Earlier this week was World Mental Health Day - a day when all your favourite brands talk about the importance of looking after your mental health.
While this is all well and good, I rarely see much practical advice beyond the usual obvious tips: reduce stress, think positive, socialise, exercise and watch what you eat.
Don’t get me wrong, these tips are spot on and should be a priority for everyone. However, they are a bit broad.
Which is why I want to go deeper and introduce you to a concept called neuroplasticity.
What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change, adapt and grow - something that young brains are better at than older brains.
However, contrary to conventional wisdom, in certain circumstances adult brains are capable of dramatic changes.
This ability to change can increase one’s resilience to stress, mood and creativity. It can also help people to learn quicker, change unwanted habits and recover from brain and nervous system injuries.
In short, the profound potential of adult neuroplasticity highlights the brain's remarkable capacity for adaptation, learning, and growth throughout one's life, offering opportunities for self-improvement, recovery, and enhanced quality of life.
So, what can we do to promote neuroplasticity?
As the human brain matures, it becomes less and less adaptable (or plastic).
This is because brains strive for stability and efficiency as they grow in order to operate more efficiently - which is why you can do things like walking, cooking and brushing your teeth without having to think about it (but maybe not at the same time).
So although the brain becomes less adaptable over time, there are moments when plasticity is increased. The most notable of these are highly emotional experiences.
During emotional experiences, the brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, and hormones like cortisol, which can temporarily boost neuroplasticity.
Therefore, emotional experiences (like the loss of a loved one, a near death experience etc.) can be powerful catalysts for learning and behaviour change. For example, a traumatic experience might lead to changes in behaviour and coping mechanisms, while a positive emotional experience can motivate individuals to pursue certain goals or hobbies.
However, you don’t need to put yourself in highly emotional situations in order to promote neuroplasticity. There are other options…
Ways to boost neuroplasticity
Psychedelics, such as psilocybin (found in certain mushrooms) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, derived from the ergot fungus), have gained attention for their potential to induce rapid and profound changes in brain function and connectivity.
The idea that they can "rewire" the brain is based on emerging research and the experiences reported by individuals undergoing psychedelic-assisted therapy.
They do this by enhancing neuroplasticity to facilitate changes in thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviours.
Psychedelics have also been shown to promote increased communication between brain regions that don't typically interact, which can enable novel insights and perspectives, potentially leading to rapid changes in thought and perception.
Clinical trials have shown promising results, with some individuals experiencing significant improvements in symptoms after a single dose.
Take a lion’s mane mushroom supplement daily
Lion's mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a natural supplement that has gained attention for its cognitive and neuroprotective effects.
There is growing evidence to suggest lion’s mane could support brain health and potentially enhance cognitive function over time by stimulating the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), which can support neural plasticity and the formation of new neural connections.
One recent study discovered that one compound in particular, called hericene A, promotes nerve cell growth, increases the production of brain-boosting molecules called neurotrophins, and improves memory performance in mice.
Buy lion's mane here.
Meditate for 20 minutes a day
Meditating for 20 minutes a day can have a significant impact on brain structure and function, effectively promoting a form of neuroplasticity that is associated with improved mental and emotional well-being.
Studies have shown that regular meditation, even for as little as 20 minutes a day, can lead to increases in grey matter density in areas of the brain associated with memory, self-awareness, and compassion.
The hippocampus, an area critical for memory, and the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to complex cognitive behaviour and decision-making, are among the regions that show changes.
Meditation has also been found to reduce the size and activity of the amygdala, a brain region involved in processing emotions, particularly stress and anxiety. This can lead to reduced stress responses and improved emotional regulation.
Train your legs
Exercise is one of the most well established ways to promote neuroplasticity and improve mental health. If the effects of exercise could be sold in a pill, it would make billions.
However, if you were to focus on one type of exercise for the best bang for your buck, then training your legs to get stronger would be it.
That’s because leg movements (especially those bearing weight) have been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells, which help us deal with new challenges and adapt to stress.
This knowledge comes from a study in which mice’s hind legs were restricted in movement for 28 days, reduced the growth of new brain cells by 70%.
So if you want to rewire your brain, training your legs with weight is an important step.
Eat seafood weekly
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), found in fatty fish and certain supplements, have been associated with brain health and cognitive function.
As a crucial component of the brain's cell membranes, particularly in neurons, omega 3s make up a significant portion of the brain's grey matter, where most of the processing occurs.
Ensuring an adequate supply of omega-3s through the diet can help maintain the structural integrity of brain cells.
Omega-3s also support neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganise and form new connections, by providing the necessary building blocks for neural membranes.
This facilitates the growth and stability of synapses, the connections between neurons that are crucial for learning and memory.
Omega 3 fatty acids also enhance the function of neurotransmitters related to mood, attention, and memory.
Daily reading can have a positive impact on brain function and neuroplasticity in several ways, contributing to cognitive development, increased knowledge, and enhanced neural connectivity.
Perhaps the most important benefit to the brain from reading is how it promotes lifelong learning and helps develop a “growth mindset’, which is essentially a belief that you can continue to grow, learn and adapt even as you age.
Reading engages multiple cognitive processes, including attention, comprehension, memory, and critical thinking, so it makes sense that regular reading can encourage neuroplasticity by promoting the formation and strengthening of neural connections, particularly in brain regions associated with language and comprehension.
Learn a new language or instrument
Learning a new language or instrument can have a profound impact on brain plasticity and cognitive development. These activities stimulate the brain in various ways and can lead to the rewiring of neural networks.
Learning a new language or instrument challenges cognitive skills such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. As you memorise vocabulary and notes, construct sentences and melodies, and switch between languages, your brain becomes more adept at multitasking and managing cognitive demands.
In this way, learning a new language or an instrument can promote neuroplasticity by strengthening and forming new neural connections, particularly in regions responsible for language processing and fine motor skills.
In conclusion, there are seven powerful ways to rewire your brain in weeks, contributing to improved mental health and cognitive function.
These strategies go beyond the usual general advice and tap into the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change, adapt, and grow. While young brains are naturally more plastic, even adult brains are capable of remarkable changes under specific circumstances.
These strategies offer diverse paths to enhance brain function, adaptability, and overall mental well-being.
Incorporating them into your daily routine can lead to profound changes in your cognitive abilities, emotional resilience, and quality of life.