Neuroplasticity and Neuro-habilitation
Living in today’s fast-paced world is not challenge–free. As we struggle to keep up to date, it can seem overwhelming. We hence try to find ways in which we can cope with the frenzied rhythm while preserving our health.
While it is traditionally accepted that our neurological system tends to deteriorate with age, throughout the last years we have come across a concept called neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury. Neuroplasticity is something that lasts throughout our whole life.
One of the first methods to promote neuroplasticity is by learning. Learning, however, needs to be diversified, as what might work for one person might not work for another. A refreshed and stimulating environment will result in neurogenesis in the area of the brain called the hippocampus.
Another important point in hacking our brain is neuro-habilitation, a sort of maintenance of the human brain through humor, exercise and self-mastery by regulating our emotions.
Hacking our Brain Through Exercise
Constant physical exercise is very important for mental health. As it elicits the release of endorphins, it impacts blood vessels thus increasing oxygen flow to the brain cells.
Regular exercise promotes better sleep and stress tolerance as well as an increased level of energy throughout the day. Stretching also increases the blood flow, sparking a refreshed flow to the brain, consolidating the infrastructure of nerve cells through a stress & recovery cycle.
After exercise, the tension in our muscle spindles decreases, signaling the brain to relax and heightening the threshold for physical reactions, including stress-induced hippocampus–damaging cortisol excessive exposure.
Exercise can also help lower our Body Mass Index, which is in a reverse relation with cognitive ability, diminishing chronic stress wear and tear as well as inflammation and oxidative stress.
Hacking our Brain Through Better Sleep
Sleep is yet another method of keeping our brain healthy as sleep deprivation can dramatically compromise cognitive performance. Our circadian rhythms, sleep cycles and awake time are regulated by daylight and darkness. Thus, exposure to bright light (such as the screen light from several devices) can dramatically alter our circadian rhythms and disrupt our sleep cycles.
During our sleep cycle, body temperature is regulated (decreased) during the night. However, lack of exercise can keep our body temperature elevated and can cause sleep deprivation.
Being additionally stressed because of insomnia will further increase the likelihood of staying awake. In the case of insomnia, it has been discovered that relaxation techniques, as well as sleep scheduling – going to bed later than usual for the sake of increasing buildup will increase sleep efficiency.
Hacking Our Brain Through Social Contact
We are social creatures. We have been conditioned to thrive on human interaction and benefit from social warmth, both physically and psychologically. Being touched by people we feel close to has been demonstrated to prompt the genesis of stress-lowering hormones, such as dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins and has been linked to the regeneration and survival of brain cells and to the enhancement of the immune system by increasing production of NCK (Natural Killer Cells)
We have a set of so-called mirror neurons that rely on social interaction for best performance, while lack of social bonding and cohesiveness has been associated to cognitive impairment and decline as well as higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Excessive stress can damage the hippocampus through exacerbated exposure to cortisol.
Hacking Our Brain Through an Attitude Shift
One of the most important, yet underrated, ways through which we can hack our brain so that we can live fulfilling lives is our own attitude when faced with challenging situations.
Some of the most effective ways to cultivate a positive mindset are humor, mindfulness and priming our brain to decrease stress, as well as altruism and empathy.
Humor has a direct influence on vitality and the capacity of not taking ourselves too seriously helps avoid pessimism, which depresses the immune system. Laughter & positive humor improve cognitive function, relax the muscles, stimulate dopamine and decrease cortisol, which can have a beneficial effect on depression.
Avoiding constant distractions has become increasingly difficult since our lives have been taken over by social media. It emulates real human contact, but at the cost of attention deficit and increased depression rates. We can seek to sustain awareness and attention in the present moment instead of being sucked into a vortex of information exposure.
One of the ways in which we can do that it by cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness scales down the feeling of living on autopilot by helping us focus on the present, expands our attention, and focus and increases concentration.
One effective stress-managing technique consists of priming your brain in the morning through positive conditioning and meditation with a view to increase stress tolerance and develop neural pathways to better cope with hardship.
Mindfulness helps promote vigor and alertness by metacognition: identifying and labelling our emotions helps neutralize their negativity. Rhythmic breathing, focused attention, posture and a quiet environment will drop our brain’s electrical activity to lower frequencies, alterating neural functions and generating tranquility. This kind of focus reverses the impact of stress by activating the parasympathetic system, which induces the body’s relaxation response, opposed to the rigid reactive state of fight or flight.
Self-pity is at the root of many of our psychological ailments. Choosing altruism can boost our immune system and develop empathy, the proverbial walk in someone else’s shoes will help keep things in perspective and teach us to listen first before jumping for the immediate response.
Mindfulness can also help us find our purpose, challenge, and commitment. We can keep our stress levels moderate while finding an adequate balance between anxiety-triggering stimulation and boredom, which will put us in a state of creative flow.