I had never given any thought to the connection between our brain wellness and aging skin. Until I met Ava Diamond, who coaches on brain optimization and chronic stress management using her Mental Fitness & Nutritional Psychology strategies. I already was well aware of the positive impact on fitness and healthy eating on aging; but Ava opened me to the need to manage stress and nourish brain chemistry with mindset and proper nutrients. I sat down to find out more with Ava, LCSW, pro athlete, and creator of Diamond Mind Strategies to learn more about how we in the Truth In Aging community could apply her approach within our our anti-aging skincare regimens for a truly holistic approach. Here’s an extract of our conversation:
MW: Most of us have heard about stress-management techniques and we know that being “stressed out” makes us (and the people around us!) feel awful. We go on vacations, workout, do yoga, take a hot bath, and maybe drink a nice glass of wine to decompress. Isn’t that enough?
AD: Of course, each of those things are great ways to help reduce chronic stress. Consistency with them, however, is key and not everyone can consistently implement a vacation or exercise routine. Even when we can, we often sabotage those efforts with nutritional choices and by allowing the stress to build up throughout the day until we get to the gym or sit down to a glass of wine (which is only effective in moderation, of course, and may have its downsides).
It’s a similar approach to skincare, actually. We can use great products and experience nice results; however, by neglecting to care for our brain chemistry (stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression), our bodies wind up working against our anti-aging efforts. Research shows that chronic stress is the greatest culprit for aging our brains and bodies, including our skin, fastest. Most of us don’t even realize that we are walking around with “Stress Brain” anymore because it’s become the norm.
MW: What is “Stress Brain” exactly?
AD: What I call, “Stress Brain”, is simply the condition of chronic stress. Technically, it’s when our brain chemistry is heavily loaded with cortisol (the stress hormone) and depleted of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, etc (the calm and happy hormones). Often people refer to it as the “fight or flight” state of mind. Our brains get locked into a type of protective mechanism and sends messages to our bodies that we need to be prepared to fight off the stressors. With this messaging flooding our organs, they conserve energy in some way to prepare for the fight. Muscles contract (body aches), digestion gets “stuck” (stomach aches), skin can become more dry and rejuvenation of cells can slow down when our brains go into “airplane mode”. Think about it: we use airplane mode when we have poor connectivity in order to conserve our devices’ energy. The result is limited input and output. That’s essentially what happens when our brains are chronically stressed: we go into mental airplane mode that limits what our bodies can do for us, too. Then, our stressed organs (and skin is our largest organ, as we know) communicate back to our brain that they hurt or itch or are dehydrated and the chronic stress condition in our brain is reinforced as our brain tries to protect from further strain. It becomes a vicious cycle of cortisol production. In regard to anti-aging of skin, chronic stress reduces ability to build elastin and collagen which results in wrinkles!
MW: Oh, no. So what’s the remedy? How do we keep our cortisol down and wrinkles at bay? Isn’t that what our skin products do anyway?
AD: High quality skin care products absolutely can support healthier, vibrant, and youthful looking skin. My question would be the same one I ask of my clients in high-pressured professional roles: if you made such a great investment in your career (or in your skincare), why wouldn’t you do what you can to protect that investment? Brain Optimization is about nourishing and exercising your brain to optimize the chemical landscape. It’s about balancing brain chemistry to keep “fight or flight” out of the picture or at least have it saved for real emergencies. Learning about foods and natural supplementation, hormone regulation, and mindset exercises to reduce cortisol and improve mood, focus, energy, memory, and organ functioning is essential to true anti-aging. Topical interventions are clearly helpful, indeed; however, maximizing the benefits come from the combination of caring for the inside and outside simultaneously.
MW: What would be your number one mindset intervention and best food suggestion to support skincare?
AD: Well, I have a litany of mindset exercises that can reduce cortisol production in 90 seconds. Yes, it really only takes 90 seconds (several times a day) to change your brain chemistry enough to ward-off chronic stress buildup. I have taught the same exercises to Navy Seals, pro athletes, and medical students, in fact. Our brains are like our computers in that whatever we input through our “keyboard” is what it tries to make sense of. We often forget that we are the masters of our mind and allow our mind to dictate where we go mentally and emotionally. One exercise that I give people to practice is called the “Peaceful Place”. It’s a combination of meditation and elements of EMDR (a psychological intervention to work through trauma).
Another top tip is to not go long periods of time without protein. Protein, in particular, provides us with L-theanine, an essential amino for producing dopamine and serotonin, amongst other things for brain and body health. When our blood sugar spikes or drops, our brains and body go into that same stress brain state of fight or flight. Starving or binging, eating high sugar food and low protein intake, for example, throw our brain chemistry into a state of protection mode which directly impacts our skin response to slow down rejuvenation. When we feed our brains with a rich protein source (and for vegans this is a bit more challenging but certainly possible) every few hours and limit sugary foods at the same time, we keep our blood sugar stabilized.
Ava had so much more to say, drawing on extensive research that have culminated in easy-to-implement strategies. Her ideas fit with my desire to evolve Truth In Aging to provide more holistic solutions for the community. So I’ll be working with Ava to provide TIA members with access to Diamond Mind Strategies and the impact of hormones, nootropics, and how to use mental fitness is designed to elicit purpose, passion, and power. Watch this space – there is much more to come.