My neighbor’s mother had a stroke two years ago, leaving her with muscle weakness on her left side. With time and a lot of hard rehab work, she’s almost 100%. That’s the wonder of neuroplasticity.

…Dr. Donald O. Hebb described the goings-on very simply: cells that fire together, wire together.

The human brain contains some 86 billion neurons, all of them forming connections to each other.

If you do the math, that’s about 150,000,000,000,000 (150 trillion) of them. And the fact that those trillions of connections are plastic delivers healing and hope.

Lots of need to knows when it comes to neuroplasticity, so we’re going with two parts. We’ll do some defining in this piece. And we’ll talk about how to put it to work for us in part two.

Let’s get busy…

What is neuroplasticity?

First, a definition of plastic from Merriam-Webster: “capable of being molded or modeled, capable of adapting to varying conditions.”

Toss in neuro – nerve, nervous tissue, the nervous system – and we’re good to go.

Neuroplasticity is the process by which the brain reorganizes its neural connections in response to what’s going on in our lives.

It makes sense that it’s wildly active in infant, toddler, and pre-pubescent brain development. But the adult brain can be amazingly plastic.

Before we move on, let’s not confuse neuroplasticity with neurogenesis – the process by which new neurons are formed.

Disease and injury

Neuroplasticity is at the very foundation of healing from disease and injury. It’s why my neighbor’s mother regained strength, even though the neurons in her brain that control the muscles on her left side had been destroyed.

And it’s why therapy, antidepressants, and other interventions work in providing relief for depression and anxiety symptoms.

We don’t often give a lot of thought to the bottom-line reasons for relief, as though – poof – it’s magic. But something anatomical and physiological had to have happened. And neuroplasticity is at the top of the list.

Neuroplasticity rewires the brain

what is neuroplasticity

Neuron in the hippocampus  40x magnification

Neuroplasticity is all about neurons having the ability to establish new connections throughout the brain, facilitating all sorts of new functioning.

In fact, neuroplasticity rewires the brain, just like an electrician would in your home for a remodel or repair.

But, it’s also a matter of how specific groups of neural connections – circuits – got wired together in the first place. See, it’s those circuits that generate our patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior.

Fire together, wire together

Neurons that consistently interact form long-lasting functional relationships, just as neurons that no longer play ball lose their connections.

In 1949, Canadian neuropsychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb described the goings-on very simply: cells that fire together, wire together.

The benefits of neuroplasticity on the brain

We’ve been painting with a broad brush, so let’s get down to some specifics. From the PositivePsychology article, What Is Neuroplasticity? A Psychologist Explains [+14 Tools], written by Courtney E. Ackerman, MA, here are some of the ways the brain benefits from neuroplasticity…

  • Recovery from brain events like stroke
  • Recovery from traumatic brain injuries
  • Ability to rewire functions in the brain (e.g., if an area that controls one sense is damaged, other areas may be able to pick up the slack)
  • Losing function in one area may enhance functions in other areas (e.g., if one sense is lost, the others may become heightened)
  • Enhanced memory abilities
  • Wide range of enhanced cognitive abilities
  • More effective learning

Pretty amazing, don’t you think?

The wonder of neuroplasticity

Eighty-six billion neurons in the brain forming trillions of connections. That’s hard to fathom. But knowing they can be molded and can adapt to varying conditions brings it all to life – through healing and hope.

The wonder of neuroplasticity.

Be sure to come back for part two: The wonder of neuroplasticity: 15 ways to rewire your brain

If you’d like to learn more about it, dig in to these two pieces…

What Is Neuroplasticity? A Psychologist Explains [+14 Tools]

Psychology Today: Neuroplasticity

Take the time to learn about neurogenesis: Neurogenesis: It’s a miraculous phenomenon

And be sure to review all the Chipur mood and anxiety info and inspiration titles.

Neuron image: Author: MethoxyRoxy. No changes made. The file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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