How the brain changes in response to experience.
When you practice something over and over habits form that becomes second nature, like riding a bike. This happens for both good and bad habits. Thoughts, Reactions, Behaviour, and Response to pain are all learned patterns that we can change for our benefit.
Neurological changes and evidence show it is possible to change our brain and learning to rewire your brain will transform all areas of your life. You can do this any day, at any age, and overcome challenges that hold you back. You can improve memory, manage depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, and fight off impaired cognitive functioning and age.
Wellness refers to your feeling of wholeness within the many interconnected components of your life. When considering your personal wellness story, consider awareness, mental health and wellbeing and positive benefits to your life such as; reduced chronic disease, life satisfaction and fulfillment and overall health.
Chronic pain isn’t just a physical phenomenon. Physical pain is deeply connected to our emotions and mental wellbeing. We are greatly impacted by emotional experiences but often ignore the scars that cause lasting damage.
Understanding human behaviour in all of its forms can be enlightening to realise that emotions are not something we have to run from, push down, fear, reject or ignore. Real emotions are a part of life and the human experience, happy easy feelings are much easier to digest. The tough sad, uncomfortable or painful emotions are much harder to sit with and work through. When we can accept that all of these are part of the whole, we can sit in each experience to learn and gain the knowledge we are meant to grow and evolve in every part of life.
As a child, the experiences we have shape our neural connections. As we experience pain or emotional trauma, connections in the brain are wired together. If we continue to experience similar situations (similar pain, similar trauma), those connections become stronger, solidifying those paths. Over time, these experiences, and our emotional and physical responses to them, become ingrained in more than just our brains. They develop into fears, habits, and patterns of belief that in turn impact our behaviours. For example, a child that is bitten by a dog might recover physically, but their emotional, physical, and behavioural response to dogs might change. They might develop a fear of approaching strange dogs. As they continue to avoid interacting with dogs, perhaps feeling fear when hearing a dog bark, the neural connections saying “dogs aren’t safe” are strengthened, A one-off neural connection becomes the brain’s path of least resistance. As a child, our brains try to protect us (from dogs, or whatever else) by developing these fears and anxieties, but what happens when we grow up?
As an adult, these unresolved traumas can manifest in many ways, like chronic pain, depression, stress disorders, anxiety, PTSD and C-PTSD, and sleep and eating disorders. Studies have shown that certain personality traits – low confidence or self-esteem, high compassion or empathy, or people-pleasing tendencies, for example – can intensify these negative effects. As a result, there is often a poor success rate when treating chronic pain as a physical condition alone. One does not develop without the other – the underlying trauma must be addressed along with the physical symptoms.
The good news is your brain can be rewired, thanks to neuroplasticity. Repeated negative experiences can wire these connections, but so too can repeated positive experiences. Managing stressors and triggers in a positive way, using both physical and emotional tools, can change the brain’s connections over time, until properly coping becomes the path of least resistance.
So what does that look like? Mood and arousal fluctuate naturally – even the most well-adjusted person feels sad, angry, or excited sometimes. It’s when that arousal is constantly very high (anxiety, fear, aggression, rage), very low (depression, shame, sadness, guilt), or bouncing between these extremes that we experience negative impacts in our lives.
To maintain that optimal level, we need to recognize when our arousal begins to climb or drop, and use self-management strategies to regain control. This creates new neural pathways, which with time and practice, rewire the brain.
Knowing that chronic pain must be approached both physically and mentally, self-management, of course, must involve both as well. Physical strategies can include areas like exercise, nutrition, body work, or cannabis products. Emotional strategies might include the areas of therapy, sleep, mindset, and self-awareness.