Growing and Fostering a Resilient Brain
September 24, 2021 No Comments ACEs Aware LPOC Organization

by Shirley Davis | Feb 15, 2021 | Building Resilience in Healing 

Resiliency, to summarize, is the ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances. People living with mental health challenges often have high resilience to the opposition because they have grown resilient through trial by fire.

This piece will focus on what is going on in the brain with resiliency and perhaps a few suggestions on how we can help our brains form it.

The Different Aspects of Building Resiliency

First, let us discuss what scientists believe are the building blocks of resilience. In one paper written in 2013, they examined the “multiple interacting factors” of resilience including, “genetics, epigenetics, developmental environment, psychosocial factors, neurochemicals, and functional neural circuitry, play critical roles in developing and modulating resilience in an integrated way (Wu et al. 2013.)”

Centering on the “neurochemicals and functional neural circuitry,” they go on to state that genetics (how we are changed by genetic changes) and epigenetics (the study of how a person’s environment influences their genes) interact and determine the biological characteristics of a person including how, when, and if they will form resiliency

One’s environment, where you grew up, your family of origin, along with any trauma that may have been involved, shape and regulate our genes and through that changes our neuroplasticity (the idea that the brain is pliable, and we can learn throughout a lifetime.) Neuroplasticity molds and modulates neurocircuits in the brain and forms psychological factors that underlie the formation of resilience.

Training Our Brains to Be More Resilient

Genetics and epigenetics are not the only forces molding our brains through neuroplasticity, and we can harness these factors to help our brains become more resilient.

A study conducted by Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., utilized the social-defeat model of stress, used mice to model stress and responses to it, such as exhibiting the symptoms of depression. They put an average mouse in the cage with a more dominant and aggressive one. They continued the treatment for several days and then placed a screen between them. Some of the mice reacted with depression even though they had been removed from the aggressive mouse’s physical presence, but interestingly, other mice did not (Nester et al., 2012).

Nester and his colleague’s experiment gave insight into how the brain can become resilient to stress and aggression against one’s person. The next step was to understand why some mice formed resilience while others did not. In a quote by Dr. Nester, we find the answer.


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