Simply put, your brain can change! This means that with awareness, support, and practice the circuitry in your brain is capable of reorganizing and responding in different ways. This is hopeful and exciting information as it means that your brain can become more resilient to experiences from responses like anxiety and trauma.
The Cortex and the Amygdala
Trying to understand the complex, and still mysterious, unit that is our brain can feel overwhelming. However, getting to know some of the basic structures of the two pathways of anxiety can be helpful in understanding why we may be feeling anxious, which can be empowering and help us move towards change.
Cortex: This part of the brain takes in sensory experiences (sight, sound, touch, etc.) and allows you to make meaning, and interpret, create or link a memory. This impressive part of our brain is analytical and thoughtful which is very helpful in our day to day life! However, when gathering information our brain can try to anticipate the next source of data which can lead to worrying thoughts, for example “Did I lock door when I left the house? ” which can send signals in our brain that provoke anxiety. If you are experiencing a lot of thoughts that are worrisome or obsessing over possibilities it is likely that the pathways involved in your anxiety are cortex based.
Amygdala: This word actually means almond in Greek, which is fitting because the these two structures that we have in our brain (one in each hemisphere) are the size and shape of almonds. Don’t be fooled by the size of the amygdala though, it’s a mighty force that is designed to receives information faster than the cortex part does. The amygdala’s structure is an ancient part of our brain that is designed to keep us safe. The amygdala can act like a smoke detector, alarming us at the slightest sense of danger. This is also the part of the brain that is responsible for the fight, flight, freeze response to danger. Although this part of the brain takes in sensory information it does not have the same thought capacity that the cortex does, this means that you can’t think your way out of feeling anxiety, rather you teach your amygdala with new experiences. If you find yourself feeling anxious and you are not sure why, or you are confused at your response to a particular situation it may mean that you’re experiencing anxiety through the pathway in your brain linked to your amygdala.
How Can Neuroplasticity Be Helpful in Therapy?
If you’re hoping to get a better understanding of your brain it’s strongly recommended that you seek professional support. Although most therapists are not neuroscientists (myself included) neuroplasticity is an effective and powerful framework in understanding the neuropathways that cause anxious or traumatic responses. If you’re looking for therapeutic support we can create a personalized, targeted and effective treatment plan that will help you respond differently to distressing experiences. I am a registered social worker and provide in person and online counselling.