There are many different ways one can alleviate tinnitus, such as using sound therapy, making changes to your diet, yin yoga, and forms of meditation. At Treble Health, we know the importance of having a comprehensive approach to tinnitus management. In addition to certain physiological changes that occur through sound therapy, there are also a number of psychological factors that play an important role in tinnitus relief.
Neuroplasticity is one psychological approach that can help improve the lifestyle and health of people dealing with tinnitus. But what exactly is neuroplasticity, and how can it help you with your tinnitus? Let’s find out!
What Is Neuroplasticity?
“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.” – Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Years ago, it was believed that the human brain could only be changed during childhood, and that once a person passed a certain age the brain’s hardware was set in stone.
However, as the study of neuroscience has progressed, scientists have started to learn more about brain plasticity and how by merely practicing certain techniques, our neurological structures can change a lot more rapidly and successfully than previously believed.
When we think of “plasticity,” we might think of a hard plastic bottle. But that same plastic can be melted, shaped, and molded into any form. Our brains can change in a similar manner; according to neuroplasticity, our brains can be molded based on the structure, message, or framework of the techniques that we’re following.
For humans (and other organisms), neuroplasticity plays an essential role in developing our cognitive, sensory, and motor functions. This is because neuroplasticity is a way for our nervous system to change its activity in response to inherited or acquired causes by rearranging its structure, functions, or connections. Even simple actions trigger these changes and are an ongoing phenomenon throughout our lives.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and adapt to new situations. The brain has a remarkable ability to continually learn throughout life, even after significant injury or disease. This learning process allows us to adapt our behavior to new situations and create neural connections in response to experience, injury, or illness. Neuroplasticity involves changes in synaptic efficacy and topological or functional connectivity between neurons, processes that are regulated by certain factors such as nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
There are two main types of neuroplasticity:
- Functional plasticity is the brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas.
- Structural plasticity is the brain’s ability to change its physical structure due to learning.
How Can Neuroplasticity Help With My Tinnitus?
The human brain is a complex organ and one that we continue to learn about daily. It was previously thought that our brains settled at a certain age, but newer research found that our brains never stop changing and learning.
To illustrate our brain’s plasticity, one should think of a plastic bottle. No, our brain isn’t plastic– but it does have similar characteristics. Plastic can be melted, shaped, and molded into any form, from water bottles to lunch boxes, bags, and cups. Our brains can change similarly; according to neuroplasticity, our brains can be molded based on the structure, message, or framework of the techniques we follow.
To continue this, the brain’s plasticity refers to its malleability and ability to be easily influenced, trained, or controlled. Neuro relates to neurons, nerve cells, and building blocks of the brain and nervous system. So, neuroplasticity simply refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt.
Tinnitus treatment involves neuroplasticity at several levels. We have some control over how our brain works and adapts, even if we don’t think so. And because our auditory system is part of the brain, we can affect our tinnitus.
For successful learning, or relearning, we need to have goals and consistency.
Neuroplasticity for healing tinnitus is a similar process. We need to practice how to recreate neural pathways that feel ‘normal’. To do this, we need guidance to reset our perception of symptoms. It may seem like a challenge, but we can ‘teach’ our brain and rebuild it to help relieve our tinnitus.
So, if we can rewire our connections to tinnitus by reducing connections to inputs interpreted as negative or stressful, our perception of tinnitus can be improved.
Managing Tinnitus Through Neuroplasticity
As mentioned earlier, many people who experience tinnitus can manage their symptoms by changing their lifestyles and habits. We even wrote a blog on different ways to reduce it. So, in addition to these remedies, neuroplasticity could be one treatment that may relieve tinnitus symptoms.
Neuroplasticity is a great way to achieve tinnitus relief because it’s not restrictive, can be learned at home, and you can go at your own pace.
As a treatment approach, it’s important to remember that neuroplasticity for tinnitus needs to be personalized for each individual.
Negative emotional responses are common when living with tinnitus. These negative responses, or cognitive distortions, are examples of harmful neuroplasticity. This negativity can come to fruition during times of stress to reinforce harmful thoughts, which will only worsen your tinnitus. For example, if we tell ourselves, “this will never work,” or, “it isn’t meant to be,” it probably won’t help. It’s a self-written prophecy that will only worsen as we associate ourselves with negativity. And even though we know these thoughts are harmful, breaking the pattern we created can be hard.
The good news is that if we train our brains correctly, we can turn neuroplasticity into a strength. One way to accomplish this is through meditation. The practice of meditation or box breathing focuses on our breathing. This focus impacts the brain and the autonomic nervous system function by creating a healthy response in our limbic system. When we can calm our minds, we can control our thoughts, which helps us be less reactive to tinnitus.
Simply put, using neuroplasticity to remedy tinnitus is accomplished by rewiring connections to tinnitus and reducing links to inputs interpreted as negative or stressful.
For a tinnitus-specific meditation series, feel free to check out Day 1 of the Tinnitus Meditation Challenge.