Rewiring the Brain for Mental Health
What we do with our brain is powerful because it is more capable than we think. Approximately our body has 86 billion neurons that can remarkably adapt, learn, and heal, and rewire themselves. This is because of the brain’s neuroplasticity.
As defined by Voss et al. (2017), neuroplasticity refers to “the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience.” Neuroplasticity occurs throughout life regardless of age. Given the premise that the brain can rewire itself, it is no secret that it can also rewire the brain to optimize one’s mental health.
In this article, here are three practical tips to rewire our brains for better mental well-being:
1. Get yourself moving with exercise!
In the study of Zhao et al. (2020), it is found out that exercise (e.g., resistance exercise, aerobic exercise, and mind‐body exercise) can help reduce depressive symptoms. Through their research, they discovered that exercise can increase the neuroplasticity of the hippocampus and the volume of white matter; in effect, it can enable the brain to create adaptive behavioral changes in mental health. In other research, exercise is proved to be useful in clinical interventions in mental health disorders such as the slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (Lin et al., 2018) and substance abuse disorders (Zschucke et al., 2012).
As we live in a fast-paced environment, starting small in finding time for an exercise routine can still bring incremental changes in our mental health in the long term. Take your own pace and find the exercise routine that works in your terms, because surely this tip can truly uplift your mood!
2. Get mindful through meditation
Incorporating mindfulness meditation in your schedule poses various benefits in learning, memory, and emotional regulation. In the study of Hölzel et al. (2011), the participants were asked to perform guide meditations at home for eight weeks. Based on their findings, the participants were observed to have an improved gray matter density in the brain, which is responsible for emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, learning, and memory processing.
In a jam-packed week, it is important to start the day right with healthy mental well-being. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, you can gain clarity, tranquility, and self-control to face life’s daily challenges in a more proactive way.
3. Grow your brain through the growth mindset
Our mindset is a powerful influence on how we view the world. Hence, we must rewire our brain that works for our mental health. Growth mindset has been one of the known psychological concepts, which was coined by Dr. Carol Dweck.
People with a growth mindset think that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are only the beginning.” This perspective fosters a passion for learning as well as the perseverance required for exceptional success (Dweck et al., 2007). In line with mental health, healing and thriving mentally start with the realization that you can overcome your adversities. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are intertwined. Thus, by starting with the mind, we can shift how we feel and behave. Indeed, metanoia in mindset does not happen overnight, but with perseverance, you can have a growth mindset for better mental health.
Rewiring the adaptive brain sheds light on our ability as individuals to reinvent ourselves and take charge of our mental health. By getting yourself moving, getting mindful, and growing your mindset, you can better navigate life and your mental well-being.
Nathaniel M. Sabater - Clinical Intern
Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246-263.
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36–43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
Kandola, A., Hendrikse, J., Lucassen, P. J., & Yücel, M. (2016). Aerobic exercise as a tool to improve hippocampal plasticity and function in humans: practical implications for mental health treatment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 373.
Lin, T. W., Tsai, S. F., & Kuo, Y. M. (2018). Physical Exercise Enhances Neuroplasticity and Delays Alzheimer's Disease. Brain plasticity (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 4(1), 95–110. https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-180073
Voss, P., Thomas, M. E., Cisneros-Franco, J. M., & de Villers-Sidani, É. (2017). Dynamic brains and the changing rules of neuroplasticity: implications for learning and recovery. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1657.
Zhao, J. L., Jiang, W. T., Wang, X., Cai, Z. D., Liu, Z. H., & Liu, G. R. (2020). Exercise, brain plasticity, and depression. CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 26(9), 885–895. https://doi.org/10.1111/cns.13385
Zschucke, E., Heinz, A., & Ströhle, A. (2012). Exercise and physical activity in the therapy of substance use disorders. The Scientific World Journal, 2012.