“In the search for the magic lotion or potion that will make us more beautiful, I’m here to tell you that the answer lies inside your head. That’s right - your brain is the key to improving every facet of your life….Your brain is your essence, and it is the essence of your beauty. By enhancing your mind, you can feel more energetic, creative and alive – all of which makes you more beautiful,”
writes Marie Pasinski, M.D., staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School faculty member, in her book Beautiful Brain Beautiful You.
The face mirrors the chemical activity going on in the brain and actually produces tiny, involuntary microfacial expressions which reflect the inner thoughts and the corresponding neurochemicals being released. By changing the inner workings of your mind, you can transform the face you present to the world. “[T] he beauty we see on the outside is direct reflection of what’s happening on the inside.”
In the book, Dr. Pasinski outlines a seven step program to optimize the beauty/brain connection. They are:
- Indulge in the new
- Rev up your social life
- Mind Your Body
- Go for the glow!
- The smart diet
- Make over your mind
- Beautify your brain rhythms
Make Over Your Mind
“In the same way that your physical strength and flexibility improve with regular exercise, thinking optimistic thoughts on a regular basis strengthens and reinforces healthy mental pathways. Making over your mind will alleviate stress, improve your mood, and protect you from memory loss, which allows your intellect and creativity to blossom and transforms your appearance. Instead of looking frazzled, overwhelmed, and depressed, you will experience an inner calm and joy that others will notice.”
Dr. Pasinski advises going from practicing “mindlessness”, the auto-pilot existence where one has a busy mind and is not entirely present, to practicing mindfulness. She defines mindfulness as being aware of what we are thinking which not only makes us mentally sharper, but also determines how we feel. Learning how to minimize stress by practicing relaxation techniques is an essential first step.
Stress ages our cells and is a cause of disease. Telomeres are at the the end of cells and protect the chromosomes inside the cell from becoming unraveled or frayed. Hence, the shorter the tolomere the faster the cell is aging. Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel prize showing that stress shortens these telomeres and accelerates the aging of cells.
Stress also causes cortisol, the stress hormone, to be released in the brain. In animal studies, cortisol has actually been shown to kill neurons in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. Animals under chronic stress have smaller hippocampi. This is believed to hold true for humans also.
Stress shows on your skin. The skin has an especially close relationship with the mind. So much so, that there is even a subspecialty of dermatology called psychodermatology focusing on this connection.
Dr. Pasinski recommends learning a practice developed by Dr. Herbert Benson called The Relaxation Response, which is similar to meditation. It consists of two, simple steps:
- Select a word, sound, prayer, or thought that you find soothing or joyous. Repeat that word, sound prayer, or thought and focus your mind in the moment.
- When other, everyday thoughts intrude, let them go and concentrate once again on step one.
The next step in becoming mindful suggested by Dr. Pasinski is to come fully into your physical senses. All of our experience in this world is the interpretation of information delivered to our brain through our physical senses. When this channel of information is not clear or is ignored, it can result in mental fogginess. Having a heightened awareness of the sensory information coming into the brain forces a person to be focused on the present moment. This will result in a stronger connection to the world and people around you and a greater sense of calm and peace.
When making over your brain, it is essential to give your thoughts a make over. “The brain you have at this moment is a product of the thoughts streaming through your mind and the experiences you’ve had throughout your life. And because we are creatures of habit, we get used to thinking and using our mind the same way. The way we use our brain is the way we’ve learned to use our brain.”
These unconscious thoughts, the constant, inner chatter, determines how we feel and behave. This creates our mood and our ability to cope with life events and the accompanying stress. “We can rewire our brains and reduce our stress by replacing irrational thoughts with realistic, positive beliefs.” This can be done by consistently recognizing and challenging automatic negative thoughts (ANTS), and replacing them with rational, positive thoughts and beliefs.
Physical movement, laughing, music, poetry, pets, getting out in nature, yoga, having a massage, volunteering, and socializing can also enhance your mind set positively.
Beautify Your Brain Rhythms
“…[R]egulating your brain rhythms can profoundly improve your mental clarity, well being, and appearance.” This involves balancing our circadian rhythms, the twenty-four-hour tempo and pulse that determines our sleep/wake cycles, because these determine when hormones are secreted that regulate cellular activity in the body. Even minor disturbances in these brain rhythms can impair the ability to function properly and make one more susceptible to disease.
Adequate sleep is absolutely essential here. Cells increase protein production during sleep. Skin cells even regenerate faster when we sleep. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has the effect of cognitive impairment similar to the effects of alcohol consumption. When the brain is sleep deprived, all facets of cognitive functioning become impaired including concentration, memory and judgement. Lack of sleep slows down our speed of mental processing, slows our reflexes and sets the stage for countless medical problems leading to poor cognitive function not to mention that it does not make you look your best.
The actual amount of sleep needed varies per individual and should be gauged by how a person feels. It is usually somewhere between seven and nine hours. Naps are a great way to recharge the brain during the day. Power naps, under twenty minutes have been shown to increase alertness, energy and motor performance. Longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity.
Getting enough light during the day and limiting exposure to artificial light at night is also necessary to keep the circadian rhythms optimal.