My name is Chassy! I am a bear. A brainy bear. I talk about brains because want to be a brainscientist! I want to share the things I've learned and help people understand themselves.
I've got a personal blog, so if you still want to follow me and be my friend, please go to that one!!
Click on the Table of Contents to get started!
The Effort-Driven Reward System is a pathway that converges the striatum, the prefrontal cortex, and the limbic system into the nucleus accumbens. That is, the centers of movement, thought, and emotion all connect into motivation. And this entire road is severely affected by depression.
Can’t summon the energy to move? Striatum.
Can’t concentrate or think rationally? Prefrontal cortex.
Can’t feel happy no matter how hard you try? Limbic system.
Can’t feel motivated to do a damn thing? Nucleus accumbens.
This doesn’t explain all of depression (my other posts talk about that), but it does tell a heck of a lot. This highway is easily damaged by depression, which in turn makes depression even stronger, creating a cycle so destructive you can’t even get out of bed, things are that shit.
And how are you supposed to penetrate it and cut the cycle off? You can’t control the limbic system or nucleus accumbens, because these are located in the midbrain, a place that is pure instinct and no thought.
The keys here are the other two. The prefrontal cortex requires heavy retraining and rewiring through cognitive therapy, which is hard to do if you have no motivation. The other is the striatum, where you have to move in order to jumpstart the system.
The big word though is effort-driven. You can’t just do any movement, you have to do something with meaning. Drawing, writing, cooking, taking up crocheting or building birdhouses - exercise your creativity. Say what you will about your shitty _____, if you look back at a masterpiece that you just created and go holy shit, I fucking made that, I guarantee you’ll feel at least a little pride. And that’s what you’re looking for, trying to penetrate this system.
If you keep exercising your brain, using this effort-driven reward system, and doing what you can to do meaningful work with your hands, you may just kick it back into gear.
Neurotrophins are brain fertilizer, and your brain loves the shit out of the stuff. There’s a special brand of this miracle-gro that’s called BDNF that’s all the rage in the academic community nowadays, and is easier to type than neurotrophin, so let’s talk about that.
BDNF is that stuff that makes your neurons sprout, grow, and branch out beautifully. Babies spray that stuff all over the place when they’re developing, and adults need it to keep up their lovely brain garden. The more BDNF you have, the healthier your brain, the more active your brain, and the longer your brain’s gonna live.
Unsurprisingly, people with depression or other mental disorders have very low levels of BDNF, which does a number on their brain garden. Modern antidepressants like citalopram and other SSRIs actually increase BDNF levels in the brain, which is great. The problem, though, is that BDNF is only fertilizer and can only encourage neurons to grow, which takes time and energy, and until then those new neurons are extremely vulnerable. That’s (probably) why it takes so long for antidepressants to take effect - an entire three weeks, usually, because that’s the amount of time it takes for those new neurons to grow and branch out.
Whether you’ve got a disorder or not, one way to increase BDNF levels is to exercise often, usually cardio. Eating healthy also helps - antioxidants defend your new neurons from free radicals.