Anxiety: The Plastic Brain –and Conscious Adaptation.

Is plastic brain surgery possible?

Our brain has a response to the impact of information similar to the impact on our skin from everyday or exceptional wear and tear. Our brain develops physical adaptations to information (Siegle, 2003) it receives through informative experiences of people, places, and situations (Schore, 2000) When we respond through a conscious process of thinking thoughts and having feelings (what we call that our ‘mind) and we respond quickly through physical behavior (we call this our body). Both forms are adaptations to information. We have different levels of awareness of our adaptive responses. We feel the reactions we have to our environment and sometimes we know why we are reacting or we have decided on a reaction.

The physical brain continues to adapt over time as well. (neurogenesis, Gould 1999). This process is called adaptive structural plasticity and it is regulated partially by the production of stress hormones (McEwen, 1998) throughout developmental life experiences and events.

Life experiences continue each day that you are alive. The mind translates these experiences into identity, meaning, and action. Thoughts and feelings of current experiences are created from previous adaptations. What if you have scars from previous experiences? (Schore, 2000)This metaphor is not so far from the findings of research in the field of neurology around the process of resilience (Southwick ). Overtime the brain forms adaptations to stress and these become working patters that are used again and again to prevent stress levels that are too high – your panicky feelings that come up before an event.

Stress adaptations are the cue for behavior in situations that maybe similar to the original events. As a method for treatment Adaptive Behavior (Denning ,2010) are viewed as a way to understand current reactions to stress. For example -when this happens I do that. I see a snake I run, unless I was taught to view a snake as an interesting animal. With that meaning in mind, after being startled, I would step back and watch it crawl into the landscape and think about telling my friends that I saw a red and yellow snake. The first response is Adaptive Primed Response (Denning ,2010) from what previous experiences with a snake mean to me - the second response is an Adaptive Learned Response. The concept of learned behavior has been around for many years without understanding the brain functions behind it.

The newest research in neurology allows this concept to become applicable through teaching brain reactions and plasticity to people who need to change the primed stress response due to the outcome or symptomatic results.

Certainly, conscious change is possible to a great degree or there would be no result from all the therapy that has existed based on good concepts. But the plasticity of the brain in a physical mode may be changeable if we are conscious of creating new behavior in the moment when the old behavior is cued.

What to do:

Learn developmental Adaptive primed stress responses – what is your first reaction to high levels of stress? Jump, freeze, yell, cry, anger?
Interrupt unhealthy behavioral responses – Stop in anxiety in action. State what you are doing out loud, “ I am yelling.”
Restructure behavioral cues for healthy adaptive outcomes – Yelling becomes the cue for a new immediate investigation of awareness to the present stress trigger, “what is happening here?”
Build resilience to future stress through behavioral flexibility by practicing this three part recipe.
The Adaptive Behavioral therapy approach is a treatment framework designed to deconstruct anxiety and find original triggers for the stress response that may be occurring out of context in less stressful situations.
This treatment method presents patients with a structured agenda to develop insight through learning physical symptoms and adaptive responses and provides behavioral tools.
Adaptive Behavioral therapy is a multidisciplinary composite of developmental, psychodynamic psychologies and neurology research.
Patients learn to keep historic stress at a manageable level and to use specific tools for current stressors to prevent future high levels of anxiety.

Gould, E., Korovitsky, Y. (1999) Science, Oct. 15, Adult primate neocortex. New neurons in adult macque monkeys in three neocortical areas.

Siegle, G.J. Kopneck y, R.O. Thase, M.E. Carter, C.S. (2003) Relationships between amygdala volume and activity during emotional information processing tasks in depressed and never-depressed individuals: an FMRI investigation.

Schore AN. Attachment and the regulation of the right brain. Attachment & Human Development 2000; 2: 23-47.The early imprint for anxiety response to stress full situations becomes more complex – cortico-limbic autonomic circuits support self-regulation and stress coping mechanisms. These go through significant reorganization in adolescence.

McEwen B.S., Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators New England Journal of Medicine 1998, 33*;171- 179

McEwen B.S., Protection and damage from acute and chronic stress: allostasis and allostatic overload and relevance to the psychophysiology of psychiatric disorders. Annual NY Academy of Science 2004; 1032:1-7 Concept; Regulation of affect (by the brain)integrates biology and psychology and is the central organizing of principal human development.

Southwick, S.M. Krystal J.H., Bremner J.D. et al. Noradrenergic and serotonergic function in posttraumatic stress disorder. Arch. Gen Psychiatry 1997

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