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Neuroplasticity and limbic retraining

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Healing

Highlights from an interview with psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (paraphrased) --

 

 

Contemplative neuroscience is the study of what happens in the brain when people are doing contemplative practices, how the brain changes with such practices. The field of contemplative neuroscience is just exploding, in tandem with the explosion of knowledge about brain science in general.

 

One of the enduring changes in the brain of those who routinely meditate is that the brain becomes thicker. In other words, those who routinely meditate build synapses, synaptic networks, and layers of capillaries (the tiny blood vessels that bring metabolic supplies such as glucose or oxygen to busy regions).

 

This happens in two major regions of the brain. One is in the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind the forehead. It’s involved in the executive control of attention – of deliberately paying attention to something. This change makes sense because that’s what you're doing when you meditate or engage in a contemplative activity.

 

The second brain area that gets bigger is a very important part called the insula. The insula tracks both the interior state of the body and the feelings of other people, which is fundamental to empathy. So, people who routinely tune into their own bodies – through some kind of mindfulness practice – make their insula thicker, which helps them become more self-aware and empathic.

 

 

One of the useful things we can do is use our attention. Mindful attention is something like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner that illuminates what it rests upon and sucks it into the brain. Neuroplasticity is turbocharged for whatever is in the field of focused attention. And while neurons that fire together do wire together in terms of unconscious, routine habits, the neurons that fire in the focal field of attention, particularly sustained attention – wow! – those neurons really, really wire together. It’s how Mother Nature wants us to learn from our conscious experiences.

 

It’s totally understandable that the untrained mind is continually scanning for either something to want or something to fear – in other words, for a problem to solve. That’s why, as William James said, an education of attention would be an education par excellence. If we don’t have control over that spotlight and vacuum cleaner, then we pretty much have no control over how our brain is changing over time.

 

 

When we base our intention to pay attention on words such as "I'm paying attention," we are setting the intention "top down." This lights up the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind the forehead where there are a lot of executive systems. When we base our intention to pay attention on breathing or an emotional sense of being, we are setting the intention "bottom up." This engages the limbic system, the subcortical regions underneath the cortex, which involve emotions. This may lead to more emotional rewards.

 

 

It’s important to calm down sympathetic arousal, and the way to do that is to activate the parasympathetic wing of the nervous system. This is the rest-and-digest part of the autonomic nervous system, the part that keeps us on an even keel. A great way to activate the parasympathetic system is through our exhalations, because the parasympathetic system handles exhaling. As few as three to ten long exhalations will light up the parasympathetic circuits and calm down sympathetic arousal. Similarly, because the parasympathetic system handles digestion, relaxing the tongue or the lips also helps to light up this system.

 

 

To be mindful, to overcome the constant hijacking of the monkey mind, we rest our attention on one thing, such as the sensations of breathing, a loving-kindness phrase, or a prayer. To hold that focus in the field of attention requires holding it in what’s called working memory. The neural substrate of working memory has a kind of gate that is either open or closed. When it’s closed, the contents of it stay there, and what that translates to in our experience is that we maintain steadiness of mind. We are able to stay with whatever we want to pay attention to. The way the gate works is through dopamine, a neurotransmitter that tracks rewards. A steady flow of dopamine keeps the gate closed. What pops the gate open is either a drop in dopamine, when a feeling of reward falls away, or a spike in dopamine, when new and sweeter rewards are introduced, distracting us from what we were paying attention to.

 

So, when you encourage feelings of well-being, you’re doing two things. You’re creating a steady flow of dopamine, which keeps the gate closed, and because you’re directing a highly rewarding flow of dopamine, you cannot get a spike of it. Those two things keep the gate of working memory closed and thereby steady the mind.

 

 

When you create a contemplative state and regard the field of awareness as boundless space (usually with eyes closed) this may activate lateral networks – circuits on the side of the head that are associated with mindful, open, spacious awareness. It moves people out of the conventional state of mind in which the circuits in the middle of the brain are busy planning, thinking about the past, using language, and engaging in abstraction, all with a strong sense of self, of me-myself-and-I. Although there’s a place for that, modern life overemphasizes the activation of these midline networks, and because neurons that fire together wire together, we get a strong buildup in those regions. So it takes training to stably activate the lateral networks. One of the ways to activate the lateral networks is through a panoramic view. There are a couple of others, such as not knowing and not needing things to make sense, but one of the easiest is cultivating a sense of boundless awareness – a bird's-eye, panoramic view.

 

 

These are just selected highlights. He describes a nice, low-key way to calm and focus attention in five steps about half way down the page --

 

http://www.noetic.org/noetic/issue-nine-april/self-directed-neuroplasticity/

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Rhiannon

This is something I posted on a couple of other online forums (well I seem to keep changing it a bit each time, but that's me...)

 

Okay, here's a new one from Slow Taper Lady:

 

From Wikipedia:

 

"One of the fundamental principles of how neuroplasticity functions is linked to the concept of synaptic pruning, the idea that individual connections within the brain are constantly being removed or recreated, largely dependent upon how they are used.

 

This concept is captured in the aphorism, "neurons that fire together, wire together"/"neurons that fire apart, wire apart." If there are two nearby neurons that often produce an impulse simultaneously, their cortical maps may become one. This idea also works in the opposite way, i.e. that neurons which do not regularly produce simultaneous impulses will form different maps."

 

Basically, the latest stuff on neuroplasticity is showing that the nerve pathways you use most are the ones that get reinforced and built up and made stronger. (Doh, right?) That's how learning works, but it also applies to physiological processes and everything else. Literally, physically, your brain is creating pathways and connections.

 

So--When I am free of withdrawal symptoms, which is what happens during my intermittent holds, and I feel good, I focus on that feeling good, really allow it and experience it a lot, notice how it feels to feel "normal" and healthy and well, notice my brain working well, my cognitive functioning being strong, et cetera. Because I want to reinforce those pathways so that my brain can keep coming back to them.

 

Then when I cut and go through withdrawal symptoms it seems to be a bit easier to remember that I have another norm. So--a possibility anyway, that by slow and careful tapering we can take advantage of our neuroplasticity and use it to craft our healing process as we go along. Thoughts?

 

(Actually I think by being aware of this process it can also help people recovering from more chaotic withdrawal--being aware that as much as possible if you can really focus on and reinforce those things that are working right, you are literally helping carve out your new brain.)

 

********* Sorry no sig or introduction post yet, will get to those things, working a stretch of five eleven-hour days... :-) glad to be here!

Edited by Altostrata
clarified topic purpose

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stan

hi Rhi,

 

this is interesting, logic and seem working for you during periods without withdrawal.

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summer

 

So--When I am free of withdrawal symptoms, which is what happens during my intermittent holds, and I feel good, I focus on that feeling good, really allow it and experience it a lot, notice how it feels to feel "normal" and healthy and well, notice my brain working well, my cognitive functioning being strong, et cetera. Because I want to reinforce those pathways so that my brain can keep coming back to them.

 

Then when I cut and go through withdrawal symptoms it seems to be a bit easier to remember that I have another norm.

Oh... so very well said! I feel the same way... free of withdrawal symptoms during holds... and I work on remembering that when I start feeling WD symptoms after a drop. It feels so good to feel good!

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Healing

Encouraging anecdote about meditation

 

I spoke with my neighbor today and she said her cousin had had lifelong migraines and was diagnosed with thyroid problems, but refused the prescribed medication. Instead, she started meditating about half an hour a day, and -- not sure how long it took -- but she is now in great health. So, my neighbor, a 73-year-old woman, started meditating, half an hour a day, because she had chronic back problems. After about a year, she is now able to lift her grandson, and has no problems at all.

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Rhiannon

I love this topic. Am absolutely playing with this in my own life and brain these days.

 

I do have a certain amount of personal history and experience with consciously rewiring my brain during recovery from the horrific traumas of my childhood, which as a child I brain-wired into extremely dissociated/disconnected states.

 

And it's been more successful than I had hoped.

 

But nowadays I'm playing with it in new ways.

 

Would love to hear others' thoughts and experiences with this. I think the potential for rehabilitation is enormous.

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Healing

That's a very optimistic talk by Doidge. He is clearly excited by what he is discovering about neuroplasticity.

 

He coins the term "neurological nihilism" -- which is the now disproved theory that brain trauma is permanent, the exact opposite of the theory of neuroplasticity

 

"We've underestimated what our brains can do."

 

He ends with -- "The following question must, of course, occur to each of us, which is -- OK, so, if the brain is plastic, if it's been plastic since the beginning of our species, how is it possible we missed it?"

 

Wow. I love this!

 

"This whole area has the sense of the fantastic about it. The idea of thought changing the structure of matter."

 

If you think about it, this is, in fact, psychokinesis.

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compsports

That's a very optimistic talk by Doidge. He is clearly excited by what he is discovering about neuroplasticity.

 

He coins the term "neurological nihilism" -- which is the now disproved theory that brain trauma is permanent, the exact opposite of the theory of neuroplasticity

 

"We've underestimated what our brains can do."

 

He ends with -- "The following question must, of course, occur to each of us, which is -- OK, so, if the brain is plastic, if it's been plastic since the beginning of our species, how is it possible we missed it?"

 

Wow. I love this!

 

"This whole area has the sense of the fantastic about it. The idea of thought changing the structure of matter."

 

If you think about it, this is, in fact, psychokinesis.

 

Hi Healing,

 

Dodge wrote a book on neuroplasticity that I have been meaning to buy. Thanks for the reminder.

 

CS

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Altostrata

...So--a possibility anyway, that by slow and careful tapering we can take advantage of our neuroplasticity and use it to craft our healing process as we go along....

 

Excellent points. Please convey our regards to the Slow Taper Lady!

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Healing

Anterior Cingulate

 

Recently listened to a lecture by Dan Siegel, M.D. in which he made a fascinating observation.

 

Many of us feel like we're failing at meditation (or relaxation techniques) because we have to repeatedly bring our attention back to whatever it is we're trying to focus on (an image, a mantra, the breath, etc.), and repeatedly let go of thoughts about chores, fears, self-criticism, etc.

 

But, Dan Siegel says that it's actually *beneficial* to lose focus and then re-focus.

 

Every time you do that, you are probably developing your anterior cingulate of your prefrontal cortex. It's like the gear shift for attention. The more you lose focus and then re-focus, the more you develop your capacity to shift attention.

 

IOW, meditation (and relaxation techniques) are not only healing to us when we're "in the zone," they're healing to us when we keep falling out of the zone and keep trying to get back to the zone, even if *that's* all we do for ten minutes.

 

By repeatedly and gently trying to focus, you're increasing the neuroplasticity of the gear shifter. It's like lifting weights for your ability to choose where you put your attention.

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Neuroplastic

Many of us feel like we're failing at meditation (or relaxation techniques) because we have to repeatedly bring our attention back to whatever it is we're trying to focus on (an image, a mantra, the breath, etc.), and repeatedly let go of thoughts about chores, fears, self-criticism, etc.

Straying away from the point in question a bit - could this be somehow of an atavistic provenience? Generations and generations ago you wouldn't have a comfort of taking your focus off of the most important tasks at hand, that is, guarding yourself against the physical danger around, thus you'd stay away from doing it (meditation and similar). Somewhere on the deeper level we might still be like this.

 

Of course, the simpler explanation would be that we're plain lazy to apply those techniques in our lives today.

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Healing

What you say makes sense, and I'm sure it's part of the story. They say we were designed for "fight or flight" in the face of an oncoming tiger, and the non-tiger-but-still-feels-like-tiger chronic stresses of modern life make us stuck in adrenaline mode even worse than our ancestors. All of which makes it hard to lose yourself in contemplation. :)

 

My guess is that it will turn out to be a paradox -- that we were always designed both for alert focus and for impressionistic receptivity. We're born open with a "blooming, buzzing confusion." Yet we learn very young how to try to stay safe by paying attention.

 

So, your point is a very thought-provoking one. Maybe the goal is balance and flexibility. Can you freely choose your state of mind? Can you shift states easily? Do you have a wide repertoire of states?

 

Come to think of it, what you say also reminds me of the paradox of having a sympathetic and a parasympathetic nervous system. What's the point of designing it that way? The design suggests that there's some benefit to keeping the two general tendencies somewhat separate.

 

Lastly, these different states (focus v. receptivity) have different characteristic brain waves -- beta for alertness; alpha, theta, and delta for progressive states of relaxed receptivity. Why are we designed this way? You've got us thinking now, NP! :)

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Healing

It can be hard to re-direct your attention when your emotions are very strong, very physical, very compelling.

 

One way that works for me is to pick up a novel. On bad days in early w/d, I would do a chore for 15 minutes, then read my novel for five minutes, then repeat. On really bad days, I would do a must-do chore for five minutes, then read for five minutes, then repeat.

 

The novel should be one that creates a certain state in you. It should make you feel better in some way. For me, that has been either Romances or Mysteries. But, theoretically, it could even be Horror or True Crime *if* that makes you feel better. In early w/d, it's less likely that very stimulating genres would work for this purpose. Think twice about choosing something that may be compelling in the moment, but actually makes you feel more stressed afterwards.

 

But whatever type of novel that works for you is fine. The goal is to find something that changes your state in some way that's relieving for five minutes.

 

Of course, you can also do this with TV shows and movies. They can be watched in five minute increments throughout the day to shift your state.

 

Don't worry if you're so sick, you can't follow the plot. It's more about atmosphere. Pick a book that has a little world in it that is a good place to be for five minutes. Early in w/d, I could only handle Romances -- which have simpler plots, and happy endings. Now, I can handle "Cozy" Mysteries -- more plot, but only one person (who we didn't know or like anyway) gets killed off stage at the beginning, and the rest of the book is about the quirky ensemble's relationships. :)

 

This will help your brain change in the direction you want -- calmer, happier, more optimistic, more resilient.

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Altostrata

It can be hard to re-direct your attention when your emotions are very strong, very physical, very compelling.

 

One way that works for me is to pick up a novel. On bad days in early w/d, I would do a chore for 15 minutes, then read my novel for five minutes, then repeat. On really bad days, I would do a must-do chore for five minutes, then read for five minutes, then repeat.

 

The novel should be one that creates a certain state in you....

 

I found Jane Austen's novels to be very soothing. They took me into another, non-threatening world.

 

After World War I, hospitals recommended reading Austen to shell-shocked veterans to aid in their recovery -- for very similar reasons you've described.

 

Yes, it's true -- see A Writer Who Is Good for You http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/98jan/austen.htm :

 

After the First World War, shell-shocked veterans were advised to read Austen's novels for therapy, perhaps to restore their faith in a world that had been blown apart while at the same time respecting their sense of the world's fragility.

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Healing

That's a lovely tidbit! It's interesting to think that she wrote during the Napoleonic Wars, and her books may served a similar reassuring purpose even in her own day.

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Rhiannon

Regards conveyed! :-)

 

Having Crappy Withdrawal Days now, after doing some cuts recently. But tolerable. And rereading this thread, I hope I'm right, that it will pass and I'll remember what "good" feels like again. When things are rough I just have to take it on faith.

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Nadia

This is really good advice. I've been thinking a lot about how anxiety and other symptoms spiral for me. If you keep focusing on the negative, obviously it is getting "fed". Sometimes I think using an anti-anxiety medicine, from valerian to Xanax or whatever, can work by cutting off this negative feedback and helping you spiral up instead of down. But it's complicated. I feel like this last time I tried to halt my anxiety this way it just fought back harder. I like your idea of waiting for a good moment and then really focusing on it. I'm going to really try this.

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Phil

This is such an interesting topic!

 

I feel that I have experienced this state of "self-directed neuroplasticity" first-hand, during my recent practises with mindfulness. It's quite incredible the difference it has had for me so far.

I have also suffered trauma from my childhood, or rather, emotional neglect, which I am working on alongside everything else. The mindfulness has helped this.

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alexjuice

I recently read Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself... It was interesting with all sorts of wonderful blurbs within from the general press... I haven't been able to find too much elaboration or further review online. For instance the wikipage on the book is terrifically underfunded analytically...

 

As someone learning about these things, I'd like to examine both positive and critical reviews of every work I find interesting. What I've been able to find is analysis like this "on the one hand, but on the other hand" piece from a science editor on slate which, ultimately, seems slightly more dismissive of neuroplasticity's potential than endorsing of it...

 

Ideally I'd like to find an active blog devoted to neuroplasticity, maybe authored by a pro. These types of blogs exist for other disciplines (I can think of 10 academic law, economics, & genetics blogs off the top of my head) so I'm sure there are some good sites out there in this area. I've just not found them!

 

If you know where the neuroplasticity nerds hang out, please tell me...

 

Alex.i

 

EDIT: The slate article was written by critic (and utility contributor) Meghan O'Rourke who has no particular scientific training per her bio. She is not a science editor for Slate.

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Phil

Hi Alex, there's a blog called The Neuro Critic and there's some similar blogs listed in the links. (http://neurocritic.blogspot.com/) It's not by anyone professional though. I know these blogs exist as I have seen them somewhere...you might want to look up some neuroscientists and see if they have their own personal blogs.

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Altostrata

The evidence for neuroplasticity is overwhelming. Much of the research has been done with victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as Gabrielle Giffords, shot point-blank through the brain in January and walking and talking somewhat now.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/20/AR2011012006066.html:

 

Because of insights from functional magnetic resonance imaging and other technologies, scientists now realize that brain reorganization after injury is far more common and extensive than previously thought. They also know that neuroplasticity depends to a great degree on experience - which is to say, what the brain is forced to do in the critical weeks and months after it is injured.

Neuroplasticity is often described as "remapping."

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alexjuice

Hey Alto,

 

I don't think my post was very clear.

 

I am looking for more information about the finer points of the concept rather than doubting the overall existence of it.

 

It's funny, I was on a bit of magnesium citrate when I wrote that and I had a very unpleasant time with it. I felt really drugged and unclear. It felt a bit like alcoholic drunkeness without the motor skill impairment... I got worse as the afternoon went on in this way. For several hours I felt impulsive and imprecise. Not pleasant, actually disturbing for me since I used to be an alcohol abuser.

 

Life sometimes feels a Kafka short story. Just freaking becomes one and I'm like, "wha? how am i here? how is this happening?"

 

Alex.i

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Phil

Does anyone have any thoughts on how neuroplasticity might help withdrawal?

I've been watching a few youtube videos, and it's mindblowing stuff. One video mentioned that you need to know what is wrong with you (how you're impaired) in order to use neuroplasticity to heal.

My thoughts are that since SSRI withdrawal is uncharted territory, we can't know whether it does help or not...but it's something worth exploring.

 

My conclusion is that even if it doesn't specifically help withdrawal, it helps spiritually and in other ways.

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Rhiannon

This is really good advice. I've been thinking a lot about how anxiety and other symptoms spiral for me. If you keep focusing on the negative, obviously it is getting "fed". Sometimes I think using an anti-anxiety medicine, from valerian to Xanax or whatever, can work by cutting off this negative feedback and helping you spiral up instead of down. But it's complicated. I feel like this last time I tried to halt my anxiety this way it just fought back harder. I like your idea of waiting for a good moment and then really focusing on it. I'm going to really try this.

 

Well, I understand the logic about taking the anti-anxiety med, but AAAAAAARRRGH taking a benzo for anxiety is like cutting off your leg with a chainsaw because you have a mosquito bite on your foot. I do understand that's not the point of your comment and I do follow what you're saying, I just can't let a mention of Xanax pass without screaming. Xanax is horrible, dangerous, causes outrageous side effects including akathisia and hostility and worsened anxiety, and is incredibly addictive. In my personal experience Xanax has made SSRIs look like SweetTarts.

 

But I see your point and I think it's a good one. I don't know much about valerian or other herbs. I think exercise is usually a really safe way to cope with anxiety, although in withdrawal some people have to be careful with exercise, especially in benzo withdrawal. It can aggravate the withdrawal symptoms. Seems like walking is usually okay though.

 

I personally am not philosophically opposed to doing anything that works, as long as one is truly honestly informed of the full risks. Which is rarely the case where pharmaceuticals are concerned.

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Nadia

I've been watching a few youtube videos, and it's mindblowing stuff. One video mentioned that you need to know what is wrong with you (how you're impaired) in order to use neuroplasticity to heal.

 

I've been wondering a lot about this as well. Even with cognitive therapy and positive affirmation stuff... what sends the right signal to your brain? Sometimes I think the brain is pretty inventive and can figure it out on its own. Sort of like with hypnotherapy, where precision doesn't matter that much. Other times I start to feel like I'm stuck about how to approach this because I don't know exactly what is going on that is causing my symptoms. Today I actually even had a cooky idea... I have an old "brain coloring book" from my college neuroscience class, and since I've been reading about the role of the hippocampus in anxiety and stress responses, I thought... what if I find a diagram of the brain and color in the hippocampus and direct my attention and healing thoughts there? Does the brain even think of itself the way we chart it? Maybe it's worth a try.

 

So far I'm meditating as best I can (I have not settled on a single practice, but I'm thinking I'm going to sign up for a Ki Gong class), but I am very interested in finding out specific therapies for self-directed neuroplasticity. I've been meaning to look up more on Norman Doidge. This interests me for withdrawal stuff, but also for the underlying reason I took antidepressants to begin with, which was, well, depression and oversensitivity.

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Nadia

Well, I understand the logic about taking the anti-anxiety med, but AAAAAAARRRGH taking a benzo for anxiety is like cutting off your leg with a chainsaw because you have a mosquito bite on your foot. I do understand that's not the point of your comment and I do follow what you're saying, I just can't let a mention of Xanax pass without screaming.

 

I agree. And there is probably a difference between taking A Xanax once or twice in your life from situational anxiety and taking it on a regular basis to try to level yourself. I find that in the state I am now, even Valerian is harmful. I feel it having an effect on my, like a feeling of low blood pressure and slowed breathing, but it does nothing for the anxiety itself... it seems to fight back even more. I want to find ways to promote my body and mind to regulate itself, not force it into something that's going to make things worse.

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Altostrata

Does anyone have any thoughts on how neuroplasticity might help withdrawal?

I've been watching a few youtube videos, and it's mindblowing stuff. One video mentioned that you need to know what is wrong with you (how you're impaired) in order to use neuroplasticity to heal....

 

That makes sense only in a very limited way. For example, in phobias -- if you're afraid of elevators, you can desensitize your reaction to elevators. But you don't have to have exactly define your issue to retrain your thinking.

 

Thoughts, memories, feelings are thought to be based on chains of neurons acting together. Like paths through a forest, the more each chains is used, the deeper and more distinct it gets. One aspect of neuroplasticity is to develop new paths.

 

For example, we have symptoms of anxiety, some of which follow triggers that have been problems for us for years. Developing habits of calm through meditation creates new circuits counteracting the old habits.

 

Another aspect of neuroplasticity is growing new neurons that are more adaptable to healthy circuitry.

 

A third aspect of neuroplasticity, utilized in recovery from physical brain damage, is that other parts of the brain take over functions from the damaged part. (We do not have physical brain damage.)

 

So throughout recovery, when you put your will towards developing new habits and constructive ways of thinking to take care of yourself, you are counteracting old, dysfunctional ways of thinking and dysfunctional paths created by neuro-emotion.

 

Neuroplasticity happens automatically when you develop new habits and ways of thinking.

 

I just googled "neuroplasticity attention focusing" and this page was the fourth result :)

 

Cool!

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Rhiannon

I don't really know where to put this topic, so Alto, please move it to wherever you think it's most useful and appropriate.

 

Also, a disclaimer: This is a new subject to me. Not so much neuroplasticity in general, but the new context, or new aspects of context, that I'm thinking about it in; and the whole idea of limbic retraining. So there's a lot of thinking here, and some of it's kind of rambly, and I can guarantee it's going to change. So this may be sort of a bloggy thread for me. Or not. Not sure how it's going to go, actually.

 

And I will definitely not be able to get everything I've been thinking about into this one post, tonight. There will need to be more development of these ideas.

 

But I think it's too interesting and possibly potentially helpful to people for me to keep it to myself, unformed and jellylike though it is.

 

So to start with: Neuroplasticity. From Wikipedia:" Neuroplasticity (from neural - pertaining to the nerves and/or brain and plastic - moldable or changeable in structure) refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury. Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how - and in which ways - the brain changes throughout life."

 

This is a new and exciting area of research. Nobody is really very sure yet exactly what all is happening, although there are all sorts of fun hypotheses and paradigms bouncing around out there. It appears that new neurons can definitely be born and grow, especially in certain areas of the brain more than others. It also appears that there are other cells (glial cells) that may be just as important to our cognitive processes as neurons are. And there are genes that get turned on and off to produce and stop producing various proteins that get arranged to create various receptors and gates and microcircuits and all sorts of fun stuff.

 

Basically, it turns out that our brains are changing and adapting all the time.

 

I've actually already talked about neuroplastic changes which I think must surely underlie many of the phenomena and patterns that we see happening when people withdraw from psychiatric drugs. We suspect (well, personally, I am positive) that the drugs themselves induce neuroplastic reactions while we take them, and again when we remove them from the brains that have adapted themselves to them.

 

I personally suspect that these neuroplastic changes during withdrawal, especially during a chaotic withdrawal, can lead to prolonged difficulty and dysfunction. (Some people use the term "negative plasticity", although the exact meaning of that term seems to vary from user to user. I think I'm going to go with the more precise term "dysfunctional neuroplastic changes" myself.)

 

I think that these changes can, however, be healed and corrected, although this process probably won't just happen optimally without some intention, direction, and effort.

 

If this sounds exciting and interesting to you, I recommend reading The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidges and The Other Brain by R. Douglas Fields. Both of these are layman level reads, although not extremely simple. In both of them you have to ignore a certain amount of "maybe we can invent drugs that use these processes" (since I think we've all learned, or at least I have, that messing around with the chemistry of a brain that took five billion years to evolve is probably not the smartest idea ever. Better to use natural methods and natural processes to improve it.)

 

And eventually somewhere in this thread I'll get to the part about limbic retraining, which I think has the potential, maybe, possibly, to help some people who are having prolonged postacute withdrawal symptoms years out.

 

But this is all for tonight, I think. Just not enough time to write all my thoughts down...

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alexjuice

Sounds very interesting. Hope to hear more of your thoughts.

 

I read Doidges book a while back. I spent a lot of time thinking up brain retraining experiments. And then imagined spending lots of time - I've got time - drilling myself.

 

Time got away, like usual.

 

Anyway, you're savvier than I about this stuff, do you plan to apply these principles to your own recovery? If yea, what are your early inclinations?

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Rhiannon

Sounds very interesting. Hope to hear more of your thoughts.

 

I read Doidges book a while back. I spent a lot of time thinking up brain retraining experiments. And then imagined spending lots of time - I've got time - drilling myself.

 

Time got away, like usual.

 

Anyway, you're savvier than I about this stuff, do you plan to apply these principles to your own recovery? If yea, what are your early inclinations?

 

I'm already using some techniques from limbic retraining to help ameliorate the withdrawal symptoms when they hit, and they do help, but really that's not the answer to your question regarding my recovery.

 

The ways I've been thinking about neuroplasticity as possibly being helpful for recovery from PAWS or other post-withdrawal suffering don't really apply to me. I've been doing such a slow taper that (within the context of this paradigm/hypothesis) my brain's been able to keep up with the chemical changes and recover from the mangling it got from 2005-2009 when I was on and off meds like a grasshopper.

 

However, I do think that my brain's in a state of increased instability and neuroplastic vulnerability during this taper, and I'm planning to more consciously take advantage of this state to whatever extent I can, as well as be aware of what patterns I'm reinforcing while in this state.

 

My current awareness about all of this does help me with my impatience with the slow taper. If the way I see what withdrawal does in the brain is correct--and I've been operating from this paradigm for a while, but I'm feeling more confident about it now as I see how well it dovetails with everything researchers are seeing--then at this point in my taper, on low enough doses that toxicity is less of a concern, very slow is very good.

 

"Limbic retraining" is the other piece of all this. It's something I found out about as a result of connecting with people online who have MCS, a condition that I have too. http://limbicretraining.com/

It's a new treatment approach, controversial, exciting, too long to explain here today. But I think it might hold promise for people with PAWS.

 

Right from the beginning, meeting people with post-withdrawal damage, I have suspected it was due in part to dysfunctional neuroplastic changes due to drug-induced chaos, and I've had ideas about how it might be helped by simple self-neuro-regulating techniques and exercises, but I felt uncomfortable about making suggestions or pursuing that line of thought myself since I myself wasn't struggling with those issues and it seemed sort of glib for someone like me to say "well, try this." Especially since people have already tried all kinds of stuff, including simple self-neuro-regulating techniques and exercises, with mixed results.

 

But this limbic retraining piece and the conceptual framework that it sits in, and the new things I'm learning about intentional brain healing engaging natural neuroplastic mechanisms and what it takes to engage those mechanisms, is so potentially helpful that I've decided "glib" is a risk worth taking.

 

But now it's time to go do some other stuff, so--more next time.

 

I highly recommend the videos by Ashok Gupta, by the way. I'm using his program, which he originally developed for people with CFS but which turns out to work well for MCS and fibromyalgia as well, as (if the hypothesis is correct) those conditions are all the result of the same kind of neuroplastic limbic imprinting. I suspect that some kind of limbic imprinting may be involved in post-withdrawal illness.

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peggy

Hi Rhi, great thread.

I am sure that there is limbic imprinting - i think that is the basis of kindling.

I recommend you read a book called Mindsight by Dan Siegal. Norman Schwartz has also written a couple of interesting books aimed at people with OCD - i can't remember the names but they are all espousing the same theory - the brain is plastic and talks about how meditation can direct changes. It is really fascinating - the key for me is to start implementing the ground work for positive change when i am feeling good, so that hopefully i can circumvent the bad times.

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Barbarannamated

Thank you very much, Rhi, for opening this dialogue. I have tremendous respect for your knowledge and the way you have applied it to your experience. That the possibility exists to make something BETTER out of this chaos and turmoil is the ultimate hope. I admit that it's alot for my mind to grasp right now, but I've been given glimpses into the power of the mind through events that coincided with withdrawal. Events that are too obvious to be accident. The universe and all.. Things I never considered before because they didn't fit my science paradigm (yea, that pharmascience paradigm).

 

You are an amazing woman, Rhi. I look forward to learning much more from you.

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Rhiannon

Thank you very much, Rhi, for opening this dialogue. I have tremendous respect for your knowledge and the way you have applied it to your experience. That the possibility exists to make something BETTER out of this chaos and turmoil is the ultimate hope. I admit that it's alot for my mind to grasp right now, but I've been given glimpses into the power of the mind through events that coincided with withdrawal. Events that are too obvious to be accident. The universe and all.. Things I never considered before because they didn't fit my science paradigm (yea, that pharmascience paradigm).

 

You are an amazing woman, Rhi. I look forward to learning much more from you.

 

Thanks, Barbara.

 

And thank you for bringing up the subject of the power of the mind. I think there's a lot more there than meets the eye in our extremely concrete and materially-focused culture.

 

But the thing about neuroplasticity and limbic retraining is that it fits entirely within the medical model as it stands. You can hang out right smack in the middle of the science paradigm. You don't even have to talk about Eastern notions of medicine and healing (stuff like energies and meridians).

 

True, you do have to get over that whole philosophical notion that the mind and body are somehow separate and that the idea that there's somehow a separation between "psychological" and "physical." But if you look a bit below the surface you will find that that particular notion of separation goes back to the time of Descartes and his peeps, and is really not inherent or observed or implied in the medical model. It's a widespread cultural meme of Western philosphy, but it's not reflected in the actual science of medicine and physiology. Anyone in medicine who's been paying any attention knows that the phenomena we refer to as "emotional" and "psychological" all have concrete physical correlates in the brain, hormones, immune system, et cetera. These are all things that can be--and have been--observed and measured.

 

So that's one fun notion to start playing with: Our bodies are not separate from our minds, our minds are not separate from our brains, and our brains are not separate from our bodies. Everything interpenetrates and interconnects. In fact, no part of the experience of being alive can be dissected away from all of the rest of the experience of being alive, body/mind/brain. That's why I so often use the term bodymind instead of body.

 

You'd probably really enjoy the Doidges book. I highly recommend it as a jumping-off point for anyone interested in how our brains change (for the better or for the worse) in response to our experiences and intentions and thoughts. (Let alone in response to chemicals that actually get in there and screw with their functioning.)

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Rhiannon

Hi Rhi, great thread.

I am sure that there is limbic imprinting - i think that is the basis of kindling.

I recommend you read a book called Mindsight by Dan Siegal. Norman Schwartz has also written a couple of interesting books aimed at people with OCD - i can't remember the names but they are all espousing the same theory - the brain is plastic and talks about how meditation can direct changes. It is really fascinating - the key for me is to start implementing the ground work for positive change when i am feeling good, so that hopefully i can circumvent the bad times.

 

Absolutely, Peggy!

 

The Doidges book has a whole chapter talking about OCD and using neuroplasticity-based techniques to help rewire it. I think a lot of people are talking about this stuff from various angles. It's pretty exciting.

 

Apparently meditation has been shown to result in...if I remember this correctly...increased thickness of the cerebral cortex, I think. Which is where the "executive' or "conscious" part of brain functioning is located. The useful thing about this is that the cortex can send messages to the limbic system which actually can override and calm the limbic reactivity. And according to Peter Breggin (who probably knows more about it than anyone) psychiatric drugs are notorious for compromising/disabling frontal cortex functions.

 

And remember that anything that changes the way the brain works also changes the way the brain changes itself. And the brain is constantly changing itself. The natural way this happens is in response to stimuli, life events, necessity, etc. But I am convinced that when you get in there and screw with the chemistry of the brain with powerful drugs that affect its very ability to function, it responds with neuroplastic changes in an attempt to protect itself and create homeostasis and rebalance things. It's the only thing that makes any sense.

 

These drugs were initially developed back when they believed the brain was mechanical and unchanging. Now we know different, but the drugs are so highly profitable that the few people who are connecting the dots and recognizing the inevitability of plastic change in response to chemical perturbations--and the improbability of that change being for the better, given that our brains are very precisely calibrated by five billion years of careful evolution-- are getting very little time at the microphone, if you know what I mean.

 

In plain English: It's inevitable that psych drugs will screw up a brain that changes itself. Then once the brain has changed itself and shaped itself around the chemicals, when you suddenly yank those chemicals out, it's inevitable that THAT will screw it up too. It will do its best, but you've undermined it by screwing up the very mechanisms that it uses to rebalance and heal itself. (That is, the drugs have screwed up its ability to perform naturally.)

 

I've been talking about that for a while, in other posts here and on other forums, as you guys have probably already noticed. It's why I'm so vehement about the necessity of slow tapering. If you give the brain time to adjust its chemistry--turn genes on and off, create and replace receptors and remove others, remodel microcircuits, etc.--you'll come out of the process with less damage. I'm convinced of that. Taper slowly enough that you can grow a new brain while you go.

 

What's interesting me now is the idea that there's another level of damage due to limbic imprinting, which can possibly be healed. I suspect this limbic imprinting may be responsible for some amount, a little or a lot, of the lasting post-withdrawal disability that some people experience for so many years after getting off psych drugs. I don't think it's any accident that the people who end up with PAWS usually had turbulent, symptomatic, traumatic withdrawals.

 

Even if it's just a little, if it can be helped and healed, it would make a difference to the quality of life of these people, who are so often disabled and who suffer so much.

 

So that's kind of where I'm going and what I'm thinking about all of this...

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Nadia

Hi Rhi,

 

Could you give us a little bit of a hint on what the Gupta Amygdala Retraining program involves, and how much it costs?

 

I often feel like my nervous system is in a rut... that I revert back to the anxiety and insomnia in particular (with exhaustion, dizziness, back pain, etc.) just because it's like a program that goes off. I so wish I could reprogram it and wonder if this could be a solution.

 

Thanks!

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Rhiannon

http://www.cfsrecovery.com/

 

is his website. The program was originally developed for CFS, and all the materials are oriented that way, although he's begun working with MCS more as people are reporting success.

 

His free videos are a great place to start. Also, when you contact him, mention me (Rhiannon Griffith), please; I've written to him about the possible applications of his work for people with withdrawal-related symptoms and he wrote back asking me to write more and I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I need to, so let him know I'm referring people, please.

 

You should also check out

http://limbicretraining.com/

 

where if you read around you can get a sense of what it's about.

 

I'll be posting more later as time goes along.

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