What is Neuroplasticity?

What is Neuroplasticity?

The Brain

The brain is so amazing when you take a closer look at it. Imagine what you can do: recognizing faces of people around you, reading, writing, cooking, driving, typing, researching, comprehending concepts – there are many things that you can do because of your brain, and isn’t that amazing?

People get so used to doing the simple that it can rob you of the fact that you have a brain, and having a brain is one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive. This statement might sound a bit sarcastic, but not really. When you think about it, what if you don’t have a brain? What could happen? But maybe that’s for another blog.

People’s brain is plastic (yup, but not like what you’re thinking right now). Several neural pathways continually form and automatically adjust because of a phenomenon that’s called neuroplasticity. Neuro means that it’s related to the nerves or the nervous system, and plastic means that it’s easily shaped or molded.

Amishi Jha, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, describes neuroplasticity as “the capacity of the brain to reorganize its connections based on experience.”

Defining Neuroplasticity

Dr Campbell put it this way,

“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.”

When you think about it, brains are very extraordinary. Because of our experiences, the brain forms different pathways; others are dormant, created and discarded. This happens when a person learns something new. The brain makes new connections between neurons. A person rewires their brain to adjust to new situations. This kind of thing happens every day, but you can be proactive in doing this.

Neuroplasticity and Psychology

Since there is a lot of research about neuroplasticity, it’s evident how neuroplasticity can affect someone’s psychology.

Christopher Bergland (2017) mentioned,

“One could speculate that this process opens up the possibility to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo or to overcome past traumatic events that evoke anxiety and stress. Hardwired fear-based memories often lead to avoidance behaviors that can hold you back from living your life to the fullest.”

There are certain things that neuroplasticity can change since it affects the way a person’s brain works. Psychology has continuously been transforming to help people change their thought pattern to live healthier and better life. But it has been a real challenge, especially for those who have traumatic experiences. But when you think about it, what if you can change your thought pattern that’s not fear-based or anxious-based? Will you do it? If it’s going to help you throughout the day, then why wouldn’t you take it.

It seems odd how a person can change their thought patterns if a lot of factors growing up has influenced them: environment, upbringing, educations, friendships, failures and success – all those experiences that shaped who and what you are right now. But sometimes, people’s experiences have a negative effect on them. Let’s take for example anxiety. If your whole life, there are specific things that make you anxious more than the others, you’ll have a new way of looking at things because of neuroplasticity. Instead of being fearful, you’ll be more courageous.

Isn’t that interesting?

Benefits of Neuroplasticity

  1. Boosts current cognitive capabilities
  2. Ability to learn new things
  3. Recovery from strokes and other traumatic injuries
  4. Strengthening areas for some functions that were lost or declined because of accident or disease
  5. Developments that can promote brain fitness
  6. Developed memory abilities
  7. Better emotional regulation
  8. Opportunity to create new healthy thinking patterns

How Neuroplasticity Takes Place

An adult usually has 7,500 synapses per neuron. This is half the number compared to younger children. As someone gains new experiences, some of the connections are just improved while others are removed. This process is called synaptic pruning. The brain can develop new connections and prune away weak ones so that it’s able to adapt to the changing environment.

What is it to you?

Because of the discoveries in neuroplasticity, you can rise above what you’re used to, especially the ones that aren’t good for you. That means that since the brain is plastic (or changing), it can relearn, unlearn, and learn. Imagine if you’re a person with unhealthy thinking patterns that caused you to have eating problems. The root cause of that might be what you experienced in school or at your house while growing up. You never saw yourself as enough or beautiful that you needed to make to do that to cope.

But with neuroplasticity, you don’t have to be stuck. You can change your thought patterns and eventually change your behavioral patterns because the brain does not stop growing in a particular change. It continues to change in response to learning.

Now, are you ready to maximize this ability?

  1. Traveling: Being in a new environment is good for the brain because it helps in forming dendrites. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go in another side of the world to do that, but going on a weekend trip to a different city gives your brain stimulation.
  2. Doing mnemonic techniques: Doing memory training promotes connectivity in the brain and slows down memory loss that comes through aging.
  3. Learning a musical instrument: Brain scans appeared and showed that learning to play a new instrument causes brain growth.
  4. Learning a new language: Studying a new language positively affects cognitive abilities, reading, and verbal fluency.
  5. Exercising: Exercise helps in preventing neuron losses in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.
  6. Mindfulness: Practicing Mindfulness benefits cognitive functions such as focus and regaining focus. The more discipline you are doing mindfulness, the more you’ll increase your focus and concentration throughout your day. Furthermore, practicing mindfulness helps in regulating emotions and mood. Because you can step back when you are experiencing difficult emotions and then identify negative thought patterns. From research, they found out that mindfulness promotes positive changes in neural pathways involved in focus, stress, mood, memory and attention.  In addition, they found out that there’s an increased grey matter in the hippocampus, which controls focus and memory control and less grey matter in the amygdala, which is associated with fear, anxiety, and fight or flight response. 
  7. Creating artwork: Based on the research of a 10-week art course, it showed enhanced connectivity in the brain area that’s called default mode network. This region plays a role in mental processes such as empathy, introspection, and memory. Engaging in Art also improves the neural pathway for attention and focus. 
  8. Dancing: A research also found that it also increases neural connectivity that pushes a person to integrate several functions all at once: emotional, kinesthetic, rational, and musical.
  9. Sleeping: A research from NYU stated that sleeping helps in learning retention.
  10. Non-dominant hand exercises: Using the non-dominant hand also increases neural pathways. You can do it in your everyday routine like brushing your teeth, texting, holding/grabbing something. A study also showed that one benefit of doing this is enhanced emotional health.

The term neuroplasticity might be unfamiliar, or you might’ve heard about it before. It could be a complex concept. But one thing is for sure, because of neuroplasticity, the brain can grow, and different thinking patterns could change that can help you regulate your emotions and have better cognitive abilities. If you feel like you are stuck or are not growing, touch your head and remember that you have a brain, which is the answer to unstuck.

What is PMDD? And how to cope up with it?

What is PMDD? And how to cope up with it?

We are all familiar with PMS or Premenstrual syndrome. Symptoms range from cramps, moodiness, to feeling bloated. But are you aware that there’s also a condition called PMDD?

PMDD or Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is similar to PMS but much worse. Here are its symptoms.

(Based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5)):


In most menstrual cycles, at least 5 symptoms must be present in the final week before the onset of menses, start to improve within a few days after the beginning of menses, and become minimal or absent in the week post menses.

One or more of the following symptoms must be present:

  1. Marked affective lability (e.g., mood swings, feeling suddenly sad or tearful, or increased sensitivity to rejection)
  2. Marked irritability or anger or increased interpersonal conflicts
  3. Markedly depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, or self-deprecating thoughts
  4. Marked anxiety, tension, and/or feelings of being keyed up or on edge

One (or more) of the following symptoms must additionally be present to reach a total of 5 symptoms when combined with symptoms from the criterion above:

  1. Decreased interest in usual activities
  2. Subjective difficulty in concentration
  3. Lethargy, easy fatigability, or marked lack of energy
  4. Marked change in appetite; overeating or specific food cravings
  5. Hypersomnia or insomnia
  6. A sense of being overwhelmed or out of control
  7. Physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling; joint or muscle pain, a sensation of “bloating” or weight gain

I know how hard it could be because I have it.

During the pandemic, I would often feel depressed a week or 2 weeks before my period. At first, I thought maybe it’s just me adjusting to this pandemic. But as time goes by, I realize that there was something wrong.

I feel so down and demotivated, like I couldn’t do anything. Aside from the extreme moodiness, I would feel disrupted; I couldn’t work or continue my day.

Even though I was affected psychologically and mentally, I told myself that I “shouldn’t” feel this way. I forced myself to continue with my day or else I’ll get stuck. So I tried to go on, wiping my tears before a meeting starts, finish my paper or continue working even though I feel so down.

It felt like I have to go through a hell hole every month because my period is coming. After a week, I would wake up feeling much better, but I have to rebuild or start again.

PMDD could consume you by the thoughts and emotions you would feel. It’s like being in a different place and then coming back home again and you don’t know where to start.

That’s what I felt.  

I didn’t know that it was PMDD that time; all the more, I felt lonely and alone.

Is it Bipolar? Is it depression?

I had all these questions and assumptions, until I was able to get in touch with a doctor and clarified that it is PMDD.

If you’ve experienced the same, thought that you were crazy, felt helpless, felt guilty for feeling that way, I am here for you. I understand you. I know it’s not easy.

Brushing it off, feeling guilty, being hard on myself didn’t help at all. Handling difficult emotions is already tough. Having PMDD makes it thousand times harder.

Every month, I felt like I was in the cycle of desolation and then rebuilding again. Again and again. At first, I thought that getting myself back on track would solve the problem. But then the week where I have PMDD affects most areas of my life: work, relationships, self-care, school, other activities, etc.

The concept of rebuilding a week after menstruation seems good at first. But it’s the “during” that I wanted to handle better.

I realize I don’t want PMDD to consume me and affect areas of my life that when period is over, I would clean up the mess. My own mess.

I wanted to manage it better. I wanted to help myself stay on track even if I was having it. I wanted to understand more my emotions and not judge myself for it. I wanted to not let PMDD take the best out of me.

If you’ve had the same experience, or even if you’re experiencing PMS, or you wanted to take care of yourself more when you’re having your menstruation, here are some tips on how to cope up:

  1. Know what triggers you.

Most of the time, this condition will attack you off guard. Everything could be a trigger making you feel isolated and alone. But it’s good you’re able to keep track and raise awareness within yourself.

When you’re able to keep track of what made you feel depressed, you’ll be able to guard your emotions, especially when you know your period is coming. Does your partner, your friends, trigger you? Is it your work, your boss, your colleagues? Is it your family or your kids? What specific thing did they do to make you feel that way?

This leads me to my second point…

  • Give yourself space

Back off from the situation. Instead of being reactive, give yourself some space to breathe. And then ask yourself, are my emotions taking over me or am I taking over my emotions?

If your answer is the former one, then, that’s a sign you should step back first.

Adjusting to PMDD could take some months. That’s okay because everyone here is different with their own pace and process. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak when you feel overwhelmed.

Show patience towards yourself because you can’t possibly understand the condition immediately. Having a better grasp of it and knowing how to take care of yourself during this critical time could mean a few months of raising awareness consciously.

  • Ask for support from significant people

Don’t be afraid to tell important people in your life what you’re going through. At first, they may not understand how you feel, or sometimes they may not even have the idea of its  severity. But keeping it to yourself will also not do you any good.

During this time, talking to a friend could help to make you feel better, or being with people who lifts up your mood.

The important thing is not to isolate yourself and ask for more understanding.

  • Be mindful of what you’re feeding your mind.

When you have PMDD, it’s easy to get triggered and get anxious. Sometimes, when you’re not aware, what you consume through social media affects you. Difficult emotions such as loneliness, sadness, jealousy could be amplified unnecessarily.

That’s why you must check and be more careful with what you watch, what you listen to, what you see on Instagram and Facebook. It could help you even mute some people, their stories or posts, and you don’t need to be apologetic when you do that. Remember that this is your head and your emotions and it’s your responsibility to guard them.

  • Consume healthier food

Be more conscious too with what you eat. What worked for me is eating less sugar, salt, and processed food.

Sugar affects our mood and energy. It affects one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. Insulin is related to 2 other hormones: progesterone and estrogen. Shifting levels of progesterone and estrogen affect serotonin which is the hormone that stabilizes our mood. That’s why if you are already moody and your serotonin is affected by your sugar intake, it could cause more moodiness. On the other hand, salt can cause bloating and make symptoms worse.

  • Track your mood

You can try to download this app called Daylio, where you can put your mood every day. This is helpful because this also raises awareness. This helps you to see what causes your mood to go up or down. This app allows you to share what made you happy, angry, mad, or scared.

PMDD could be intimidating at first. However, I believe that women are stronger.