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The Neurological Potential For Psychological Turmoil During Adolescence.

brain changes in adolescence

For many, adolescence is a very difficult and stressful time, not least because of the neurological and interacting hormonal changes that occur during the period.

Changes In The Brain :

Between the ages of about ten and early adulthood, the brain undergoes three major periods of dramatic physical development as described below :

  • Between the ages of 10 years and 12 years : during this period there occurs a massive increase in neurons (a neuron is a brain cell that receives, processes and transmits information via chemical and electrical signals) and synapses (connections between neurons) in the brain’s FRONTAL CORTEX (the brain’s frontal cortex is involved in reasoning, higher level thinking, decision making, logic, judgment, impulse control, emotional control and planning). However, it is important to note that the FRONTAL CORTEX does not become fully developed until the early to mid-twenties (Kotulak).
  • Between the ages of 13 years and 15 years : during this period there are qualitative changes in nerve pathways which allow the ability to perform abstract thinking to develop.
  • From the age of 17 years upwards : continued development of the brain’s frontal lobes increase the individual’s ability to plan and think logically.

Lack of impulse control, poor judgment, poor planning and illogical thinking can, of course, lead to the kind of dangerous, impulsive risk-taking behavior often seen in adolescents ; such behavior is also exacerbated by the fact that the adolescent brain is wired up in such a way that the teenager is highly stimulated to seek out novel experiences / indulge in experimental behavior.

The Adolescent Brain And Emotional Lability :

It is also important to note that during adolescence a region of the brain known as the AMYGDALA (which plays a very large part in the individual’s emotional experiences) is HIGHLY ACTIVE ; this frequently has the effect of causing the adolescent’s behavior to be substantially dictated by volatile and dramatically fluctuating emotions which may contribute to tensions in the home and/or conflict with peers.

Hormonal Changes :

Brain development is influenced by hormone production and, during adolescence, copious amounts of sex hormones, growth hormones, adrenal stress hormones and (in males) testosterone are produced.

Furthermore, studies suggest that, due to the relative immaturity of the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the mid-brain reward system, teenagers are more prone to becoming addicted to drugs (including nicotine). Also, this underdeveloped neuronal link between the prefrontal cortex and the mid-brain reward system may help to explain why some adolescents develop especially intense, dramatic and volatile romantic attachments during their teenage years.

Another effect of hormonal changes is that the adolescent’s diurnal rhythm (pattern of behavior that follows day-night / 24 hour cycles) is altered. This is why many teenagers inadvertently antagonize their parents (especially those parents who are as yet unacquainted with knowledge pertaining to adolescent diurnal rhythms) by staying up very late and then getting up very late.

Finally, because the level of testosterone produced by boys increases by 1000 per cent after puberty this dramatic elevation in quantity of the hormone in the body can potentially increase the young person’s propensity for violence which can, in turn, lead to involvement in schoolyard fights or worse.

And, of course, if, too, the adolescent has experienced significant childhood trauma, all of the above potential problems may become dramatically intensified.

eBook :

childhood trauma damages brain ebook

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

 

Neuroplasticity: Functional and Structural

functional_and_structural_neuroplasticity

I have already written several articles about how severe childhood trauma can actually cause physical damage to the developing brain. However, as I have also written about, with the right kind of therapy the brain can recover due to a phenomenon of neuroplasticity.

The brain comprises over 100 billion (100,000,000,000,000) nerve cells called neurons and, we now know, can create new neurons and produce new connection between existing neurons. It is these processes which allow the brain to change and repair itself. We now know, too, that this process of repair can occur at any age, not just in childhood (although it remains true that the human brain is most changeable/’plastic’ during early life).

functional_and_structural_NEUROPLASTICITY

This neuroplasticity (ability to change) of the brain can be divided into two types:

a) FUNCTIONAL NEUROPLASTICITY

b) STRUCTUiRAL NEUROPLASTICITY

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

FUNCTIONAL NEUROPLASTICITY – if a part of the brain responsible for a particular function is damaged, in some cases it is possible for a different part of the brain to take over control of that function

STRUCTURAL NEUROPLASTICITY – specific brain structures are able to physically change and develop as a consequence of experience and learning (particularly if these involve systematic training and repetition). The brain’s grey matter in a particular structure can literally be induced to thicken – due to it receiving a greater blood supply/supply of nutrients the more it is used – and to strengthen the connections between its resident neurons.

functional_ neuroplasticity

 

Studies involving the brain structure called the amydala:

A brain structure known as the amygdala is responsible for our response to fear and, if we have to experienced a childhood in which we often felt under threat, this structure can become overactive so that, as adults, we constantly feel stuck on red-alert mode’ and under constant threat (even if we have no idea why). It feels that our fight or flight’ response, normally only temporarily activated in emergencies, is permanently switched on.

This results in us being oversensitive to perceived threat and overreacting to it. This can lead to problematic behaviours and to damage to our endocrine and immune systems (due to the physiological effect that constantly feeling in danger has on us).

 

Need to retrain the amygdala:

If we have an overactive amygdala as described above due to our traumatic childhood then one thing we can do to repair it is to retrain it so that it forms, through the process of NEUROPLASTICITY,  new and beneficial neural pathways between it and another part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex so that the cconnection between these two brain structures is strengthened.

Why is it necessary to create this strengthened connection between the two brain structures? This is because the medial prefrontal cortex is able to regulate the amydala’s fear response and, therefore, reduce its activity, effectively overriding it.

Therapies which can help to retrain the amydala in this way include neurolinguistic processing (NLP), autosuggestion, hypnotherapy (especially repeated sessions), meditation, visualisation exercises and breathing exercises.

We need to repeatedly embed new and beneficial suggestions in our minds to ‘overwrite’ the harmful messages we may have absorbed in childhood. The more we can embed these new, positive suggestions in our minds, the greater becomes the likelihood that the actual physical structure of our brains will undergo positive changes.

Resources:

eBook

child_trauma_and_NEUROPLASTICITY, functional_and_structural_ neuroplasticity

Above eBook now available from Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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