IF you read my column regularly, you’ll know that I often say that how we think affects how we feel.

In this week’s column, I’m offering a look into the fascinating world of neuroscience, which will explain why this happens .

Our brain is the control centre of our body, it plays a vital role in shaping our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. To unravel the mysteries of how we think, neuroscientists are constantly studying the brain and its intricate connections. Neuroscience, and our understanding of how the brain works has come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades. Not least of all, because of giant steps forward, in terms of how scientists can monitor what is happening in real time with our brains.

Put very simply, neurons are the building blocks of our brain, they are specialised cells that transmit electrical signals. These signals travel through the brain via complex networks, forming connections known as synapses. It is within these synapses that information is processed, and thoughts are born. The more we use a particular thought pathway, the stronger it becomes, forming what scientists refer to as neural pathways.

Our brains have a remarkable ability to change and adapt, this is known as neuroplasticity. Through repeated patterns of thinking and behaviour, neural pathways can be strengthened or weakened. This means that we have the power to reshape our brains by consciously choosing our thoughts and actions. By practicing positive thinking or engaging in activities that promote well-being, we can nurture healthy neural pathways and improve our mental health.

When we repeatedly think or do something, we strengthen the neural pathways associated with that activity. Conversely, when we stop thinking or doing something, the neural pathways associated with that activity weaken. This process is the basis for all learning and change.

Neuroplasticity has profound implications for our mental health. It means that we can choose to create new neural pathways that support our well-being and let go of old neural pathways that are no longer serving us.

For example, if we have a history of negative thinking, we can choose to focus on positive thoughts and affirmations instead. Over time, this will strengthen the neural pathways associated with positive thinking and make it easier to adopt a more optimistic outlook on life.

Similarly, if we have a tendency to worry and ruminate, we can choose to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. This will help to strengthen the neural pathways associated with calm and focus, making it easier to let go of those negative thoughts and feelings.

In addition to practicing positive thinking and mindfulness, there are a number of other things we can do to nurture healthy neural pathways and promote mental well-being:

* Engaging in activities that we enjoy. When we do things that we enjoy, we release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in motivation and reward. Over time, this can help to strengthen the neural pathways associated with positive emotions and experiences.

* Challenging ourselves mentally: Learning new things and challenging ourselves mentally helps to keep our brains active and engaged. This can help to promote neuroplasticity and create new neural pathways.

* Connecting with others: Social connection is essential for human well-being. When we feel connected to others, it activates the reward system in our brains and releases oxytocin, a hormone that has mood-boosting and stress-relieving effects. By cultivating strong social relationships, we can nurture healthy neural pathways and support our mental health.

* Emotions also play a significant role in how we think. The more primitive part of our brains is known as the limbic system, it is responsible for regulating our emotions. It is the part we know as the fight/flight side of our brain. When we experience strong emotions such as joy, fear, or sadness, specific regions within the limbic system are activated. These emotional signals can influence our thoughts and decision-making processes.

Neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in our brain, are crucial for maintaining proper brain function. Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, can impact our mood and overall mental well-being. By taking care of our physical health through regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep, we can help support the functioning of these neurotransmitters and promote a healthier mind.

Remember, your mind is amazing - look after it.

Next week I am taking a look at FOMO - the ‘fear of missing out’ and what it does to our mental health.

Please remember if you feel you are in any kind of mental health crisis, contact your GP, go to A&E or call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.

* Martin Furber is a therapist in various modalities and an Instructor Member of Mental Health First Aid England. wellbeing@martinfurber.com