When neurons get stuck….

    Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a rut? Perhaps you have a certain habit or pattern that you’ve tried to change, but you keep repeating it, even when you don’t want to. The old pattern comes creeping back, like an unwelcome guest in spite of your efforts.

    You try harder to change, put in more effort. and you fail again. So, you try even harder. That doesn’t work, either. Tired and defeated, you may just give up. Maybe you even think that the problem is all in your head. In a way, it is.

    Neural connections that cause a specific response to a stimulus grow stronger with use. The response becomes faster and stronger through repetition. This explains why even complex tasks become easier through practice, which is a good thing. However, this same strong feedback loop can develop habitual patterns that don’t serve us well and are difficult to interrupt.

    You could blame your neurons and just give up. However, since you and your neurons are one and the same, it would be more effective and a lot less effort if the two of you put your heads together, so to speak. Your neurons are here to help, and sometimes they actually know yourself better than you do.

     It is possible to interrupt an old pattern and allow for new pathways to be activated. It’s called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that our nervous system  is inherently flexible and able to change during the course of our entire lifetime. But, we have to create an environment where our neurons are able to direct the impulses in a different direction to allow for neuroplasticity to occur. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help support the process.

    Make small, slow changes to allow for new motor and sensory pathways to be activated. Give yourself time to integrate the changes, and don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re not making progress. Remember, these changes are taking place deep in your nervous system in a visceral, organic way, not in a cognitive, thinking way.

   Another thing to keep in mind (so to speak), is to watch your language. Negative self talk can easily trip up the new neural pathways from connecting. Support your nervous system by speaking words of encouragement. No, I’m not kidding. Your nervous system is always listening, and nothing can make new connections go haywire faster than talking trash about yourself.

    Most of all, trust the intelligence of your nervous system. Your neurons are here to help, and they’re smarter than you think they are. After all, they got you this far in life, haven’t they? Just imagine how far they can take you if you let them. Speaking of imagination, that’s another way to fire up your nervous system. But, that’s a topic for another day.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

A tale of two neurons….

    I have always had a passion for the biological sciences, but when I experienced my first course in neuroscience, I knew I found my niche. My brain almost squealed with delight. I guess you could say I’m nuts about neurons. I even considered pursuing an advanced degree in neuroscience, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it, so to speak.

    I couldn’t see myself working in a lab all day. I’m more of a people person. But I sure did love the subject. I still do; it’s like candy for my brain. But you don’t have to be a nerd about neurons to appreciate how our nervous system works. It’s a fascinating subject and it’s really not that complicated, so I decided to share some of the basics with you. After all, why should the neuroscientists have all the fun?

     Neurons are nerve fibers that receive information from our environment and transmits it to our brain. These are sensory neurons. Our brain processes this information and responds by completing a specific action or movement. These are motor neurons. Sensory and motor neurons communicate to each other and to the neurons in our brain through a series of electrical impulses and chemical reactions, which is really pretty cool when you think about it.

     This reaction is a result from a stimulus in our environment. However, the stimulus must be strong enough to excite the sensory neurons to get the ball rolling. Once the sensory neurons start firing, a specific sensory and motor pathway is activated. Once this pathway has been established, stimulating the same chain of neurons over and over again strengthens and reinforces the pathway. A strong feedback loop is created, and less of a stimulus is required for the same neuronal pathway to be activated.

    This is a type of self education through experience, and explains why we can move through our environment without having to stop and figure out how we are going to move from sitting to standing, standing to walking, walking to running, jumping, playing, dancing….you get the idea. However, neuronal pathways and specific responses doesn’t only apply to movement. It also applies in the context of feeling, sensing and thinking as well.

     We have to challenge our neurons and our nervous system to keep it fit and healthy. Engaging in a new physical activity, studying a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument, reading a variety of literature, or writing yourself are just a few examples how to keep our neurons firing. Like I said, it is a fascinating subject, isn’t it?      

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP