For neuroplasticity, balance the autonomic nervous system

Connecting the dots...

I have been giving a lot of thought to the interaction of the autonomic nervous system with the brain’s “wiring” lately, reaching some conclusions that I’ve noticed from my own life. I’ll have more to say about this later, but my hands are getting pretty tired from typing so much, lately. I also have to leave for work, soon, so I’ll write more later.

But the bottom line — if I may start there — is that when it comes to creating and maintaining new connections in the brain and making the most of our neuroplasticity, it’s very, very important to balance the autonomic nervous system. If you get too fight-flight (sympathetic nervous system), your brain literally shuts out vital information that you need to expand your synaptic connections. If you get too rest-digest (parasympathetic nervous system), you lose a lot in terms of attention and general levels of wakefulness.

Both extremes are not good. You need to have the capacity for complexity in your brain, and you have to have the resources to make the most of that capacity, create new connections, get neurons to fire together, so they wire together.

And when I look back at the past several years, one of the things that made my continued recovery possible, I believe, was a combination of exercise and a focus on calming my ANS — first, through the approaches of my neuropsych, then by my own dawning awareness that this was something I needed to do… and then my increased awareness that (whether or not they were planning it that way), balancing fight-flight with rest-digest was exactly what my neuropsych was achieving.

Anyway, I have to get to work. More later…

Author: brokenbrilliant

I am a long-term multiple (mild) Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI or TBI) survivor who experienced assaults, falls, car accidents, sports-related injuries in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. My last mild TBI was in 2004, but it was definitely the worst of the lot. I never received medical treatment for my injuries, some of which were sports injuries (and you have to get back in the game!), but I have been living very successfully with cognitive/behavioral (social, emotional, functional) symptoms and complications since I was a young kid. I’ve done it so well, in fact, that virtually nobody knows that I sustained those injuries… and the folks who do know, haven’t fully realized just how it’s impacted my life. It has impacted my life, however. In serious and debilitating ways. I’m coming out from behind the shields I’ve put up, in hopes of successfully addressing my own (invisible) challenges and helping others to see that sustaining a TBI is not the end of the world, and they can, in fact, live happy, fulfilled, productive lives in spite of it all.

5 thoughts on “For neuroplasticity, balance the autonomic nervous system”

  1. I saw a documentary on the brain and neuroplasticity and heard that juggling tennis balls can improve executive function.
    I think it worked:
    It only took the (uninjured) guy in the movie one practice session to be able to juggle several tennis balls.
    It took about 2 months for me to be able to consistently juggle one ball.
    I could only do a few minutes once or twice a week because it used so much of my brain energy.
    After a few weeks I noticed my thinking seemed faster and switching between tasks was easier. There was also a measurable jump in my typing and reading speeds.

    Now aprox 3 months later; I still do a few minutes, two times a week, but can use 2 balls. I just tested my typing speed again and it is aprox. twice as fast it was when I started the juggling exercise.

    It’s worth a try: low cost, no side effects. Be aware that it took lots of patience and really used up a lot of brain enery when I started (so plan accordingly), but it got easier.


  2. I would like to add that my injury occurred several years ago. I have been practicing to try to regain my typing speed for years with only slow progress and modest improvement… until recently.


  3. This is a great tip. I have actually taken up tossing a tennis ball from one hand to the other, and it seems to be having a positive effect. I’m going to get out my tennis ball right now and start juggling it, as a matter of fact.

    Thanks for the reminder – I needed that!


  4. Yes, sometimes progress gets delayed, then something changes ever so slightly, and we can move ahead. Who knows what’s been going on in your brain for the past few years… but it sounds like you’ve been setting the stage for good progress. Congrats for that.


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