Neural Pathways... What are they and how do they work?

Before reading this post: we highly recommend first reading our Mental Health Awareness post!

Scientists have proven that your brain is being shaped, molded and changed by experiences in your every day life. Your brain is being influenced by what is happening in your life and how you react to those things. This is a simple understanding of how we form habits.  The brain contains billions of nerve cells, called neurons. These neurons communicate with each other and work together in order for the body to function normally. The neurons communicate through electrical signals. Special chemicals, called neurotransmitters, help move these electrical messages from neuron to neuron. You receive information through your 5 senses: 

  • Hear;

  • Feel;

  • Taste;

  • See &

  • Smell.

Your body detects the information from these senses and sends it to the brain through sensory neurons. The brain then processes this information and tells the body how to react/respond.  So now that we understand what neurons are and how they function...

Various neurons within the brain connect with each other, forming neural pathways.  

These pathways  light up when you think of something for the first time, and the connections form a pattern in your brain. Your brain has now attached meaning to that specific pattern. Every single thought lights up a different pathway, so you can imagine the amount of pathways that are created in our brains. You have just lit up a new pathway by thinking about the previous sentence! The same thought lights up the same pathway.  The more you do something or think about something, the deeper embedded the pathway becomes. The deeper the pathway, the more dominant that pathway becomes and the more you start acting and behaving according to those dominant pathways.  When doing something over and over in the same way, you form a dominant pathway. Doing something less and less will cause the lesser pathway to shrink and actually eventually be deleted! Isn’t this amazing? Pretty sure a few lights switched on by reading this blog post - and you didn’t even realize it. Maybe now you’ll get a much clearer picture of how our thoughts influence our behavior.  The way your brain creates a neural pathway will impact how you respond to that thing/topic for the rest of your life because if you think of that thing the same way over and over again, it becomes a dominant neural pathway. Now, let’s dive in even deeper! How does our thoughts affect our emotions?  Let’s look at the following example, let’s say the first time you have an encounter with a dog; the dog bites you. Your first reaction would be probably fear. Chemicals are released in your brain and without even realizing it - a neural pathway forms that links fear to dogs. And let’s say you keep having this fearful response towards dogs over and over again, you might grow up to generally be afraid of dogs. And as time progresses, the more encounters you face with dogs - the stronger that fear will grow. Why? Because the neural pathway is becoming more and more dominant.  Is it all starting to make sense to you now? This is exactly how pathways affect our behavior and habits. When these neural pathways keep on forming negative associations, which has a negative effect on how you behave, it can lead to a series of mental health problems!! Negative thinking in the long run, can and will cause fear, anxiety and/or depression. Which will in return cause other mental health problems like drug addiction, eating disorders or even more serious health conditions.  Fortunately for us, these neural pathways can be re-wired or altered to change our habits and way of thinking. All is not lost! The same way those negative patterns and pathways form, the same way new and positive patterns and pathways can be produced.  Under the correct and professional guidance you can change your way of thinking and/or reaction to a certain situation or stimuli. This is done by changing the connections of our nerve cells in our neural pathways. You can literally change your life by changing your thoughts!

If you enjoyed this blog post - please write to us any questions you have or anything you would like to know. We are not professionals in the mental health industry, nor do we claim to be - but we have some basic understanding of how these things work & we would love to share what we have learned. And if needed, refer you to qualified professionals we know  & trust! Don't suffer in silence! Your mental health is just as important as your physical health! And after reading this info - one might actually go as far as saying that your mental health is part of your physical health! Your mental health is affected by physical reactions in your body & thus it should be regarded as part of your physical health and well-being!


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