The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe, and we are still yet to discover its full potential. But even as we make attempts to discover and learn more about it, one discovery has stood out among others. This is neuroplasticity.
WHAT IS NEUROPLASTICITY?
Neuroplasticity, in a very simple definition, is the ability for the brain to adjust and adapt to circumstances throughout the life of an individual. This change is most rapid during childhood, when we learn new skills and develop new habits, and tends to decline as we grow older.
HOW DOES NEUROPLASTICITY HAPPEN?
Our brain is made up of some special kind of cells called neurons. Think of neurons as messengers. These messengers are all connected. This connection is called a synapse, and more than one connection of neurons, synapses. The neurons receive information from our surroundings through our sense organs, and carry these information through synapses as messages to the required part of the brain.
Neuroplasticity occurs when new synapses are formed. That is to say, neuroplasticity happens when a neuron forms a new connection with another neuron, thereby increasing and strengthening the connection of the synapses.
When we learn something new, we create a new connection between neurons; we create a new synapse. And when we stop learning a particular skill or information, the synapses in that area weakens and fades off with time.
The brain is made up of different kinds of neurons. There are neurons responsible for hearing, some are responsible for the sense of smell, touch, and so on. This is the reason why one person will be naturally gifted in one skill, and another person will perform badly in the same skill. The reason is that the former has more synapses for that skill than the latter.
There is a neurological process called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the ability of the brain to create entirely new neurons, so the neurons responsible for maintaining synapses may never get exhausted as we continue to learn new skills.
HOW NEUROPLASTICTY AFFECTS OUR MENTAL WELL-BEING
Since neuroplasticity occurs when new connections or synapses are made and strengthened between neurons, and synapses are created and strengthened when we learn a new skill, a new information, or entertain certain thoughts, we can then agree with Aristotle, that we are what we repeatedly do, or think about.
Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and some other mental health problems, can sometimes be linked with neuroplasticity. It is even more evident in the case of depression. A man who has been hit by a life altering tragedy is most likely to overthink his problems. This will result in the strengthening and creation of more synapses that will further worsen his state of mind, thereby leading him into depression. But after a while, a change of environment, a change of daily routine, a change of friends, or perhaps, consumption of self-help books, will help him create and strengthen new synapses that will lead him out of depression.
HOW NEUROPLASTICITY CAN BE A GOOD THING FOR US ALL
Science is factual, and neuroplasticity is evidently true. We can now look into the complete words of Aristotle’s quote, a man who lived two thousand years before neuroplasticity was discovered – “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”
Our lives really can become better if only we choose to repeatedly do those things that will make us better. We can master any skill, any art, any craft, if only we do it repeatedly. And when we stop doing those things, the synapses weakens, and we become rusty. So, learn that new skill or language, make new friends everyday and focus less on the negative factors in your life.
Written by :
ENL Chukwuma Cynthia