Neuroplasticity and overcoming the effects of childhood trauma with mindfulness

According to the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence, 60% of adults have experienced trauma in their childhood. Experiencing childhood trauma affects people emotionally and the long-term effects can develop into disorders such as; depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours, Post-traumatic stress disorder, anti-social behaviour, Borderline personality and dissociative disorders.   However, experiencing childhood trauma not only affects people emotionally it also affects brain development.  There is hope though as recent research has found the brain can rewire itself and potentially improve behavioural and emotions challenges caused by childhood trauma.

Understanding how childhood trauma effects brain development. 

Neurons that fire at the same time repeatedly, wire together through chemical changes that occur to create a bond making them connect more strongly. The brain groups together events that happen together and the brain maps will grow as the skills is learned through a repetitive experience of events.  To understand, remember when you first learned to ride a bike? It was very difficult, as you had to concentrate really hard to try and keep your balance.  Riding a bike for the first time was difficult because there was no previous neural pathways for your brain to know what to do, but as you practiced and practiced, neurons were wired together so when you rode your bike, your brain followed a neural pathway that new how to complete the task.  This is why even after years of not riding a bike, when you ride a bike again (sometimes with a bit of practice) your brain knows what it needs to do.  The same happens for people experiencing childhood trauma.  When a trigger for the person occurs, the emotions associated to the trauma are experienced because this is how the brain was wired.  But due to neuroplasticity the brain is capable of creating new pathways with therapeutic interventions. 

Using neuroplasticity to overcome childhood trauma.  

Neuroplasticity is where neural connections are either strengthened or weakened due to experiences.  By using strategies such as mindfulness we can use neuroplasticity to our advantage and develop neural pathways that benefit (rather than hinder) our mental wellbeing.  When mindfulness is regularly practiced, research has shown the person feels; 

  • Calmer
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Less stressed
  • Is able to make choices when responding to our thoughts and feelings
  • Can help with coping with negative and intrusive thoughts.

The practice of mindfulness is about using intentional, directed focus on the “now” to overcome negative and intrusive thoughts.  By changing your response to situations, you are creating new neural pathways, changing thought patterns, creating new ideas and ways of thinking.  By paying more attention to the present moment, we lower the stress hormones which are responsible for the hyper-arousal. When these chemicals in the bodies decrease, we become less anxious, incorporate new ideas and new ways of thinking about ourselves.

Healing from childhood trauma can be complex and takes time, but with supports and professional help, it’s possible. 

For further information on neuroplasticity and rewiring your brain then watch the below video.

Article by Kimberley Arguet.

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