Overcoming Depression Through Neuroplasticity

The power of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire itself as result of new behavior and new thinking, is credited with surprising results in overcoming depression. Neuroplasticity is how the human brain “copes” by physically altering its neural structure in the face of new changes in stimuli, such as the repetitive use of exercises to get out of a depressive episode, or learning a new skill like playing the guitar.

After the surprising cover story in Newsweek (2/8/2010) that anti-depressants are no better than placebos for depression, the medical profession is going to have to go back to the drawing board. They had better pick up neuroplasticity on the way.

The brain continually re-allocates and builds neural “real estate” according to new demands that are placed on it. UCLA School of Medicine research illustrates that cognitive-behavioral therapy alone actually causes chemical changes in the brains of people with OCD.

Recent research in neuroplasticity places new confidence and new hope in the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for treating depression without medication. The use of anti-depressants often turns out to be an emotional and medical revolving door and now they are suspected of being no better than placeboes anyway.

If one drug doesn’t work, says the American Psychiatric Association, try another. If you don’t get relief from changing one drug for another, use a combination. A medical hope and change that isn’t working.

And for a third of the population, no drug works. Too often we read about sufferers, especially teen-agers, who commit suicide even while on their “meds.” Fortunately, physical exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy are now shown to be as effective as anti-depressants.

The use of simple repetitive mind exercises can switch the neural activity from the emotional part of the brain (the subcortex), where depression originates, to the thinking part of the brain (the neocortex) which does not have the capacity for depression. I call this “brainswitching.”

Here’s an example of an exercise. If you wake up depressed, instead of thinking “I’m so depressed,” think some neutral or nonsense thought over and over, repetitively, like “green frog, green frog” or “yes, yes, yes, yes,” or sing a nursery rhyme to yourself like “Row, row, row, your boat.” Scream it in your mind if you have to. Concentrate on the phrase you have chosen. Refuse to think the thought “I am depressed.”

It won’t take you long to get really good at this, because, through the process of neuroplasticity, you are actually building new get-out-of-depression neural patterns that you can use instead of the old depressive ones.

Concentration upon a neutral or nonsense thought in the neocortex thoughtjams the cognitive awareness of the depression that is going on in the subcortex. Repetitively thinking the neutral thought also raises neural activity in the neocortex, and lowers neural activity in the subcortex, thus helping to correct the chemical imbalance that feeds the depression.

This switch in neural brain activity from the subcortex to the neocortex happens naturally, sooner or later, even in the worst cases of depression. This is the reason depression is cyclical. But brainswitching accomplishes the switch as an act of will and a lot more quickly than waiting for nature to take its course. Depression is like living in a room of pain. With brainswitching you can learn how to leave the room.

Brainswitching works because of what I call the “FRS factor of depression.” The feelings receptor station in the neocortex is where signals from the emotional part of the brain (the subcortex) must travel upwards and be acknowledged in the thinking part of the brain (the neocortex) before a human being is able to feel any pain or emotion.

The FRS factor is why a player can break a bone during a football game and not feel any pain until the game is over. His neocortical concentration on the game has thoughtjammed the acknowledgment in the neocortex that pain is being produced in the subcortes.

By manipulating the pain perception process you can block the message that you are depressed from traveling from one part of the brain to the other. Pain perception is such a tiny event, brain-wise, that it happens beneath our level of awareness. But this small instantaneous process underlies the reason depression is cyclical. Since depression only happens in the subcortex, you can brainswitch from the subcortex to the neocortex anytime depression attacks.

The limitation of the human attention span is the scientific basis for medical hypnosis. The mind can only concentrate on one thought at a time and you can think any thought you want. This is why it is possible to do heart surgery using no anesthetic other than hypnosis. This principle, coupled with the principles of pain perception and neuroplasticity, when accompanied by the simple preventive strategy of exercise and mind tricks, can literally rewire your brain so that you can brainshift out of your depression anytime it attacks.