14 Powerful Ways to Form New Synapses in the Brain

Over the years, I’ve taken several psychiatric drugs, drank too much alcohol, and had numerous concussions – sometimes, all at once. 

In other words, my brain has taken quite the beating. 

Researchers used to think that if you damaged your brain like I did, you simply had to live with it.

But that’s no longer true. 

They now know the brain is plastic and flexible, and it can heal and recover.

You’re not stuck with the brain you have. 

You can actually change and improve it.

One way your brain repairs itself is through a process called synaptogenesis.

Synaptogenesis is the formation of new synapses in the brain.

Synapses are the connecting points between your 100 billion brain cells. You have trillions of synapses in your brain, and your brain cells communicate with one another across them (79). 

The deterioration and loss of synapses is linked to a number of neurodegenerative diseases and mental health disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, depression, poor learning and memory, intellectual impairment and other cognitive deficits (83-87). 

The good news is that researchers now know that synaptogenesis occurs in the brain throughout our entire lives (81-82). 

And there are a number of ways you can support synaptogenesis, promote the formation of new brain synapses and increase brain synapses. 

Below are 15 ways to do that.

Following these strategies can improve your mood, learning, memory and cognition.

Picture of brain and synapses.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Uridine and Choline

The formation of synapses depends on sufficient brain levels of three key nutrients – uridine, omega-3 fatty acids, and choline. These nutrients are synergistic, and if you take them taken together, they accelerate the formation of new synapses in the brain (66-67, 75-78). 

Unfortunately, most people nowadays don’t get enough of these essential nutrients through their diet because very few foods in the Western diet actually contain them.

In fact, the uridine in food is not bioavailable, and no food has been shown to increase plasma levels of uridine (1).

Picture of salmon and walnuts. Salmon and walnuts and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to form new brain synapses.

That’s why I now take this uridine monophosphate supplement sublingually to support the long-term health of my brain. 

At the same time, I take this krill oil supplement and the Optimal Brain supplement, which includes CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC (two high-quality sources of choline). This ensures my brain is getting enough of omega-3 fatty acids and choline.

Several researchers have concluded that supplementing with all three nutrients can increase synaptic formation, increase brain synapses, and improve cognition, learning and memory, particularly in people with Alzheimer's disease (68-74). 

Besides supplementation, I still encourage people to eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and choline. 

The best way to get omega-3 fatty acids from food is by eating more cold-water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring. And the best food sources of choline include grass-fed beef liver and egg yolks. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

Taking uridine, choline and omega-3 fatty acids together can also promote the regeneration of myelin.

2. Low Level Laser Therapy

Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photobiomodulation, is a treatment that uses low-level (low-power) lasers or light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to stimulate brain cells, helping them function better.

Most doctors don't know about LLLT; but not every doctor.

Man wearing LLLT helmet and using the Vielight device. LLLT and Vielight devices can help form new synapses in the brain.

Dr. Norman Doidge, a physician who teaches at the University of Toronto here in Canada, discusses the amazing effects of LLLT in his book The Brain’s Way of Healing.

One way that LLLT may help the brain is by encouraging synaptogenesis (12-15). 

Researchers have found that LLLT treatment significantly stimulates the synthesis of synapsin-1 (a marker for synaptogenesis) and increases synaptogenesis in the cortex (16-17). 

I previously wrote about my experience with low-level laser therapy here.

I use this device and shine the red and infrared light directly on my forehead. 

I also use the Vielight 810, which is an intranasal device with 810 nm of near infrared light (If you decide to try the Vielight, you can use the coupon code JORDANFALLIS for a 10% discount).

LLLT can also support mitochondria function, reduce brain fog, and increase blood flow to the brain

3. Bacopa

Bacopa monniera is an adaptogenic herb with cognitive-enhancing effects.

Several studies show that it improves cognition, learning and memory by strengthening communications between brain cells. Both healthy and elderly people who take the herb experience improved attention, learning and memory (2-5). 

Researchers believe these improvements are because bacopa increases brain synapses and increases specific neuromolecular mechanisms that encourage and enhance synaptogenesis (18). 

You can get bacopa through Amazon.

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4. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to promote the formation of new synapses.

Researchers have found repeatedly that physical activity encourages synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (32-33). 

Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, promotes the regeneration of myelin, and can help reverse brain damage and cognitive decline

So not surprisingly, many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

My usual advice is to find a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you’ll stick with it consistently.

5. Magnesium Threonate

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body, including neurotransmitter and hormonal activity, which can have a huge effect on your brain function.

Researchers have found that increasing magnesium levels in the brain improves learning and memory by promoting synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (25-26). 

One study concluded that magnesium threonate increases the number of synaptic connections between brain cells and boosts the density of synapses (27). 

Magnesium rich foods, including spinach, avocados, bananas, almonds. Magnesium helps the brain form new synapses.

Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (6-8).

But there are a number of ways you can make sure you’re consuming enough. 

First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Brain Health.

Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium. 

But I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement. 

Magnesium threonate is the best form of magnesium for increasing brain magnesium levels and forming new synapses. 

I currently take this magnesium threonate supplement before bed.

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.

Magnesium can also help repair a leaky blood-brain barrier.

6. Intermittent Fasting

Fasting allows your digestive system to take a break and triggers a number of hormones that boost your body’s ability to repair itself.

On most days, I don’t eat breakfast at all, and then "break my fast" by eating my first meal of the day around 2 or 3 p.m. That means I eat all my food for the day within an 8-hour window.

There are many health benefits to doing this.

It can improve mitochondrial function, reduce brain fog, and help protect you from dementia

And researchers have also found that fasting can trigger and enhance synaptogenesis (28-31). 

The best way to start fasting is simply by eating dinner around 6, not eating anything after that before bed, and then eating a regular breakfast the next day. That should give you about 12-14 hours of fasting time. 

7. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant that has been used in China for thousands of years to treat a number of health problems. It’s one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the world, and it’s even a prescription herb in Germany.

It’s most commonly used to improve brain health because it’s been shown to increase brain blood flow and improve memory and attention in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It even reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and may also improve mood and mental energy (34).

Researchers have also discovered that it stimulates synaptogenesis and increases brain synapses (35). 

Ginkgo Biloba is included in the Optimal Brain supplement.

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8. Motor Learning

Motor learning is essentially when you learn something new that involves movement.

Complex processes occur in the brain in response to practicing or experiencing the new motor skill.

This results in changes to the central nervous system, which allows you to produce the movement again in the future.

Researchers have found that motor learning triggers synaptogenesis and generates new synapses in the cerebellar cortex of the brain (36-39). 

Some activities that involve motor learning include learning how to play the piano, climbing trees, juggling, and playing table tennis. 

When you engage in these activities, motor learning occurs, and you form new synapses in order to learn and solidify the new skill. 

9. Resveratrol

Picture of grapes. Grapes are rich in resveratrol, an antioxidant than help you form new synapses in your brain.

Resveratrol is a beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in grapes, red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate.

Resveratrol is known to help prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

And researchers are starting to understand why.

Resveratrol can help restore the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, support your mitochondria, and increase blood flow to the brain. But it can also increase synaptogenesis.

Research shows the resveratrol promotes and enhances synaptogenesis (23-24). 

I take this resveratrol supplement to support the long-term health of my brain. I don't take it every day, just every so often. You can get it here or here.

10. Piracetam

Piracetam is a nootropic (cognitive-enhancing) supplement. It provides a mild boost to brain function and has a long history of being used to treat cognitive impairment in Europe, Asia and South America. 

According to researchers, one way it improves cognition is by enhancing synaptogenesis and increasing brain synapses (9-10). 

One study found that rats treated with piracetam had a higher number of synapses than rats not treated with piracetam (11). 

Here is a good piracetam supplement from a reliable brand. I used to take it regularly but not anymore.

Phenylpiracetam is an advanced version of piracetam and I found it to be more effective. It also has impressive anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. You can get it here.

Both piracetam and phenylpiracetam work best if you take them with a source of choline, either CDP-Choline or Alpha GPC.

Both CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC are included in the Optimal Brain supplement

11. Quercetin

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables. It is one of the most widely consumed flavonoids in the human diet. 

Quercetin has potent antioxidant action and is “neuroactive”, meaning it can affect brain function. 

As a result, it can protect brain cells from oxidative stress and inhibit the pro-inflammatory molecules that are associated with many progressive brain disorders (45-46). 

Researchers have also found that it stimulates synaptogenesis (48). 

Red apples, onions and tomatoes have the high levels of quercetin. But you can also supplement with it if you want. 

It’s interesting to note that quercetin increases the absorption of resveratrol, so it’s a good idea to take them both together if you want to increase synaptogenesis and form new brain synapses (47). 

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12. Intranasal Insulin

Insulin is one of the hormones that significantly affects brain function.

It has a number of important functions in the central nervous system, and researchers have found that it passes the blood-brain barrier and acts on insulin receptors directly within the brain.

In a new therapeutic approach, commercially-available insulin (Novalin R) is prepared and added to nasal spray bottles - like these ones - and sprayed and inhaled through the nose to support brain and mental health.

Intranasal insulin has been reported to significantly enhance learning and memory, increase mental energy, reduce brain fog, improve mood, and lower anxiety and stress levels.

One possible mechanism is by increasing synaptogenesis.

Brain insulin receptors are found primarily in synapses, and insulin signaling contributes to synaptogenesis (19-21). 

And the disruption of insulin action in the brain leads to impairment of synaptogenesis (22). 

If you’re interested in learning more about intranasal insulin, I previously wrote a full article about it here.

13. Progesterone

Progesterone is a natural steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

It has a variety of important functions in the body, and even plays an important role in brain function. 

Research shows that progesterone supports the normal development of brain cells and protects them from damage (40).

But many researchers have also found that progesterone promotes synaptogenesis (41-43). 

In addition to its role as a natural hormone, progesterone can be taken as a medication, usually by women during menopause as part of their hormone replacement therapy. 

14. Antioxidant Nutrients

Some nutrients have antioxidant effects in the body, and not consuming enough of them can reduce your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Research shows that “synaptic membrane synthesis” depends on sufficient dietary intake of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the mineral selenium (64). 

A bunch of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in heart-shaped bowls. Antioxidants can helps the brain form new synaptic connections.

One study found that synaptogenesis was significantly enhanced by supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium. But it wasn’t enhanced as much with omega-3 fatty acids and uridine alone, suggesting that Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium play a key role in synaptogenesis (65). 

I get these antioxidant nutrients from a number of sources. 

In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of supplemental Vitamin C every day. At one point, I was actually taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C every day as an experiment, but that’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you.

For selenium, I make sure I eat brazil nuts regularly, as they are the richest source. But I also take some extra selenomethionine, which is the most absorbable form of selenium. 

For Vitamin E, good food sources include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, sunflower seeds and butternut squash. It’s also included in the Optimal Antiox supplement.

Besides increasing synaptogenesis, antioxidants can also protect your brain from alcohol and help reverse brain damage

15. BONUS: 4 Things to Avoid

It’s not just what you do, but also what you avoid that can impact your rate of synaptogenesis. 

Researchers have found that certain compounds can impair synaptogenesis and inhibit the formation of new synapses in the brain. 

So besides trying to implement the 14 steps above, you should also try to avoid:

  • Bisphenol A – This compound is found in plastic bottles and containers, food and beverage cans, and other common consumer products, such as CDs, DVDs and sales receipts. Researchers have found that it impairs synaptogenesis in the brain (49). That’s why I recommend you only eat and drink out of glass, ceramic and stainless steel. Avoid all canned food and plastic containers. BPA-free plastic isn’t much better for you and can still disrupt hormonal health.

  • Lead – Lead is a heavy metal that can accumulate in the body and negatively affect brain function. Research shows that lead exposure can interfere with the formation of brain synapses (55-59). So it’s definitely a good idea to reduce your exposure to sources of lead. One way is by using an infrared sauna regularly.

  • Gabapentin – Gabapentin is a medication used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain, hot flashes, and restless legs syndrome. Researchers have found that it halts the formation of new synapses (80).

  • Stress – Chronic stress decreases synaptogenesis and decreases the number of synapse connections (88-89). Here are 20 ways to lower cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. These two biofeedback devices are my favourite ways to reduce stress.

Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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How to Overcome Trauma & PTSD without Medication

The subjective experience of trauma is unique and varies according to the individual and the type of trauma. What does not vary is the fact that trauma often results in a devastating intrusion into a wished-for life of peace, calm, and well-being, along with a corresponding unexpected and undesired fragmented sense of self and of life in general.
— Dr. Rollin McCraty, Ph.D.

Eating healthy and supplementing with specific nutrients was never enough for me to overcome my chronic mental health problems.

A broken heart.

I had to work hard at overcoming emotionally traumatic experiences as well. 

Trauma isn’t just something that happens to you in the past.

It’s not just a story or a memory.

Emotional trauma can actually change your brain, and how you see yourself in the world, leading to profoundly disturbing physical sensations and emotions in the present moment. 

It can occur because of one single event, or build up gradually due to a threatening or lonely environment.

These traumatic events and experiences, in both childhood and adulthood, can linger inside you and make you feel depressed, anxious and fearful for years. 

This is commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it’s a heavy burden to carry.

We’re made to believe that talk therapy and psychiatric drugs are the best way to overcome it.

But that is simply not true.

You can overcome psychological and emotional trauma without having to resort to life-long therapy and medication.

It’s not necessarily easy. 

It can take some time and effort.

But it can definitely be done.

I’m living proof. 

So today I’m going to share with you the therapies and treatments that have changed the course of my life by allowing me to permanently overcome emotional trauma and PTSD. 
 

Why Talk Therapy and Drugs Aren’t the Best Treatment Options

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a psychiatrist at the Boston University School of Medicine and one the world’s leading experts on trauma, is convinced that talk therapy isn’t that effective, and psychiatric drugs don’t get to the root of traumatic issues:

The study of trauma shows that you cannot “knock sense” into people by talking to them. Trauma is not an issue of cognition. It’s an issue of disordered biological systems.

Based on my experience, I agree with Bessel van der Kolk, and I highly recommend you check out his book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma if you’re interested in learning more. 

The book talks about how the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences, how traumatic stress is experienced by the entire body, and how this knowledge needs to be integrated into conventional treatment. 

Because of trauma, I used to struggle with chronic hyper-vigilance – a heightened state of awareness and over-activation of my "fight-or-flight" response. 

In other words, my brain was irrationally on constant alert.

This is because trauma impacts the “unconscious, emotional, reptilian" part of our brains, causing us to become chronically frightened and interpret the world as dangerous.

You know you shouldn’t feel that way, but you do.

And then that makes you feel even more defective and ashamed.

You cannot reason your way out of that.

Talk therapy can be helpful in acknowledging what has happened to you and how it has affected you.

But talking about it doesn’t put it behind you.

It simply does not go deep enough and affect the emotional, reptilian part of your brain. 

Your body can actually hold onto trauma, and it wasn’t until I tapped into the reptilian part of my brain with the following 12 treatments and therapies that I was able to permanently let it go and move on with my life. 

And even if you don't think you've experienced anything too traumatic, you'll probably benefit from these steps. 

1. Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that shows you your brain activity in real-time and teaches you how to self-regulate it.  

Sensors are placed on your scalp to measure your brain’s activity, and the measurements are displayed using video or sound.

In this powerful video, a captain with multiple deployments in Iraq shares his experiences in dealing with PTSD, and how neurofeedback treatment aided in his recovery.

Personally, neurofeedback was the most impactful action I took to overcome trauma. I previously wrote about my experience with it here

It works at a deep subconscious level, breaking the cycle of trauma and post-traumatic symptoms.

It allows you to move past traumatic events without actually having to talk about them and relive them, and shifts you into a natural, healthier state of mind.

And research shows that it works. 
 
Just last year, individuals with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder completed 40 sessions of neurofeedback, and researchers found it significantly reduced their PTSD symptoms (3). 

In my 38 years of practice, I have never seen any treatment that comes close to producing the results that Neurofeedback offers. I have seen results achieved in days and weeks that previously took months and years to achieve, using the best methods available to us.
— Dr. Jack Woodward, MD, Board Certified Psychiatrist

In another study, victims of torture who had not responded to conventional treatment did 20 sessions of neurofeedback and demonstrated a “substantial recovery” (5). 

Researchers have also concluded that neurofeedback is “helpful in the shedding of substance dependencies that are common in treatment-resistant PTSD” (4). 

If you’re interested in digging more into the research, here is a list of studies looking at neurofeedback for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. 

It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner.

But I also like the Muse headband. It’s a good substitute and gives you real-time feedback in your brainwaves while you meditate.

I previously wrote about it here, and you can get it through Amazon or the Muse website

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2. Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body and part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

Stimulating your vagus nerve allows you to more effectively respond to emotional trauma and overcome it. 

Research shows that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat a number of treatment-resistant anxiety disorders. This includes patients with PTSD that haven’t responded to medication (34-35). 

Vagus nerve stimulation has also been shown to enhance the “extinction of conditioned fear”, making it useful for severe anxiety and PTSD (36-38). 

So how do you stimulate your vagus nerve naturally?

I previously provided 13 ways to activate your vagus nerve in this post.

I recommend reading that post alongside this one because many of the mind-body practices and nutrients discussed – such as yoga, acupuncture, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids – have also been shown to directly help people overcome emotional trauma. 

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

The cure for the pain is the pain.
— Rumi

I mentioned above that neurofeedback lets you move past traumatic events without actually having to talk about them and re-live them.

But sometimes that isn’t enough.

Sometimes you have to relive your trauma to actually move past it. 

That’s where Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) comes in.  

EMDR is a fairly new, non-traditional type of psychotherapy, but it’s growing in popularity, particularly for treating emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a session, your therapist will move his or her fingers back and forth in front of your face. You’ll then follow the hand motions with your eyes while thinking of a disturbing event from your past. 

As you do this, your brain will start to reprocess the traumatic memory until it no longer bothers you. It allows you to come to peaceful terms with previously-disturbing events and, surprisingly, leads to increased insight about yourself. 

In my experience, it is one of the most impactful actions you can take for your mental health. 

This is a very good video about EMDR and trauma. More people should see it. 

I did 4 sessions of EMDR and it really helped me come to terms with certain traumatic experiences from my past. I didn’t know it at the time, but these previously traumatic events were wearing me down, and life is now lighter and brighter since finishing the treatments.  

According to Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, EMDR is the most promising treatment for trauma and PTSD.

More than 30 controlled clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for overcoming emotional trauma and PTSD (15, 25-33). 

Several studies have found that 84 to 100% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions (16). 

Other studies have found that 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after only six sessions, and 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions (17, 18). 

And EMDR has also been shown to be effective in children who have experienced emotional trauma (19). 

As a result of this, researchers and multiple health organizations have concluded that EMDR should be a first-line treatment for acute and chronic PTSD, and must be considered before medication because it’s been shown to be more effective than SSRI antidepressants (20-24). 

Although the research continues to pile up in support of EMDR, it remains controversial among some health care professionals. This is likely because it does not rely on life-long talk therapy or medication, and therefore puts a lot of people out of business.

It’s best to work with a qualified EMDR therapist first so that you understand how EMDR works.

Once you experience the treatment and understand it, you can actually self-administer EMDR

4. Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)

I recently found out about loving-kindness meditation in Tim Ferriss’ new book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, and have been practicing it since.

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is a practice designed to enhance feelings of kindness and compassion for yourself and others.

A cartoon Buddhist monk meditating. Loving-Kindness Meditation can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

You repeat positive phrases to yourself and direct well-wishes towards other people.

You can learn how to practice it here or through this video

In one study, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) practiced loving-kindness meditation for 12 weeks. 

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers reported increased levels of mindfulness and self-compassion in the veterans. 

And three months later, the veterans had reduced symptoms of trauma and depression because of their enhanced feelings of compassion (1). 

Another study found increased positive emotions and self-acceptance in veterans who practiced loving-kindness meditation (2). 

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5. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

Emotional Freedom Technique, or “tapping”, is a form of therapy based on ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. 

A woman tapping and using EFT. EFT can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

It involves tapping a series of acupressure points while thinking about a traumatic event and stating positive affirmations.

It’s best to do EFT alongside a therapist, but you can also practice it yourself.

If you’re interested in learning how to do it yourself, check out The Tapping World Summit, and the book, The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living

I’ve never done EFT with a therapist but I use the technique myself on a regular basis to reduce stress.

I previously discussed how it can lower your stress hormone here

Research also shows that it can also help you manage and overcome emotional trauma. 

Last year, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of all high-quality EFT studies and concluded that 4 to 10 sessions of EFT can effectively treat post-traumatic stress disorder without side effects. They determined that it’s just as effective as EMDR and cognitive behavior therapy (6). 
    
Researchers have stated that even though the approach has been controversial, there’s no doubt that EFT “is unusually effective in its speed and power because deactivating signals are sent directly to the [fear centre of the brain]” (12).

Tapping on selected acupoints during imaginal psychological exposure quickly and permanently reduces maladaptive fear responses to traumatic memories and related cues.
— Dr. David Feinstein

Several individual studies have also found that it quickly and permanently reduces PTSD symptoms in military veterans, disaster survivors, and other traumatized individuals (7-11).

With veterans, studies have found that EFT significantly reduces their psychological distress, and 90% participants no longer score positive for PTSD after just six treatment sessions. These improvements remained one year later (13-14). 

The film Operation: Emotional Freedom also documents a number of veterans and their families as they go through EFT therapy.

6. Forgiveness

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
— Nelson Mandela

Research shows that difficulty forgiving oneself and difficulty forgiving others is associated with increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (51). 

One study found that a when a victim of emotional trauma forgives the person at fault, there is a significant reduction in their PTSD symptoms (52). 

Two people holding hands. Forgiving one another can help us overcome trauma and PTSD.

And emotionally-abused women that did forgiveness therapy experienced significantly greater improvements in their PTSD symptoms than women who received an alternative treatment (53). 

So if you’ve experienced emotional trauma, you need to focus on letting go. 

Easier said than done, I know. Luckily, a lot of the therapies above – particularly EMDR – make it easier to forgive. 

I started using “forgiveness affirmations” several years ago after reading The Success Principles:  How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield.

Below is the main forgiveness affirmation from the book, and I recommend reading the full book for more tips on forgiveness.

I release myself from all the demands and judgments that have kept me limited. I allow myself to go free – to live in joy and love and peace. I allow myself to create fulfilling relationships, to have success in my life, to experience pleasure, to know that I am worthy and deserve to have what I want. I now go free. In that process I release all others from any demands and expectations I have placed on them. I choose to be free. I allow others to be free. I forgive myself and I forgive them. And so it is.

7. Brain Stimulation

There are several forms of brain stimulation, but two stand out for the treatment of emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The first is cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES), which I have personal experience with. 

CES involves the application of a low intensity micro-current (less than 2 mA) to the brain. This current stimulates the brain via electrodes placed on the earlobes, and affects emotional regulation by influencing neurotransmission in the brain – including serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin – which play a role in depression, anxiety and sleep (42-44). 

I know it sounds dangerous but it is very safe and has been widely used in Europe since 1950 and in the US since the 1960s (39). 

It’s also been cleared by Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of depression, anxiety, addiction and insomnia (41). 

Research has found that CES treatment (20 to 60 minutes daily, 3 to 5 days each week for 4 weeks) decreases the frequency of PTSD symptoms in veterans (40). 

In an online survey of 145 veterans and military personnel, 60% of individuals used CES to treat their PTSD, and the majority of participants reported at least a 50% reduction in their PTSD symptoms when using their CES device for at least 20 minutes, once or twice daily. The results shows that individuals who were not taking any prescription medication rated CES more effective than veterans who were also taking medication (45, 46). 

Unlike all other brain stimulation modalities, it’s relatively inexpensive and you don’t need to go see a professional to take advantage of it. 

I use it based on the presentation of the client – do they have difficulty falling asleep? Are they anxious or depressed? Do they have chronic pain? These symptoms respond well to CES. It is a non-addictive alternative to medication; a gentler solution.
— Dr. Jonathan Douglas

I personally use the cranial electrical stimulation that comes with the David Delight Pro device. You can get it here or through Amazon.

I find it really helpful when I’m stuck in an “anxious rut.” It snaps me out of it. It also calms my nervous system and makes me sleepy before bed. I often combine it with this acupressure mat.

I've also heard that the Fischer Wallace CES device helps a lot of people but haven’t used it personally. 

The other form of brain stimulation that can help you overcome emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder is called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) 

TMS is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

Studies have found that TMS can significantly reduce depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms including hyperarousal, intrusive thoughts, vigilance, withdrawal and emotional numbness. The effects are persistent and remained significant 3 months after treatment (47-49). 

However, unlike CES, you cannot do TMS at home. You need to find a practitioner who provides the treatment. 

8. Gratitude

Gratitude is the tendency to appreciate positive occurrences or being thankful for receiving certain benefits in your life.

A piece of paper that says “I am grateful for…”. Gratitude can help you overcome trauma and PTSD without medication.

Studies have shown that gratitude is associated with increased resilience to emotional trauma, and individuals with PTSD have significantly lower dispositional gratitude (54-55, 58).

But luckily, this can be changed through practice. 

Research shows that over time, daily gratitude promotes positive outcomes after trauma and reduces symptoms of PTSD (56-57). 

My recommendation is to write down five things that you’re grateful for every day. I try to do this regularly.

They don’t have to be big things. Anything will do. It could be as simple as being grateful for the apple that you ate today.

And if you do this every day, you’ll start to gather a pretty big list of things that you can look over whenever you’re feeling ungrateful. 

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9. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback

Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats.

It’s a reliable psycho-physiological marker for the functioning of your nervous system and accurately reflects your ability to cope with stress.

People with good HRV tend to be more optimistic, take initiative and are stress resistant.

People with low HRV tend to be depressed or anxious and have trouble learning.

Several studies show that higher HRV is associated with less anxiety and fear, and individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder display lower levels of HRV (63, 65-66, 69-72). 

Our results don’t necessarily suggest that lower HRV causes PTSD, rather that it’s a harbinger or a signal that the body’s stress response system is not functioning optimally and that may put the individual at greater risk of developing PTSD once he or she has been exposed to a trauma.
— Dr. Arpi Minassian, Ph.D

In one study, marines whose HRV was low before they were deployed were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD after deployment (73, 74). 

Luckily you can increase your HRV

Researchers have found that HRV biofeedback significantly reduces symptoms of PTSD, improves cognition for those suffering from PTSD, and improves the efficacy of other therapies that treat emotional trauma (64, 67-68, 75). 

I increase my HRV by using the EmWave2 biofeedback device

You can get it through Amazon or the HeartMath website, and I previously wrote about the benefits of using it here.

It’s been shown to increases HRV coherence in combat veterans with PTSD (76-77). 

And it’s important to note that when your HRV is high, your vagal tone is also high. They are correlated with each other (78-80). 

So stimulating your vagus nerve will also increase your HRV. Check out this post for 13 ways to do it. 

10. Curcumin

Curcumin is the most heavily researched compound within turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour.

It’s one of my favourite compounds for the brain

As I discussed before, it can lower your stress hormone, increase your brain’s growth hormone, and strengthen the integrity of your blood-brain barrier

It may also be able to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder. 

PTSD is characterized by unusually strong and persistently reactivated “fear memories", and researchers have found that curcumin impairs the reconsolidation of fear memories in animals, and concluded that it could be used to treat PTSD (50). 

In other words, supplementing with curcumin may help your brain forget about previously traumatic experiences. 

There are several different forms of “bioavailable” curcumin and I've tried most of them. The “Longvida” form is my favourite. You can get it here.

11. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. This includes neurotransmitter, enzyme, and hormonal activity, all of which can have a huge effect on your mood and brain function.

It’s one of the three nutrients that I think everyone should be taking for their brain, as most people are deficient.

As I’ve discussed before, it can help you overcome addiction and withdrawal and support your brain's mitochondria.

Studies reveal that magnesium enhances this process so that events which previously caused an emotional response no longer trigger fear. Magnesium L-threonate helps the prefrontal region of the brain block the return of old fear memories.
— Dr. Michael Smith

It can also help you overcome emotional trauma. 

Studies have found that supplementing with magnesium threonate increases levels of magnesium in the brain and enhances the extinction of conditioned fear responses to traumatic memories. The researchers concluded that it may be used to enhance PTSD therapy (59, 60). 

Foods that contain magnesium include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas.

But supplementation or taking Epsom salt baths is still necessary for most people because magnesium is rapidly used up during times of stress and certain psychiatric drugs can deplete magnesium. You can get the threonate form here. 

12. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone released by your pineal gland, a small gland in your brain. It helps control your sleep and wake cycles (circadian rhythm), and adequate levels of melatonin are necessary to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply throughout the night.

A disrupted circadian rhythm is linked to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and researchers have concluded that supplementing with melatonin is a “promising treatment strategy in the management of PTSD” (61). 

Animal research has also shown that melatonin reduces PTSD-induced anxiety-like behaviors in rats (62). 

You can get melatonin here.

Or you can take this sleep supplement. It contains magnesium and a number of natural compounds that increase the production of melatonin naturally. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount. 

Other than supplementing with melatonin or taking a sleep supplement, here are some others actions you can take to naturally produce more melatonin and improve the quality of your sleep:

Conclusion

You don’t have to live with emotional trauma for the rest of your life. 

You can overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and live a happy, fulfilling life

An illustration of a solider or war veteran with a broken brain and PTSD.

And medication and life-long talk therapy are not your only solutions, despite what many so-called experts say.

There is a much better way.

Remember, traumatic stress has very little to do with cognition. Instead, it stems from the emotional part of the brain that is rewired to constantly send out messages of danger.

These therapies and treatments have helped me come out on the other side of emotionally traumatizing experiences and post-traumatic stress disorder, and have allowed me to live more fully in the present moment:

I hope you get the chance to try them and they help you too. :)

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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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About the Author

Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Blake Gibb, MD

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