I have discussed before the greater understanding of brain function being acquired with new technologies like Functional MRIs and other methods of brain mapping. These technologies are giving us a better comprehension than ever before about the why and how of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and how they can interplay to dramatically affect our mood and well-being including relieving anxiety and depression.

One of the most encouraging aspects of this knowledge is the concept of neuroplasticity. Until the past 50 years or so, it was thought that our brains did not change after infancy and childhood. However, it is now evident that brain changes can take place throughout the life span.

This is particularly heartening for those struggling with anxiety or depression. Research is letting us know that those dealing with anxiety and depression can find long term relief by changing their responses to low mood and negative thinking.

I was first introduced to the concept of neuroplasticity by the neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson in his book Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. He explains the concept that “neurons that fire together wire together”.  That is, neural pathways are created in the brain based on where we focus our attention.

Therefore, if we focus on negative thoughts, feelings or events in our lives, these will reinforce those same negative thoughts, feeling and events and lead us to feel, think and behave in a more negative manner thereby increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression

On the other hand, if we can become aware of our thoughts, feelings and reactions and gently cultivate a greater sense of acceptance, gratitude or well-being, our thoughts, feelings and reactions can become more positive. This can lead to great relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This is not the same as ignoring things that don’t feel good or need to change in our lives. Rather, this is a recognition that thoughts feelings and behaviors are connected and we have control over them.

In coming posts I will be discussing practical ways to rewire your brain that can lead to less discomfort and greater well-being. In the meantime, remember that if you don’t like how things are going right now, you can change them! You can change your brain.