we choose to shift away from these thoughts and create new pathways, we begin to decrease the power of the synapses. This process is one step in recovery from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, trauma and other mental health concerns. However, you do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to understand the importance of neuroplasticity and its implications for overall wellness.
Here are a few steps you can implement to begin taking advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity:
Work to identify your thoughts - specifically thoughts that may be repetitive
Evaluate the thought - ask yourself if this is a thought you still want to be having in five or ten years
If it is not a thought that you want to strengthen, challenge the thought with a more helpful thought or choose an entirely new area of focus
If you are having difficulty implementing these steps, it may be helpful to request support from a trusted friend or family member. You can also reach out to KS Services and a clinician will be happy to walk alongside you as you create and structure neural pathways that bring you wellness and joy.
Laura Waller, MS, LPC, NCC, ADHD-CCSP
Licensed Professional Counselor