A Different Persepctive
By Magda Karas
Our brain is involved in all that we do, including how we think, feel and act. Having a healthier brain helps us to live happier and fuller lives for longer. This occurs not only allowing us to be physically healthier but also by allowing us to be able to process our reality, experiences and environment better and turn that input into positive output.
Modern science and advanced imaging technology allowed us to learn that despite what had previously been thought of the brain, it does not stop changing and developing after childhood. Our brain has the ability to rewire itself all the time and change, depending how we use it. This is called neuroplasticity.
There are various ways in which we can improve the health of our brain and it does involve more than just good diet, exercise and fresh air. Our brain needs healthy thinking, constant learning and different experiences, both comfortable and uncomfortable in order to perform at optimal level and stay young.
Canadian psychologist, Dr Donald Hebb discovered in 1949 that neurons that fire together wire together, explaining in this way the process of strengthening and wiring brain pathways. Therefore the brain needs constant stimulus from learning, experiences and thoughts.
Many of us are afraid of spiders, heights, being under water, public speech and so on.
However, living in anxiety and fears shrinks our world and stops us from having the life we want. It also means that we are more likely to be stuck in a routine and not give enough of a chance to our brain to create new wiring.
Overcoming fears and putting ourselves in new situations that we find uncomfortable can change our life by changing our thinking and triggering the new brain pathways.
Anxiety is natural and it has its function. It warns our system of danger and prepares it for action. However it is easy to get into a vicious circle. If we constantly avoid doing things that make us feel uncomfortable, we reinforce the idea that the thing or situation is unsafe and our anxiety increases.
This can easily translate into other areas of our life and eventually, something that we think may be insignificant- like being afraid of spiders may impact how we feel about taking risks at all, lead to poorer life decisions, declining job offers that we think may be too challenging or not trying sports that we fancy.
For example, someone who cannot swim and is afraid of having their head under water may never go to aqua aerobics class, despite the fact that you don’t need to be able to swim to attend most of them. It also means that the person may miss out on having better physical health, something enjoyable to look forward to each week and meet new people. Living in fear of one thing, can easily snowball into being afraid of doing other things and stopping us from having the life we deserve.
Asking someone to do a handstand, when they fear being upside down or dive of a cliff when they fear their head being under water is not a good idea and can easily contribute to an increase in anxiety.
However, there are various ways of dealing with overcoming fears and the benefits of doing so not only help our brain to stay healthier but also expand our comfort zone and our world.
Dr. Michael Merzenich, explains in his book, “Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life,”
“Whatever the circumstances of a child’s early life, and whatever the history and current state of that child, every human has the built-in power to improve, to change for the better, to significantly restore and often to recover. Tomorrow, that person you see in the mirror can be a stronger, more capable, livelier, more powerfully centered, and still-growing person.”
When overcoming anxiety, therapists advise to break down one thing that we are afraid of into 10 or more little challenges and set a limit to when we are going to stay in the uncomfortable situation.
Knowing that you are going to look at the spider that you are afraid of for two minutes is an easier task than having to pick it up with your bare hands. But if you look at it for two minutes, then five, then go ahead and learn more about it and try to pick one on a piece of paper on in glass jar or even visit a shop or a centre where you can pet or touch one when supervised by specialist, your fear will start decreasing as your brain will learn each time that this is a safe situation.
Your brain will start rewiring and your response to situations once perceived as dangerous will change. Each time you challenge yourself in that way, your comfort zone will expand. Once this is achieved, you will be more likely to respond in a calm manner to other stressful situations in life.