Neuroplasticity and Mental Wellbeing
Using the adaptive quality of the mind to create an upward spiral
We all experience a level of worry in our lives. By the time an average person starts their day, they will experience innumerable worrying thoughts: How will I take care of my family? Will I do well at my job today? What if something comes up that I am not able handle?, etc. According to the latest Mental Health Research Canada poll, Canadians are experiencing unprecedented mental distress due to the pandemic, with common mental disorders reaching the highest levels ever. Young adults, women, and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected with anxiety and depression, while suicidal ideation among young people has reached a catastrophic rate of 20%.
It seems that the constant chatter in our mind is here to stay… But is there a better way to understand the worrying mind? Can we gain a more direct access to the mind by looking into the mechanisms of worry, thereby opening a window into a new way of thinking and being?
Neuroplasticity and the Worrying Mind
The human brain is incredibly plastic — it has a great ability to adapt and change. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to constantly create new neural connections through learning and life experiences. While some neural connections become stronger, other connections become weaker. What does this mean for our tendency to worry? It means that if we start worrying, and if we worry more each day, we will be essentially wiring our system for worry, and the state of worry will become more accessible to us.
To illustrate neuroplasticity, you can think of a path in the forest. While some paths are difficult to walk, those that have been walked many times have turned into trails. It is much easier to walk on a well-paved trail, and for this reason we typically don’t bother going into the unpaved sections of the forest. Similarly, our repeating worrying thoughts become so engrained and established that the brain goes to them by default, hence the moment we wake up we start experiencing the repetitive chatter of the mind. In his book “The Brain That Changes Itself”, Norman Doidge explained both the positive and the negative aspects of the adaptive quality of the brain: