Kayla Clark Of Be Well Counseling On Lifestyle Habits Supporting Cognitive Well-Being

An Interview With Maria Angelova


Movement. Daily exercise. Whether that be walking, weight training, playing an active video game like Wii or VR, playing pickleball or racquetball at a local gym. Whatever it may look like for you, your bodies need to move!

In a world inundated with distractions, constant connectivity, and a plethora of information, our cognitive well-being has never been more crucial. Amidst the clamor, how do we nurture our minds, keep our focus sharp, and cultivate habits that promote mental clarity? The right lifestyle habits can be the cornerstone to maintaining and even enhancing our cognitive abilities, ensuring not just longevity but also the quality of our mental faculties. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayla Clark.

Kayla has been a psychotherapist for 8 years. She is committed to the world of mental health and actively advocates for its significance being one that is vital to our lived experience. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her partner, Matt and two cats, Sasha and Frank.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Sure! I am a proud Kentucky native, born in the early 1990’s to two teenage parents. As high school dropouts with minimal support and traumatic upbringings themselves, the survival components of the world took hold on my parents rather quickly. Unfortunately, this ensured I was exposed to addiction (in many forms), co-dependency, shame, infidelity, enmeshment, poverty and inconsistent stability. After my younger brother was born, I was then thrown into pseudo-parenting at the ripe age of 5. I often find that people either continue patterns of their upbringing or they do a 180. I was the 180. Despite getting bullied for my second-hand clothes, not having good hygiene and for being boy crazy, I was a great student, child and friend and I always endeavored to learn and grow. Of course, I wanted to help people too. Knowing what I know now, my desire to help others was born in an unhealthy way. As a child, I often felt, and sometimes was, responsible for the feelings of others as it meant safety for me. Once able, I chose to do the crucial work that every therapist must do and can now tend to others in a way that is very much healthy for me and for them.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For by Richard Schwartz

I was gifted this book in grad school and, honestly, it wrecked me. It tore open parts of me that I didn’t know existed and truly helped me understand myself for the complex and protected human that I was made to be throughout my life. I was better able to understand my deep seeded desires for attention (specifically male attention), my disserving hesitancies around sex, my desperate people pleasing tendencies, my unhealthy nurturing side and so much more. It helped me to, not only get to know those parts of myself and where they came from, but to form love for them and engage with them from a compassionate lens. It resonated with me because it threw light on dark parts that I thought were ‘just who I am’. When you realize that you have control of yourself and you can change, it really does make all the difference. To caveat, I don’t usually recommend this book to people just starting their healing journey because it does require a bit of basic self-understanding first and the ability to stretch your thinking in a new way that may be uncomfortable.

Let’s now talk about lifestyle habits that support cognitive well-being. Are there specific foods or diets that have been scientifically shown to enhance cognitive functions?

First off, let me be clear that I am not a nutritionist, I am a therapist. However, I still have some knowledge on this topic and am happy to share what I know and what I’ve learned over the years on how nutrition affects mental health. I tend to stray away from the word ‘diet’. Looking at foods individualy helps to eliminate shame around eating and encourage healthier choices. Vegetables or ‘leafy greens’ we know can significantly improve brain function and particularly help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Berries of any kind but specifically blueberries. Seafood, specifically Salmon, Tuna and Cod, provide high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids which we know is vital for health. This includes brain health (think mental health issues), organ health and cell health. Nuts are another great Omega 3 supplement but also include Magnesium and Zinc which are shown to help with neurological functions and in some studies show improvement in mood.

What are your thoughts on the importance of movement and exercise in the context of cognitive decline? How do different forms of exercise, such as aerobic vs. strength training, influence cognitive well-being?

Research tells us time and time again that movement and exercise help to increase levels of Serotonin and Dopamine. Serotonin helps with the functions of mood, cognition, learning and memory. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps with movement, memory and our pleasure and reward system. Both are vital to our cognitive well-being. It’s important to remember that ‘movement’ looks different for everyone. Consulting with a doctor on what is best for you and your specific abilities can be an important first step. I’m not sure I have the credentials to speak specifically on the difference between aerobics vs strength training. However there are some great studies out there, researched by people with much more expertise than I.

Can mindfulness practices or meditation offer measurable benefits to cognitive health?

As a certified Mindfulness and Meditation teacher, 100% yes it can. People tend to get hung up on the two because of the stereotype that makes it seem you can only gain benefits by being silent for long periods of time. Mindfulness is simply the act of being present with your senses. Being present is the opposite of being anxious. When we focus on our senses, we often become more comfortable in our own presence and can really gauge what we like and don’t like to better inform future decisions that benefit us. Meditation is the practice of being still and taking the role of observer with our thoughts and feelings while noticing and then dismissing judgmental interjections. This practice allows us to be curious about our experiences and, again, better inform our decision making on what is good for us and what isn’t. There is a ton of research on the health benefits of mindfulness and meditation and these practices are often prescribed as therapy interventions for those who are anxious, have depressive symptoms or are moving through any kind of life adjustment. Our brain naturally scans for pain and fear and we will avoid it if we can. Practicing mindfulness and meditation allows us the courage, bravery, trust and resilience in self that is required in order to believe that hard times don’t mean impossible times.

How does the quality and quantity of sleep correlate with cognitive performance and long-term brain health?

Quality and quantity are both important in their own respects. It’s no surprise that we see a correlation of people in lower socioeconomic statuses and increased sickness, disruptive relationships and mental health issues. I view mental health as a systems issue and sleep is a significant part of that system. If our brains are constantly in a state of hypervigilance or survival, quality of sleep gets impacted. If we are over worked, over scheduled, over pressured, and stretched thin in meeting all of the worldly expectations, our quantity of sleep also gets impacted. We can only imagine the sleep hygiene of people in the intersectionality of both. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts physiological needs as the very basic thing we need in being able to be better versions of ourselves. Sleep is listed as a basic need along with food, water, housing and clothing.

How do social connections and interpersonal relationships influence our cognitive well-being?

Brene Brown’s research, among many others, leans into the evolutionary theory that we all crave and need belonging and connectedness. They may even argue it is a basic need. Being supported, having safe spaces to be vulnerable and celebrated are vital for how we feel about ourselves and the beliefs we carry about our potential. Having healthy social outlets and personal relationships gives us just that. Interpersonal relationships is a topic I could discuss at length, and often explore with clients for long periods of time. The COVID 19 pandemic is a great example of our eagerness and desire for social connections and relationships. As the world shut down, we saw an increase in online connection as people scrambled to feel connected, seen, heard and validated in their struggles.

What role do lifelong learning and continuous mental stimulation play in maintaining optimal cognitive health?

Most humans get gratification from being competent, also known as the concept of andragogy. We like to be informed as it helps us to feel relevant and understand the ‘why’ behind what we are getting into. Being a lifelong learner helps open our mindset and dissipate cognitive dissonance. New experiences help to enlighten our outlook, making for healthier conversations and better relationships. When we have a desire for learning, it naturally gives us a sense of purpose and therefore a sense of fulfillment. There is a plethora of research on mental stimulation and its benefits of cognitive well-being, especially in preventing cognitive decline.

What are your five favorite lifestyle habits that proactively support cognitive well-being? Please share a story or an example for each, if you can.

  1. Interpersonal Reflection. Interpersonal reflection may come about via therapy, self-help books, education, group learning, or a life coach. Having a safe place to challenge our thoughts and become better aligned with our values proactively supports cognitive well-being. For example, in therapy, interpersonal reflection may look like better understanding our impatience during rush hour traffic.
  2. Community. Who and where are your people? A Volleyball league, a book club, a knitting group, a woodworking group, volunteering, church group. Being a part of a community gives us a sense of belonging and allows us to live in alignment with our purpose. I believe this is especially important for individuals who no longer work.
  3. Movement. Daily exercise. Whether that be walking, weight training, playing an active video game like Wii or VR, playing pickleball or racquetball at a local gym. Whatever it may look like for you, your bodies need to move!
  4. Nutrition. Gut health is vital. Many people are diagnosed with IBS and other gut related disorders -often this is undiagnosed anxiety. The vagus nerve runs straight from the brain to the stomach. This suggests the importance of taking care of both. High intake of sugary, processed foods tends to have a negative impact on physical and mental health, and often results in us feeling slow and lethargic.
  5. Gratitude Practice- not to be confused with Toxic Positivity. I often talk about the difference between comparing up and comparing down. Many of my clients compare up, always looking at the people who are doing better than them. This keeps them in a place of dissatisfaction about their own achievements. I often encourage individuals to think of those less fortunate than them. This helps to increase gratitude for the privilege we already have. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of society and not be grateful for things like our car, our heat and air, our electricity, our health, our clothes, internet access, etc.

Are there any proven techniques or habits that can help protect against age-related cognitive decline?

Nutrition, Movement, and Purpose.

Again, from a system’s perspective, all these things matter. We know that what we eat affects our ability to feel good. This gives us the energy and motivation to move our bodies and stay aligned with purpose and belonging. Research shows correlative data in decreased happiness and loss of work/retirement. When we build strong supportive habits and systems of support, it makes the transition into retirement easier as we have things in place to continue driving purpose and fulfilment.

In your professional or personal experience, what can be done to delay cognitive decline if the genetic predisposition is there?

Proactive and voluntary health care is vital if you have a predisposition to any health concerns. Additionally, early prevention is going to be key. There is new research that suggests Alzheimer’s may be caused by poorly controlled blood sugar, being sometimes referred to as Type 3 diabetes. Decreasing sugar and increasing healthy nutrition may also help prevent genetically predisposed cognitive disorders.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Dr. Brene Brown. Her dedication to the research and advocacy of shame and vulnerability are staples in my work, specifically in my work with high functioning, highly successful people.

Dr. Nicole LePera. Her dedication to understanding attachment styles and nervous system issues as individuals and in our relationships are vital to healing and cognitive well-being.

Nedra Glover. Her expertise as a relationship expert, understanding interpersonal relationships, specifically boundaries, is unmatched.

Glennon Doyle. She is an active role model for ongoing mental health well being and deeply understands the correlation and/or the causation of childhood family dynamics and mental health issues that impact healthy cognitive well-being.

How can our readers follow you online?


Kayla Clark, LPC- Owner of Be Well Counseling on LinkedIn

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at angelova@rebellious-intl.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.



Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.