I had a plethora of “P” words; Prozac, psychology, psychiatry, polarized thinking, phobias, panic attacks, perfectionism, pet therapy, powerlessness, Post Partum Depression and Psychotic Depression. I think this was the longest list of options I’ve had for any letter. The problem is, none of them inspired me. Well, that’s not true, I wrote about perfectionism and pet therapy recently. I was actually pretty happy with my perfectionism post. Read it if you get a chance.
Finally, I stumbled over plasticity, which I thought was a good word. Plasticity is the ability to be malleable and resilient. It was once thought that the mature brain was fixed, unable to repair damage. This is no longer the case, science has shown that the brain changes throughout life. It is plastic. Learning a new skill like a language for example, causes new connections between neurons to be made in the language area of the brain. This takes mere minutes. If you don’t use what you have learned and forget, the brain shrinks and and those connections are lost.
It has been shown that those who suffer from chronic stress, like those with anxiety and depression, have less brain plasticity. The hippocampus, the area of the brain for learning and memory, is highly influenced by stress hormones. Under chronic stress, the neurons in that part of the brain retract causing connects to be fewer and less efficient. This coincides with the difficulties in concentrating and remembering experienced by those with depression.
The damage caused by stress is not permanent though. Things like exercise and socializing can improve the connections in your brain. People with depression can have recovery of their lost connections through treatment with antidepressants that promote neurogenesis (the growth of neurons). Studies have shown that recovery from anxiety/depression with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) coincides with the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus.