Neuroplasticity is a concept that describes the evidence that shows that our brain changes with experiences. Doidge describes it as the brain changing its structure with each activity it performs. Which means in today’s busy and stressful world, our brain undergoes structural and functional changes in response to those stresses which can lead to damage if the stress is excessive. Stress may lead to a reduction in the volume of the pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus and an increase in the volume of the amygdala. All of which may leave us feeling overwhelmed with what’s happening around us and feeling inadequate to deal with it. However, just as these external factors may ‘re-wire’ us to feel anxious and depressed, it can also be ‘re-wired’ to achieve greater levels of peace, health, happiness, and joy.
Mindfulness is now one of the big buzzwords in psychology and has been for the past few years. Mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. There is plenty of evidence that shows mindfulness not only helps us cope better with stress and increases our resilience, it also helps our brain function better. So in what ways does mindfulness re-wire the brain? Thanks to new technology and neuroimaging equipment, we now have a better understanding of how this happens.
Research has demonstrated mindfulness and mindfulness-based activities has consistently altered several regions of the brain. These include:
- The Prefrontal Cortex, the area of the brain is responsible for rational decision-making, enlarges in this region.
- The posterior cingulate increases in volume. The larger and stronger the posterior cingulate, the less the mind wanders, the less we ruminate, the less we are self critical and the more realistic the sense of self can be.
- The hippocampus, a region that has been related to memory processes has been shown to have increased cortical thickness and volume which has been correlated to lowering of negative emotions;
- The Temporo Parietal Junction, a region associated with empathy and compassion, increases in volume.
- The Pons, a very busy and important part of the brain where many of the neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity are produced. The pons are involved in a great number of essential functions, including sleep, facial expressions, processing sensory input, and basic physical functioning, strengthen with mindfulness.
- The amygdala; the area responsible for the fight-or-flight response has been shown to have decrease in volume.
- Grey matter: the tissue that connects neurons and is connected by white matter, naturally decreases with age. Mindfulness slows this process down, possibly preventing age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.
In the end, all of this research means that the change in people’s reactions occurs within themselves, and not as a result of a change in the environment. With these altered structures, we can experience the same stressful situation however our response to those situations will be less impactful. Mindfulness can help you change how you react to stressful situations, helping you feel calmer and much more in control.
If you would like to know more about mindfulness and how it may be able to help you manage stress or other difficulties contact us at the practice on 6381 0071.