How to Change the Shape of Your Brain

How to Change the Shape of Your Brain

Stella Gunn, News Editor

You’re in a rut. The days seem to repeat themselves, and you can’t remember what you like. You do things to waste the time away. You have so many distractions on hand, you never have to let your mind sit. If this sounds like you, perhaps it’s time to start a new cycle. Our brains, are habit-based, complex organs. Not just in theory. Our brains are made up of neural pathways. Our reactions are based only on repeated action, this creates a familiar path for your brain to take anytime you have the “choice”. Our brains are incredibly elastic, and have the potential to be changed, but only through repeated action, for better or worse. 

These pathways are predominantly formed in our childhoods. The way our parents teach us to behave, the influences we have, and the environment we are in. This is the reason that children who experienced trauma during these formative years, have ingrained  fight or flight responses to any stressor, big or small. The brain can’t always differentiate from real danger or false danger, and can start releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, making our heart rates rise, our sweat glands activate, and our alert systems heighten, increasing anxiety, whether the danger is rational or not. This is why childhood trauma actually increases our chances for depression, anxiety, cancer, heart disease, and an array of autoimmune diseases. The immune system senses something wrong in the brain and starts misfiring white blood cells to attack the “disease”, but as there’s none there, the white cells can actually start attacking the brain and body. 

This doesn’t seem fair, to have endured so much as a child, and lived through it just to be faced with lasting effects that could deter the whole course of your adulthood. However, our brains are more malleable the younger we are, and retain neuroplasticity throughout our lives, meaning you always have the ability to retrain your neural pathways. 

The first step in changing our minds and eventually our lives, is identifying our repeated patterns and our dependencies. What reactions do you have that you would like to change? Maybe you get really angry when you feel attacked. Perhaps you apologize even when you did nothing wrong. Maybe you can’t seem to stop worrying. Now, what is it that we are currently doing to cope? There are many unhealthy ways, overworking yourself, abusing substances, eating too much or too little, or nurturing codependent relationships. It’s important to realize that these things can make us feel better in the moment, or could even be helpful in regulated ways, but mostly, these strategies leave us unsatisfied, and feeling worse on our way down. 

The most important things you can do are incredibly obvious: get more sleep, drink more water, use your phone less, eat three healthy meals a day, and get some sort of daily exercise . These are incredibly crucial habits to cultivate, but you’ve heard it all before. Perhaps one of the most revolutionary ways to reshape your brain is meditation. 

In a study done by Harvard, meditation was actually proven to physically change the shape of your brain in just two months. The Hippocampus begins to thicken, an area of the brain associated with memory and learning. Meaning meditation has the ability to help us in school. The activity in the amygdala, the fear center, was also shown to decrease with meditation. Reducing anxiety and unwanted thoughts. The amygdala controls how we emotionally respond, and this practice can lead to us to have more control and patience in stressful situations we are destined to encounter. The third area of the brain meditation can change is the density of gray matter in the brain. Gray matter is responsible for how we process information, and is very connected to our sensory sensitivities. If you have trouble focusing when there’s too much noise, certain shirt materials make you feel crazy, or the texture of a food makes you physically uncomfortable, these are all sensory issues that can be improved with meditation. 

Along with increasing happiness, focus, and relaxation meditation can make us more compassionate humans. Our ability to understand others’ emotions becomes increasingly simpler. We are able to register facial expressions more accurately. We are able to see other people’s point of views better, and generally improve our relationships and reactions. Meditation gives our brains a break, we begin to remove ourselves and our anxieties from the center of the universe, and instead become more in tune with our true emotions and the well-being of others. Meditation has also been proven to help with addiction. By improving the areas of the brain that regulate impulses, mediation can be a powerful tool in dropping bad habits and breaking damaging cycles. 

The science is there. The benefits of meditation are limitless, and all you need is you. Meditation can be intimidating at first, and may be challenging to begin, but as you practice it becomes increasingly more enjoyable, until it becomes a rewarding experience you will want to practice again and again. I challenge you to meditate for ten minutes every day for a week. Everyone has ten minutes they could carve out for this powerful practice. It can be hard to know how to fix everything at once, and at this point in time, but I truly believe our generation is suffering. We have endured years of isolation, the first childhoods littered with social media, and an incredibly high accessibility to drugs and nicotine. It makes sense to not be ok, but you can help yourself, only if you choose to.