Let’s get synapsing

We hear a lot about neuoroplasticity, the amazing ability our brains have to remodel themselves and create new connections.  These are actual structural changes in the brain, and can happen following some form of damage but also with exposure to cognitive demands and the acquisition of new skills.

According to an article in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, studies have found that PTSD and depression are associated with smaller volumes of the hippocampus, which is a key structure involved in memory.  Medication and physical exercise can help to promote positive neuroplastic changes.

A paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry explains that an approach called cognitive training uses specific learning events to stimulate adaptive neuroplastic changes.  It has been used in a variety of psychiatric conditions.  In schizophrenia the targets include perception, working memory, attention, and/or social cognition.  In anxiety disorders, the aim is to modify attention biases to threat-related stimuli.  In mood disorders, the treatment targets impairments in processing speed and executive function.

Depression has made me stupider.  The cognitive symptoms have been persistent and it’s frustrating.  I’ve always been a geek and loved learning new things, but it’s gotten a lot harder to shove new things into my brain.  Still, I feel like if I don’t at least try to persist in my journey of lifelong learning, my brain will completely turn to jello.

The question is, then, how do we go about exercising our brains?  I used to regularly watch webinars related to psychiatry to keep my knowledge; you can find links to some of those sites on my post on where to go for insider knowledge on psychiatry.  Lately I’ve been trying to exercise a little more cognitive muscle by using more references in my blog posts.  Google Scholar is a great way to find research abstracts, which tell you the important points without needing to read a whole paper.

There are also lots of sites where you can take online courses for free.  Here are some ideas:

Coursera logo Coursera offers courses on a variety of topics from multiple universities.  Some are free to take without a completion certificate.

edX logo  edX offers courses from universities on a range of topics. There is a mix of paid content and content that’s free without a completion certificate.

Future Learn icon  Future Learn has courses offered by universities on a wide variety of topics.  Many short courses are available for free.

Google digital garage logo Google Digital Garage has short courses on digital marketing

iTunesU app logo   iTunesU is available on iOS and has a wide variety of courses.

Khan Academy logo The Khan Academy offers free courses at high school-ish level in the arts, sciences, and math.

Skillshare app logo Skillshare has courses in business, technology, creative, and lifestyle.  Most are paid, but some are free.  Anyone can create a Skillshare course.

Udemy app logo Udemy is quite similar to Skillshare.  Most courses are paid, but some are free.


How do you exercise your brain?


Visit the Mental Health @ Home Store for premium mental health resources, guided journals, how-to guides, and my books Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis and Psych Meds Made Simple.

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19 thoughts on “Let’s get synapsing

  1. Luftmentsch says:

    I also feel like depression has made me stupider, and I’ve lost some of my professional skills through lack of practice (not entirely due to depression).

    I try to spend at least some time each day reading religious texts in ancient languages (Hebrew, Aramaic).

  2. Meg says:

    Depression has made you stupider? Oh no!! 😮

    I think you seem very smart!! But if you’re concerned, what about taking music lessons? They’re affordable, and you can play an instrument!! If you don’t already know how to read music, it will definitely make you smarter to learn–trust me!! But maybe what you’re picking up on is how we all get less academically intelligent when we’ve been out of school forever. Like, I was great at school (with a huge effort), as you were, but it’s been years!! I’m sure there’s a natural downward curve when we get out of the habit of studying and learning and all that.

  3. Jeanne says:

    I am taking music lessons… bought a house and got a piano that stayed behind. Too clunky to move and out-of-tune… hey! I will take it! Love, love, love how it stretches me to learn and my reward is music. 🎶🕊

  4. Karen says:

    Writing is a great way to exercise your brain… and reading, therefore WordPress is our brain trainer!
    I read a book about the therapeutic benefits of knitting, bilateral something or other. Basically it works both sides of the brain and helps with anxiety and depression. Teach yourself to crochet that is a real mental workout!

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