Dr. Martina Melzer, published: 05/11/2022, updated: 02/20/2023



You're in the pool for the first time as a kid, wearing water wings, kicking and splashing around in the water, pretty awkward and scared. Eventually, you move expertly through the water without thinking about it. You can swim. Nerve networks have formed in your brain that have stored all the movements, breathing, etc. Your brain has learned to swim. This is neuroplasticity. That is brain training.

You learn a foreign language in school, don't use it for years, forget it. Then you study it again and suddenly more and more words come back to you. The nerve networks in your brain are still there, you reactivate them. This is brain training, relearning ("brain retraining"). The same thing happens in your skull when you've had a stroke and have to learn how to speak again.

However, your brain learns not only useful things, but also less helpful things. For example: Negative beliefs, fear of a lecture, fear of certain activities, movement, pain, body sensations, people, feelings. That, too, is neuroplasticity. That, too, is brain training.

Danger Mode

If you have a body-mind-brain disorder, that is, a mind-body syndrome like ME/CFS, Long Covid, irritable bowel syndrome, PTSD, fibromyalgia, or an anxiety disorder or depression, your brain has learned to go into survival mode extremely quickly or stay in it altogether. It classifies stimuli from inside your body, from the outside world, from social interactions as danger. It activates your autonomic nervous system to prepare for fight, flight, freeze or collapse. And that makes you feel all kinds of symptoms - from fatigue to bloating to chronic pain. You get scared of the symptoms, the doctors can't find anything, say "it's all in your head," that makes you even more scared, angry, self-doubtful. That further triggers your overstimulated brain. That activates the nervous system. That makes the symptoms, and so on. A vicious circle. Which you can break with brain training.

Brain training in practice

Essentially, as I see it, it's about making your brain understand that 95 percent of the time you're safe (if that's not the case for you, say because of domestic violence, you urgently need to get safe!). The point is to extend the tolerance window beyond which both parts of the autonomic nervous system classify an internal or external stimulus as a danger. You have to manage to get the organism out of survival mode and into healing mode. Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems allow us to be physically and mentally active, to be social, to rest, to recharge our batteries, to digest food, to sleep restfully - when they are in balance. I always say, It's all about balance!

It is now a matter of turning the previous data highways (danger mode) in the brain into side roads and creating new highways (safety mode), which are now only small side roads. Through neuroplasticity we can learn new behaviors and discard old ones, adopt healthier conversations with ourselves, change our lifestyles, not evaluate things but simply notice them first. We can learn to deal with stress factors differently, to perceive symptoms only as bodily sensations for the time being. All this requires a lot of strength, self-confidence, persistence and time.

We can influence the way we talk about ourselves. We can tell ourselves "I am safe." We can meditate and practice mindfulness, simply notice our symptoms and emotions, calm our mind. We can visualize beautiful things from the past or imagine beautiful things in the future. We can create an imaginary place where we are 100 percent safe and where we can always go in our mind. We can say positive affirmations to ourselves.

We also influence the brain and nervous system by specifically influencing our breathing, muscle tension, posture. The vagus nerve perceives all these things and sends them to the central control centers. Calm, deep breathing, relaxed muscles, an upright posture, melodic sounds and tones, a pleasant voice signal safety. This is why techniques such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, Feldenkrais, breathing exercises, singing, humming, and also EFT tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) are so useful.

Important: As long as the body is in survival mode, you can try as hard as you want to change your thinking and behavior, it won't work. It will only work when your body feels safe - at least temporarily. You can say to yourself "I am safe", but as long as you remain totally tense, the sentence is of no use at all. If you say it, exhale deeply and relax your muscles, then the signal "safety" arrives in your brain.

In addition to these techniques, it is indispensable for our sense of security to connect with other people who make us feel good. Whether we talk to them, laugh with them, sing with them, play with them, do something with them, cry with them, throw up with them. Pets can also establish this sense of security. And, when we connect with nature. Just a few minutes in nature is enough to regulate your nervous system. Even looking at nature pictures! That's why I created a little video about it with my own photos (activate subtitle for other languages than German):

There are an incredible number of ways to get your brain back into safety mode. You just have to find the ones that suit you best.


Other recovery strategies: Gaining knowledge, the right mindset, inner work, lifestyle changes.

Translated with the help of DeepL


PS: Of course, I research and check everything I write here as well as possible. Nevertheless, I am only human and make mistakes. In addition, I may draw completely different conclusions as someone else would. Simply because they fit my story. But every story is different.

Important: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for talking to your doctor or other therapist. The content reflects my personal experiences, research and findings that have helped me and that I therefore want to share. However, in your personal case, completely different things may play a role and other things may help. Please talk to your doctor or therapist before making any decisions that affect your physical or mental health. Also important: I don't want to convince anyone of anything here. Rather, I want to point out possible ways that hopefully can help some people to improve or overcome their ME/CFS or other syndromes.



Dan Neuffer: CFS Unravelled


Alex Howard: Decode your Fatigue


 Dr. Howard Schubiner: Unlearn your Anxiety and Depression

Alan Gordon: The Way Out


Joe Dispenza: You are the Placebo

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