How our brains function is more complex than ever imagined. For a long time, the brain was thought to be compartmentalized, specialized and fixed. In fact, in the 1970’s a group of neuroscientists set out to prove that was the case. Interestingly neuroplasticity was discovered while trying to prove quite the opposite. The truth is, the brain changes continuously and in response to experiences throughout life; this ability to change is called neuroplasticity. This finding provides hope for improving states of mind by altering environmental conditions.
A number of studies support the connection between mental health struggles and a dysfunction in the modulation of brain circuits. For example, the GABA and glutamate–glutamine cycle can now be monitored with magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to provide key insights into mental health. In a recent study, the glutamatergic abnormality was found to be related to depression as well as anxiety. Balancing out glutamine and increasing GABA could protect the integrity of the brain by reducing excitotoxicity and preserving grey matter.
Calming the Anxious Brain
To soothe the brain, levels of GABA (the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter) must be increased. However, it is not as simple as supplementing with GABA as glutamine can be synthesised from GABA. Calming brainwave activity by inducing alpha and theta brain oscillations has been found to relax the brain.
What are the Different Types of Brain Wave States?
Thoughts, emotions, desires, perceptions and behaviours are all managed in the electrical pulses of the brain. The brain is made up of an intricate network of neurons and receptors that fire in relation to various internal and external stimuli. Therefore, if we change the stimulus, we can literally alter our frame of mind.
The known brainwaves are - infra-low, delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma. Here is a brief outline of each type of brainwave oscillation:
Infra-Low (<0.5Hz): These slow cortical potentials are used as a “reset” mechanism in some neurofeedback protocols.
Delta waves (0.5 to 3Hz): Slow, loud and rhythmical brainwaves found in deep meditation or dreamless sleep. Delta waves are required for healing and regeneration.
Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz): Frequency beneficial for memory, intuition and learning. This oscillation normally occurs during sleep however can be felt before going to sleep or waking in the morning.
Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz): Resting state, felt as calm, mental clarity – mindful, reflective thoughts.
Beta waves (12 to 38 Hz): Our normal waking state that can be split up into three sections- Beta1, Beta2 and Beta3:
Beta1 (12 to 15Hz) - Idle or musing
Beta2 (15 to 22Hz) – Deep logical thought or calculation
Beta3 (22 to 38Hz) - Highly complex thought – this state uses a lot of mental energy and is occurs during new experiences or excitement. Too much time in this state can harm the brain and produce nervousness and anxiety.