“You cannot change how you think and feel without changing your brain.” ~Dr. John B. Arden (Rewire Your Brain), Author and Psychologist, with over 40 years of experience in the mental health care system.
Did you know neuroscientific research has proven the human brain is plastic? In Dr. John B. Arden’s book Rewire Your Brain, he talks extensively on neuroscience and how you can overcome mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. Today I’m giving you key points I took away from this non-ficiton book, which can help you along your healing journey. I hope you get as much out of it as I did. Enjoy! 🙂
Some of the book excerpts I modified for clarity.
1. Your Brain Is Not Hardwired
“It’s ‘soft-wired’ by experience,” Arden writes. “The brain you were born with is modified by your experiences throughout your life. Your brain is changing all the time. New brain cells can be born. Genes lay out potential and vulnerabilities, but they do not dictate your thoughts, feelings, or behaviour. It turns out behaviour is not rigidly determined. You can even turn genes on or off with your behaviour.”
He adds to this by saying, “In the last twenty years, there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence that the synapses between neurons are plastic. The brain would not be able to record anything new if it were hardwired.”
2. The Frontal Lobe Is The Last Part of The Brain To Mature In Humans
“Its development is not complete until sometime in the third decade of life. The frontal lobe gives us our most complex cognitive, behavioral, and emotional capacities. It also has a closer relationship with the parts of the brain that process emotions, such as those generated by your amygdala.”
So essentially, if you’re in your twenties and feel out of control of your emotions; it’s normal. Our twenties are actually the best time for us to learn and take action to gain control of our emotions. With that said, if you’re older, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Remember, the brain is still plastic.
3. Developing a Sense of Humour is Good For Mental Health
Arden says, “Sometimes you need a dose of detachment to move yourself beyond negative thoughts and emotions. In other words, you need to learn how to take things less seriously. Humor promotes neuroplasticity, and it’s a wonderful treatment for what ails you. If you are sad, humor serves as a brief nudge from one mood state to another. If you are able to develop a sense of humor about yourself, you’ll find that incredibly liberating. It ensures that you don’t take your current situation and yourself too seriously. Laughing at yourself allows you to see yourself as part of a greater whole. By not taking yourself too seriously, you can let things slide off you and not ‘sweat the small stuff.’ By developing a sense of humor, you’ll cultivate positive thoughts and feelings.”
This point is close to my heart because my mental health had made me take life pretty seriously at one point. I know how hard it can be to ease up, but by simply just starting to incorporate more humour into your life, such as by watching more comedy movies, you’ll start to see improvement mentally and feel pressure being lifted off your shoulders.
5. Socialization and Healthy Relationships Improves Mental Health
“The Optical Frontal Cortex and some other parts of the brain constitute what has been called the social brain because this system of neurons thrives on social interaction. When these neurons are activated effectively, you experience fewer psychological problems and better mental health. Positive relationships enhance your sense of wellbeing, whereas negative relationships leave you with the opposite feeling.”
Arden goes on to say, “Neurochemicals, such as oxytocin, are involved in childbirth and bonding, and later in life they become activated in intimate relationships. Higher oxytocin levels help to blunt pain and make us feel comforted by other people. Insensitivity and selfishness are essentially bad for your brain and your mental health. In contrast, compassion and loving relationships are good for your brain and your mental health.”
This is why I highly recommend learning Self-Love, because instead of looking to other people as our main source of love and healing, we look to ourselves first (and fortunately, we can be available to ourselves 24/7 when we’re in need of love). When we love ourselves combined with healthy relationships with others, we release more oxytocin which helps aid in our healing.
“Positive relationships lead to positive emotions. We can therefore call positive relationships social medicine.” ~Dr. John Arden.
6. Taking Action Promotes Neuroplasticity
“You need to take action to break out of any negative mood that over activates your right frontal lobe (promotes negative emotions), and shift instead to doing something that activates your left frontal lobe (promotes positive emotions). You therefore have to do some things you don’t necessarily feel like doing to get out of an emotional rut. Rather than feeling helpless about your situation, doing something constructive puts you into an action mode. It makes you feel better. The best prescription for depression is action. In contrast, passivity indirectly promotes feeling bad.”
A lot of the time, when my anxiety was getting me down, I’d sit in my room by myself and reflect on it as a way to resolve it. But now when I look back at it, it was just digging me into a deeper hole by endlessly replaying the anxiety provoking event in my head. Now when I’m feeling upset, I go watch a movie, go for a walk, or spend time with my family. Anything to get out of my head. It took me a while to do, but doing so has helped me feel so much better.
7. Your Breathing Affects Your Emotional State
In part of his book, Arden talks about breathing and how it affects our anxiety.
“A balance between your sympathetic nervous system (activates fight or flight) and your parasympathetic nervous system (calms you) allows you flexibility. You can tap into your parasympathetic nervous system through your breath and calm yourself down. Different breathing patterns promote different emotional states. To learn to relax, you’ll have to make an effort to develop some new habits, such as the way you breathe. Since one of the most common symptoms of panic is shortness of breath, you’ll have to learn to breathe differently.”
8. Light Chemistry
In one section of the book, Arden talks about techniques to promote positive moods that help rewire the brain. One of the techniques is light chemistry.
“Natural light changes the biochemistry of the brain. Low levels of light are associated with depression. The brain picks up signals from the retina of whether it is dark or light outside and sends that information to the pineal gland. If it is dark, the pineal gland will secrete the sleeping hormone melatonin, which is sedating. When there is an overabundance of melatonin, it competes with serotonin, and the serotonin level decreases. Low serotonin is correlated with depression. To take advantage of the benefit of light chemistry, maximize the natural light you receive during the daytime so you will help your brain chemistry promote good feelings.”
So when “How To Be Happier” articles say to open our curtains and blinds and let light in, it literally changes the chemistry of our brains when doing so. A simple action we can all take in the morning.
9. The More Stressed You Are Today, The More Likely You’ll Be Stressed Tomorrow
“’Cells that fire together wire together,’ describes the way your brain reorganizes when you have new experiences. The more you do something in a particular way, use words with a specific accent, or remember something about your past, the more those specific neurons will fire together and strengthen their connections. The more neurons fire together, the more likely they will fire together in the future. ‘Neurons that fire apart wire apart,’ means neurons out of sync will fail to link. It is the neural explanation for forgetting. Neuroplasticity illustrates the phrase ‘Use it or lose it.’ When you use the synaptic connections that represent a skill, you strengthen them, and when you let the skill lie dormant, you weaken those connections. It’s similar to the way your muscles weaken if you stop exercising”
Arden goes on to say, “All the cells that fire together to create a particular mood, also fire with other neurons to create thoughts and memories. The more you are in a particular mood, the more prone you’ll be to be in that mood. The longer you stay in a low emotional state, the greater the probability those neurons will fire together when you are sad, and will therefore wire together. As a result, this will become the chronic foundation of your emotional experience”
For example, if you want to be more positive, at first you’ll have to train your brain by forcing positive thoughts. But the more daily practice you put into positive thinking, the easier it’ll be later on to automatically be positive, because it’ll become wired in your brain as a habit.
11. We Are All Capable of Rewiring Our Brains
“The more you do something, the more likely you’ll do it again in the future. That’s why, for example, piano players practice for hours on end. The same goes for thinking. The more you think about your Aunt, the more she will pop into your mind again and again. Repetition rewires the brain and breeds habits. Not only does behavior change the structure of the brain through neuroplasticity; just thinking about or imagining particular behaviors can change brain structure as well. For example, researchers have shown that simply imagining a session of piano practice contributes to neuroplasticity in the area of the brain associated with the finger movements of playing the piano. Thus, mental practice alone contributes to the rewiring of the brain.”
This is why I always recommend to never make a situation worse than it is. At the peak of my anxiety years ago, I made things out to be bigger, more dramatic, and hard than it actually was. The more I overreacted, the stronger that synaptic connection was getting, which increased the likelihood of me overreacting in the future. Through my healing journey, one of the things I taught myself was to not overreact or react immediately, which has saved me a lot.
Lastly, Dr. John Arden writes, “Every time you remember a story of yours, certain synaptic connections are strengthened and certain ones are weakened, based on the details you remember. As you discuss the events of your story, the story becomes modified, and so does your brain. You are essentially rewiring your brain every time you review the story in your mind. You modify your memories each time you remember them.”
This reason alone, is why I avoid ruminating on my past too much (despite it being hard not to sometimes). I can’t look back at something five years ago and expect to remember all the details of the event in perfect clarity, when most of the time I can’t even remember what I had for dinner last night. We can believe something to be true about our past through how we perceived it, but that doesn’t mean that’s what really happened. Beliefs aren’t always facts.
Should You Read This Book?
There is so much great information in this book, it’s hard to sum it up in one review. So with that said, I highly recommend reading this book!
I’ve made personal notes I saved on my laptop, so I can come back and read them over when I feel I need a refreshing. That way if I do experience a mental health struggle in the future, I have these notes to refer to. There are so many things I wish I could include but didn’t because this post would go on forever otherwise. These include memory, eating a balanced diet, sleep, supplements, exercise, fueling your brain, insomnia, medication, socializing, bonding and attachment, attitude and resiliency, and more.
I agree with a lot of what Dr. John Arden writes, as it relates to information I already know, and is relatable to my personal experiences and beliefs I have with my mental health. So I can assure you the information in this book is reliable and accurate. 🙂
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