EP: 161 The Busy Brain Cure: Healing Stress And Reclaiming Yourself With Dr. Romie Mushtaq

BWW 161 | Busy Brain

 

Let’s start with a quote from my guest, Dr. Romie Mushtaq’s website:

Calling all high-achieving professionals. It’s time to put an end to relentless cycles of stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Umm, yes, please. That gets my attention. I want less stress, anxiety, and rebound burnout cycles. I want more joy, ease, and peace in my life. You know what I’m talking about. It’s our rise-and-grind culture that is killing us. There has to be a better way. And the great news is that Dr. Romie has a tool that will show us how to better manage our stress and heal our brains and bodies. We are not meant to work insane hours Monday – Friday, crash into the couch on Friday – Sunday, only to have the Sunday scaries to do it all again on Monday. Do you feel me? I know you do. There’s a better way.

During my chat with Dr. Romie, we discussed:

  • The story behind her move from being a doctor of traditional medicine to stress management.
  • The creation of her book THE BUSY BRAIN CURE: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again?
  • What a busy brain is.
  • The signs of the busy brain and how it is not an addiction like work or achievement addiction. It’s our brains and bodies signaling to us that healing needs to take place.
  • Dr. Romie’s definition of burnout and why it occurs (and I have to tell you, I loved her explanation of it all)
  • Steps that you can take today to start healing our busy brains
  • And why all of this is important to take into consideration in leadership at work.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Busy Brain Cure: Healing Stress And Reclaiming Yourself With Dr. Romie Mushtaq

I’m so glad you’re here. Everyone, how are you doing out there? Let’s start with a quote from my guest, Dr. Romie Mushtaq’s website, “Calling all high achieving professionals. It’s time to put an end to relentless cycles of stress, anxiety, and burnout.” I feel like a record scratch halted me. Yes, please. That got my attention. I want less stress, anxiety, and rebound burnout cycles. I don’t want to go through burnout again. If you’ve tuned in to the show for a while, you know that, and if you’ve gone through burnout, you don’t want to do it again, either. I want more joy, ease, and peace in my life. You know what I’m talking about. It’s our rise-and-grind culture that is killing us. I say there has to be a better way.

The great news is that Dr. Romie has a tool that will show us how to better manage our stress and heal our brains and bodies. We are not meant to work insane hours Monday through Friday, crash into the couch on Friday, maybe even through Sunday, only to have the Sunday scaries to do it all again on Monday. That sounds like a rat on the wheel. Do you feel me? I know you do. There is a better way.

During my chat with Dr. Romie, we discussed the story behind her move from being a doctor of traditional medicine to stress management, the creation of her book, The Busy Brain Cure, the eight-week plan to find focus, tame anxiety, and sleep again, what a busy brain even is, the signs of a busy brain, and how it is not an addiction like work addiction or achievement addiction. It’s simply that sign that our bodies and our brains are telling us, “We need healing to take place.”

Dr. Romie’s definition of burnout and why it occurs. I have to tell you, as I said on the show, I loved her explanation of it all. It was probably the clearest definition of burnout that I have ever heard. Steps that you can take today to start healing our own busy brains and why all of this is important to take into consideration in leadership at work. Here is more about Dr. Romie.

Dr. Romie Mushtaq is a board-certified physician bringing together over two decades of leadership in neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness. She is an award-winning speaker, working with Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, and global associations. Her brainSHIFT program helps improve mental well-being and also builds a culture of wellness.

Dr. Romie serves as Chief Wellness Officer for Evolution Hospitality, where she scaled a mindfulness and wellness program for over 7,000 employees. Her expertise is featured in the national media such as NPR, NBC, TED Talks, and Forbes. Her first book, as we discuss on the show, The Busy Brain Cure, is being published by Harper Collins in January 2024. You can learn more about Dr. Romie at DrRomie.com, or join the BrainSHIFT movement @DrRomie on all her social media platforms. One more reminder about Brave Women at Work. If you’ve been enjoying the show, please leave a rating and review on either Apple or Spotify. As I always say, I thank you for your support as it helps me continue to get great guests on the show and give you the content that you’re looking for.

Finally, if you’ve been wondering about what career and leadership coaching is, or you’ve been toying around with the idea of making a personal commitment in 2024 to yourself through career and leadership coaching, you can visit my website at BraveWomenAtWork.com and schedule a 30-minute discovery call. On that call, I’m simply going to have a confidential discussion with you about your particular situation, and maybe some hurdles that you’re facing, and we’ll decide if coaching is the right fit for you. Let’s welcome Dr. Romie to the show.

 

BWW 161 | Busy Brain

 

Dr. Romie, welcome to the show. How are you?

It is wonderful to be here with a fellow female thought leader who understands the inner and outer workings of both Corporate America and entrepreneurship. I’m honored to be here with you and your entire community.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. You’ve tuned in to a couple of episodes. You know that I am so about bringing female stories forward, especially founders, innovators, and thought leaders like yourself. People will ask me, “Where do you want me to start, from the beginning?” Wherever you want to start your story. Tell me a little bit about your background story and how you’ve gotten to where you are today.

Thank you. Stop and ask me questions along the way but I’ll start and say this too. I am from a small town in downstate Illinois, the proud daughter of immigrants, and a product of the public education school system here in America. When I was young, I had a label put on me that was destined to make me a failure according to the education system, ESL, English As A Second Language, to which my father walked into the school system and said, “Technically, English is her third language. I have one daughter and she will become a doctor. “

I say that to start in gratitude for my parents and anyone who is the child of immigrants who came to America to build a better life for their families. My father is also a doctor and came to the United States in the 1960s when he was recruited to come here and there was a shortage of doctors. He stayed, understanding that the education and other opportunities here, especially having a daughter, I have two brothers as well, were phenomenal.

You people will read the story of the aunties all throughout The Busy Brain Cure book. My mom and my aunties knew they had two assignments in life. One was to do everything in their power to make sure little Romie became a doctor. The second one was to pray fervently that despite my big mouth, I would marry well and not necessarily in that order.

BWW 161 | Busy Brain
The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again by Dr Romie Mushtaq

That’s so funny.

By all measures of success that were defined to me since I was born, I succeeded. I went to medical school. I became a doctor. I entered the field of neurology at a time when less than 5% of the brain doctors in the United States were women. I loved my job. In addition to seeing patients, I was doing cutting-edge research on epilepsy and the effect of women’s hormones on the brain, and a big advocate for women’s health.

Also, I had no adulting skills. I had no coping skills and walking around, I was in this dark place. We didn’t have a term for a mental health crisis or burnout back then. The only thing I could internalize was, “I’m a failure. How are other colleagues coping and I’m not?” If people have seen my TED Talk that’s now gone viral, I ended up burnt out and ended up in a lifesaving surgery.

I was only 34 years old and understood that nothing I had learned up till this point in life or in medical school was going to help me move forward. It sent me on this global healing journey that you and I will talk about. Here I am now as a successful female founder of The brainSHIFT Institute. We take brain and mental health programs into Corporate America. I am an award-winning keynote speaker, and I serve as a Chief Wellness Officer to a company of over 7,000 employees. I’m about making an impact so that others don’t go through what you and I did in the workplace.

We are sisters in that. I don’t know if this resonates with you, Dr. Romie. I call burnout the invisible wall. I felt like I was driving my car as fast as I could to a wall I couldn’t see. When I hit it, it was there. That’s what it felt like because I did all of the “right things.” As a young child, I did not have a family that told me I was going to be a doctor. Although I don’t know if you were in the US, it sounds like your whole childhood. I love The People’s Court with Judge Wapner. I thought that I was going to be a lawyer.

I was born and raised in the US. I remember. I did too. I was on a speech and debate team and I wanted to be a lawyer. Do you know what my auntie said? This is so awful but at that time, they were like, “You already have a big mouth. If you’re a lawyer, nobody will marry you.” That was the toxic thinking in our culture.

You landed successfully. I ended up in business and you in medicine. As you’re talking about your family, you go through this huge transition and this health crisis. You’ve talked about it and it’s such a blessing that you’re sharing the story. People will ask me, “Why have you shared your story of burnout?” It’s a public service announcement. If I can prevent one woman from going through this, then I’ve done my job. I’m wondering, how did your family react to this? They’ve been guiding you to this pinnacle of success your whole career and then you had to shift. What was the response from your family?

I didn’t leave medicine right away after I had my surgery. My dad and all my uncles are doctors. They all came together and said, “Romie, do you know what the problem is? You’re in academic medicine where you’re not just seeing patients. You have to do research. You have to teach medical students. There are all these pressures. Why don’t you change jobs in the field and go to a community hospital setting where all you have to do is see patients and it’ll be less pressure?” It’s the idea of jumping from one hamster wheel to another.

That was the initial solution all of us thought would work. When you’re burned out or you’re healing from burnout, it isn’t easy jumping from one hamster wheel to another, especially when you wear stilettos for a living, like literally. That’s the key because when people are burned out, they don’t necessarily realize it. We have the busy brain test that we will give you for your audience that people can take for free on my social media. That gives you a brain score.

When people are burned out, they don’t know. They don’t have the internal skills to understand and heal it. We blame our jobs or our marriages, and we leave our marriages or our jobs or both and think that’s going to solve the issue. There is a temporary euphoria of dating a new relationship or singlehood or a new job. All those feelings that you are masking with the dopamine high of something new and shiny, all of a sudden, those wounds are wide open. I call burnout this. It’s that your spirit is no longer in alignment with your life purpose or what you’re doing right now.

I will tell you that it was my spirit first that felt broken or assaulted and the toxic medical system. I still loved my job. The mental health symptoms started and cognitive and I ignored them, and then the physical health. That’s why I’ve been researching this for the last decade of “I don’t like you. I know what it’s like to feel all alone in the workplace and nobody asks you, “Jen, how are you? It’s me, Romie. I’m here and I care.”

Nobody asked me how I was doing. They could see I was suffering, but nobody said a word. I don’t want any of our audience in either one of our communities who tune in to this episode to feel like you and I didn’t see them or hear them. I don’t know what it was like for you when you crashed into your wall. The whole time I was in burnout, despite being surrounded by loving family and friends, I was in a darkness. I felt so alone. The blankets that surrounded me were shame and guilt for failing.

I relate to that. I was confused because I didn’t understand how I had gotten there when I checked all the boxes and I thought I did all the things.

Here’s the thing, you and I are on this interview. I don’t know about you, but I serve high-achieving success-driven professionals to this day. Nobody wants to be told, “Jen, you’re burned out. Eat berries and breathe and let’s look at pictures of unicorns and puppies. Everything is going to be okay.”

I don’t think there is a prescriptive cure. It has to be customized there. That’s another thing.

There is now. That is what I’ve been researching.

We got to dive in then.

I came up with a solution that is both individualized and we can give at scale because we have been giving it at scale to teams who joined the eight-week program. That’s what it is but ask me more questions because there’s so much I want to say to your women audience before we even get into the protocol.

I’ll back up a minute. I didn’t know you at the time, so I’ll tell you some of the things people would say.

Did you get the eat berries and breathe nonsense?

Yes. I got the “eat berries, you have to go to yoga, or meditate more.” I got the shame like, “How did you let it get this far?” My response was, “If I knew I was getting off the rails, don’t you think I would’ve done something about it?”

At least you were self-aware. I had the voice of my judgmental aunties in my brain and I was turning into one of them. I’m like, “It must be nice. You don’t have the job I do. You can go to yoga in the middle of the day. I work fourteen-hour days as a doctor.” That is what was going on in my brain. It’s this anger at myself and judgment going out to others.

By the way, nothing against the yoga and the mindfulness community. I am both a neurologist and an integrative medicine doctor, as you discussed in your opening. I am certified in Yoga, Pranayama, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. All the clients I’ve served individually that were burned out needed something in addition to it. I am that bridge between traditional Western brain science and medicine and Eastern wisdom and global healing traditions.

I love that. You’re right up my alley. I also have nothing against traditional medicine. I want to caveat that, as well as prescription medication. If you need it, I am completely in for it. Go see your doctor. However, I will say this and then we’ll jump into your book. I want to give the title before we jump into that conversation. I was getting prescription medication because I needed it. I had moderate anxiety and depressive episodes. It’s funny how they diagnose you.

They do because you and I went through this about the same time. The World Health Organization didn’t have an official diagnosis of burnout, which they put in the medical ICD vernacular in 2019. Back then, at least they gave you a proper medical diagnosis. Do you know what they said about me?

What?

“This is what happens when you let a woman into the academy.” The boys club. That is neurology and neuroscience.

That is terrible.

I share that not as pity. I share this because I know you come from a finance background. Initially, when my TED Talk went viral and I was doing mindfulness and the brain science of mindfulness programs before we researched this whole protocol in the pandemic, I would still hear this from women in finance and tech, all of the STEM backgrounds that they are still, in the last few years, facing this. Even after the #MeToo Movement, they’re hearing these toxic things in the workplace from men.

It still happens. The reason I brought up the medication is that when I got the medication, I got the script and talked to the person who prescribed it. This person was doing her job, but it almost felt like she was saying, “Don’t feel bad. Do you know how many women or working moms I give antidepressants to a day? It was like almost every woman is on antidepressants.” I’m like, “What?”

Your audience is not seeing a video but one of my eyebrows got raised and my lips curled up. What we’re doing to women in healthcare makes my blood boil simultaneously and it makes me want to cry for the collective sisterhood. This is why you and I are having this blunt, candid conversation from a place of open-heartedness.

Let’s move to your book. the book is called The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again. What inspired you? I was like, “Oh, my God, sleep.” I know you’re passionate. I love it coming through our conversation. Why this book now? Why did you put it out in the world?

Let’s talk. I work in Corporate America talking about stress and burnout. I researched simultaneously because I’m a researcher at heart. In 2018, I was named the first MD, Medical Doctor as a Chief Wellness Officer in Corporate America. I was very visionary of the then-CEO and President and leadership team at Evolution Hospitality.

Not only was I working with individuals like you, high functioning one-to-one, but now at companies at scale. Back then, you were forward thinking if you had mindfulness or resilience programs, then the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, what I was doing wasn’t so unique. Companies from around the world were calling and saying, “We don’t know what to do with this. What is it, stress, burnout, mental health crisis?” I quickly learned that stopping at they are important, but discussing meditation and resilience training, was good for wellbeing. We were dealing with mental health and mental disease and burnout crisis. We started to do the research.

This busy brain test that I’m mentioning is a validated neuropsychology test. It gives you a score and it puts you on a range of, “Are you stressed? Do you have a busy brain or are you in burnout?” It shows you the stress you’re having can have symptoms in your cognition, your memory, your analytical skills, your mood, and your physical health.

The beauty of the pandemic, my whole business had to be reset and done virtually. We went through the pivot, like so many other entrepreneurs did. The beauty of being virtually now was we could put this quiz that I used to hand out with pen and paper online and collect data. Over 17,000 people in our research period took this test. It gave me the symptoms that people were experiencing during stress. Guess what? In addition to, “Nobody wants berries,” nobody needed a Fitbit. There was something deeper going on.

I had time in the pandemic. I’m a socially awkward introvert presenting as an extrovert. Netflix wasn’t my jam. I needed something productive to do at home because I’m a productive entrepreneur. I went back to the psycho neuro immuno endocrinology literature, all the science and medical data. I was like, “What can we do to heal the root cause of burnout?” like you, Jen, I was meeting people that are like, “I’m on an antidepressant, anti-anxiety drug. It’s not helping. I think something more is going on.” Guess what? You’re right. There’s something more going on.

I wanted to research it, build a protocol, and execute it. That’s the eight-week plan known as brainSHIFT that we’ll get to in a second. If you go through these eight weeks, you are now healing or improving, by at least 25%, your burnout score in just eight weeks by restoring your circadian rhythm. Also, we’re on the path to getting you to identify your personal root cause of burnout, which is different than my root cause of burnout. We’ll unpack all of this together. This is what’s in the book, the eight-week protocol.

You and I both have high-functioning people and they’re going to see this big book or this long audiobook. Go to Chapters 10 through 17. It’ll walk you through the week-by-week protocol. Get a copy for your doctor because I want them to run the labs and stop the mental health crisis that’s in America of over-prescribing medications and people drinking alcohol, etc. Have your doctor read Section 2. That’s all the science and leadership stories. Section 1 is your and my story of burnout and describes what a busy brain is.

That’s why I wrote the book now because bottom line in one sentence, what is out there in the market for individuals and in Corporate America is an outdated paradigm talking about acute stress. The way our brains and bodies have been rewired in a post-pandemic world, we need a more updated approach to chronic stress and burnout. This is a researched book and this is exactly what it is.

I’m going to dive in even more. I’ve gotten to the first part of it, but not all the way through admittedly. I’m a researcher so I might go into the science. It might take me some time because I’m not a doctor, but I’m going to go in there because I am excited about that.

Let’s start talking about what is a busy brain and how you know you have one. What do you think?

Yeah. Let’s talk about a busy brain because we keep talking about it, but people need to know. What is that?

A busy brain is redefining the mental health and brain health problems in the United States for some adults. The busy brain is a particular pattern of neuroinflammation or inflammation in your brain that causes these three symptoms, adult onset ADD or difficulty-focusing, anxiety, and insomnia. These are no longer three separate diseases but all one range of symptoms that happen in the brain. I call that the busy brain. When we’re under chronic stress and burned out, some people present this pattern. How do you know you have it, Jen? Let’s go through it together. As an entrepreneur, I still have weeks that this happens. Can we go through that with your audience?

Yeah. Let us know if you have it. Let’s talk about the symptoms.

This is no judgment because I’ve been there. Jen, you got to tell me if you’re there. Number one, you’re like, “Do not talk to me in the morning until I have a venti latte made with oat milk. If the barista gave me skim milk instead, I’m going to be bitter with a capital B for the rest of the day.” It may not be coffee. They’re going to tell you, “Yeah, latte,” but it was three energy drinks instead.

You get to work or your home office in your pajamas and there are multiple screens open with multiple browser windows open and also multiple browser windows open in your brain and you can’t focus. The task that should take you 7 minutes to do, 42 minutes later, is still not done because you don’t know where to focus, so you go get more caffeine. You’re getting low-level to high anxiety to panic attacks now during the day, anxious. You think it’s your productivity or you can no longer keep up with the job and that’s not true.

You tuned in to this fabulous episode with Jen and me and you’re like, “I’m going to stand on self-care tonight. I’m going to go to sleep and do everything Dr. Romie told Jen she was going to do and Jen was going to do it together,” then you let go. You’re like, “I need something to take the edge off. Give me a glass of wine or bourbon or an overpriced supplement from an influencer because I can’t cope with my family.”

You put your head down on the pillow at night and you can’t fall asleep because there are 72 whirring conversations going on in your brain. If you fell asleep, that’s okay but somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 AM, you are wide awake and you’re like, “Let me tackle some emails and get a load of laundry before the kids get up.” That’s a busy brain. Can you say yes to any of them? I’m in the middle of getting ready for a big book launch. I can say I’m having some busy brain symptoms. I’m human.

It depends on the day, but yeah. I’m not a daily caffeine drinker. The one that hit me hardest and I still struggle with is the middle of the night wake up where I’m so busy in my brain that my brain wakes up around 3:00 AM. It was interesting, not to go back too deep into the healthcare system, but people would say, “It’s because you’re perimenopausal.” There’s always an off-ramp, and that could be it. Sleep is a little bit more disruptive probably because of the hormone shifts but I knew it was not that. Mine was the sleep disruption at the height of my burnout.

It was 1 of the 3 most common symptoms we got in the 17,000 people that took the busy brain test, difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and you can’t go back to bed or you slept fine, but you wake up exhausted. Those were the three most common symptoms of a busy brain and burnout. Let’s unpack waking up in the middle of the night and you can’t go back to sleep. It’s deeper than that.

We know that the root cause of a busy brain is our circadian rhythm is disrupted by neuroinflammation. That is the biological clock that not only governs your sleep-wake cycle but the functioning of every hormone system and organ system in your body, including your thyroid. What we find in both men and women is if you’re routinely waking up in the middle of the night with some low-level fatigue or difficulty focusing during the day, your doctor has likely missed a thyroid abnormality that has been under stress because of a busy brain.

BWW 161 | Busy Brain
Busy Brain: The root cause of a busy brain is that our circadian rhythm is disrupted by neuro-inflammation.

 

We break down the brain science of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal access. That is probably the biggest life-changing result we find when in the middle of brainSHIFT protocol when people go get their labs. It can happen with chronic stress, but it also happens that in the United States, 1 in 8 women have subclinical hypo, low thyroidism that’s being ignored by the traditional medical system. “So what if your hair is falling out? Irregular periods? You’re just stressed out. You’re a mom,” like you said. That’s not true. That subclinical hypothyroid needs to be treated.

You don’t wait until someone is in the hospital in a coma or with an irregular heartbeat to treat a thyroid because they don’t get the full lab panel that we give you in The Busy Brain Cure in Chapter 16. We have our corporate partners that’ll check labs for you as well. You have to pay for that in the United States, at least, we have a global audience. That’s the key thing. The other thing we’d look at is your cortisol spikes in the middle of the night, so your circadian rhythm is confused. instead of naturally getting up at 6:00, 7:00 AM with the sunrise, it’s getting up at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 AM. We’re going to lose friends here, but can I be honest?

Yeah. Let’s go.

Another thing is alcohol. I can’t make a diagnosis if someone is still drinking alcohol even if it’s just 4 ounces of wine, 1 beer, or 1 ounce of hard liquor. Alcohol, especially in the face of chronic stress and burnout, will raise the brain temperature in the hypothalamus. It will wake you up in the middle of the night and it prevents you from going into stages 3 and 4 of sleep. Before I can do any labs, I need someone to reduce or cut out alcohol for at least seven days.

I’ve got to tell you this, and I don’t know how I knew it. I just knew I needed to do it. There was not an alcoholism, and I’m not saying that I’m a straight shooter. I knew I needed to cut the occasional alcohol. I knew I needed it out of my life. I wanted to purge it out of my life. I’ve been alcohol-free for four years since burnout, and I feel better for it.

Jen, I’m so proud of you. Even though stopping drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic. Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is a diagnosis like thyroid disease, diabetes, or my achalasia that needs surgery. That should be diagnosed by a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a medical doctor. There’s one thing, whether it’s alcohol, carbohydrates, salty foods, or sweets that we are using to cope with burnout.

Alcohol is what I call a faux anti-anxiety drug. It can temporarily bind to the receptors that need to be activated to calm down anxiety, but alcohol is a faux friend to your brain. It then causes the anxiety receptors to multiply. They’re like, “Hello. Feed me more.” All of a sudden, that’s why you need two glasses of wine instead of one.

Alcohol is a faux anti-anxiety drug. It can temporarily bind to the receptors that are needed to be activated to calm down anxiety. Share on X

When the alcohol metabolizes out of your system, you get what’s known as rebound anxiety. The burnout symptoms feel even worse the next day. It’s also why people get the Sunday scaries or the Monday blues if they’ve been drinking alcohol throughout the week. This mechanism is there. I want people who enjoy alcohol as a part of a social setting or whatever it may be to continue.

However, if you have a busy brain score above 30 in the 7-day sleep challenge in Chapter 11, we ask you to cut it out. If you’re drinking more than 2 to 3 drinks a night, cut it in half and then cut it again so you can do this reset. The idea is if you choose to drink alcohol again, you are doing it because you’re like, “Let me have a glass of wine with this holiday meal or champagne at a celebration. Let me enjoy this beer at a craft brewery with colleagues,” but you’re not drinking to cope with a bad workday.

That is so good. Thank you for giving me more. You’ve given me the most clear explanation of why some of this stuff has occurred. Now I’m even more excited to dive in.

There’s a solution. I wouldn’t give you a solution to walk away with. I am a licensed board at MD. It’s still medical education. Before you do anything Jen and I are chatting about, talk to your healthcare provider. I’m sorry we had to do that legally.

We had to. That’s fine. Talking about addiction, and then I want to talk about The brainSHIFT Protocol. One of the things that I have always wondered about is whether a busy brain is in itself an addiction. Can you get addicted to the cycle or not? In your terms, is a busy brain not an addiction?

Busy brain is not an addiction. We know the three symptoms of a busy brain, ADHD, anxiety, and insomnia, those in themselves have a high comorbid rate, meaning an associated rate of addiction. The SHIFT in The brainSHIFT Protocol stands for the five root causes. S in the SHIFT is Sleep or circadian rhythm. H is hormones, which we touched on. I is markers of Inflammation. F is the Food, and T is Technology.

The only thing that is fueling a busy brain other than alcohol which is addictive is our screen time. Specifically, the touching of the phones stimulates the dopamine reward center that lights up when you have alcohol or crack as well. When you read an email and then you type on your fingers or on your keyboard, those touches light up the dopamine reward center. It says a false sense of control of, “I’m going to knock out three emails and I’ll feel productive.” You’ll have this dopamine high and then you’ll crash and you’re like, “Let me do seven more,” at night. It’s the same thing with scrolling social media. You can’t put it down. You keep swiping. You keep tapping.

That’s helpful. With The brainSHIFT Protocol, does the book over the course of the eight weeks go through the acronym, the brainSHIFT?

Yes.

That’s how it’s formulated.

Chapters 5 through 9 are the SHIFT and we break down the science. In Chapters 10 through 17, we go through the 8 weeks and weeks 1 through 4 in the protocol, if you’re busy and if your brain score is above 30, you are going to do that. Especially if you have difficulty falling asleep at night or staying asleep at night, we ask you to start there if you’re Team I Can’t Sleep. 99% of people who have a busy brain need to go there first.

Weeks 5 through 8 in the protocol are the energy blueprint and how to biohack and get your energy back once your sleep is okay. All of that is covered. The best part and the sexiest part of this book is we’re not going on a diet. In my world, diet is a four-letter curse word. The beauty of this protocol is we not only say, “Eating comfort food is okay,” we invite you. When we run this protocol in public or with teams, the first thing we do in the virtual chat live with my team and me is for everybody to confess the comfort food they ate that week.

Diet is a four-letter curse word. Share on X

The idea is when you tame the busy brain, you stop the stress eating. Instead, you schedule the comfort food. There’s a difference. Comfort food is foods we love that remind us of family recipes, a religious holiday, our cultural identity, ancestry, or a happy memory. You are a foodie and you’re visiting a city, and you can’t wait to try the local cuisine. That’s comfort food. It brings you joy and positive memories. Stress eating is, “I have a busy brain. My cortisol levels are up. My blood sugar level is down. My adrenaline is pumping. My aldosterone is up. Give me the whole bag of potato chips with a bag of chocolate chip cookies afterward to cope.”

I have to ask you this question then. My coping food, I’m outing myself, everybody and I shared it on another show when we talked about gut health, is sugar. A bad one.

You saw my face. Again, we need to be on video because Jen is doing this interview watching my face, and she’s like, “Crap, I shouldn’t have said that.” You can tell, no Botox in my face. Thank you for your honesty.

I’ve been there. With this program, now you’ve cleared it up for me. I knew it, but you’re shining a light on it. I know that with a busy brain, I’m going through sugar. It is not just a comfort food. It is an addictive food.

Thank you for that honesty. In the book, in Chapter 3, people read me as a doctor confessing to my primary care doctor when the chest pain started that I lived on three food groups, chocolate, coffee, and wine. We’ve all been there. There’s no judgment here. Three things I want to say to you are, 1) The waking up in the middle of the night and the circadian rhythm being off, women more than men, but for both genders, that disruption in sleep will create more sugar cravings. We go through it in the science section of the book, but it creates leptin resistance. Ghrelin levels don’t go up. You could eat 1 or 2 cookies or a piece of pie and not feel full and you want more.

2) I am offline. People are going to find this again in Chapter 17 of the book and the appendix of the book. With the audiobook as well, we have a full lab list. Jen, I’m going to send it to you. Please go get your full thyroid panel checked. Intuitively, my brain is craving, “Check your thyroid.” Everything you’re telling me, you’ve been through burnout, you’re craving sugar, and you’re waking up in the middle of the night. Again, this is medical education. I’m not your primary care doctor, but of course, I do this for a living. That would be my suggestion.

3) Thank you because that’s stress eating. That’s, “I need to call my busy brain to cope and get through this interview with Dr. Romie,” and all the other interviews you have lined up or whatever. The difference is in the family of sugars, I love chocolate. Dark chocolate, but put chocolate in any form, I’ll eat it. Chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate in pasta. Whatever it is, I want it, but it’s a comfort food. I’m going to schedule it and be like, “I need some good chocolate this week.”

There’s a big difference. Thank you for that offer. I need to go get my labs looked at again just to make sure. The other thing, and then we’ll come back because I want to talk about how this is all integrated into leadership and companies and why this is important. The last thing on the sugar is for me, I think that sometimes we have a food or a substance we use to cope and we need to cut it out. For me, it is a slippery slope. I’ve been off sugar for a year here and there, and I understand that’s part of life. I can even start with sugarless gum and then before you know it, I’m eating an entire cake. I have a sugar issue that I need to get checked out.

We’re going to stay here because it’s so important. I’m sure so many other women do. The biohacks in weeks 5 and 6 deal with this specifically, but you can’t do it without restoring our sleep week cycle. The biggest mistake people make with women where there may be a hormone abnormality due to chronic stress and a busy brain, whether it is thyroid, adrenal, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, or anywhere in the entire axis is they cut out carbs completely.

You can’t do that. That, in burnout, will make things worse. We never cut carbs out completely. We see these low-carb diets that are strict in the short term can worsen the chemistries and the symptoms of a busy brain. I want to say that it doesn’t mean over time people can’t go to keto or low carb or whatever they’re doing.

You mentioned sugar-free gum. Anything that has what we call the non-nutritive additive sweeteners like Splenda, NutraSweet, and Equal will make you crave 10 to 600 times more actual sugar of what they do to your brain chemistries. We tell people to please switch to Stevia or monk fruit or if you don’t have that choice, I would rather you eat organic raw sugar than Splenda, Equal, and NutraSweet, especially with what we know. Splenda crosses a blood-brain barrier and does awful things. By the way, if anybody from a food company is tuning in to this, please don’t send me any threatening messages on social media. As a doctor in the public eye, trust me, you get it all.

We’re saying no. We’re rejecting that. If I get any, I’m not sending it over to you, Dr. Romie.

We’re going to say we’re here with a different health and wellness paradigm. That’s the idea. That was number two with your sugar. The third thing is we go over the specific biohacks that if you’re going to have white sugar, white flour, white bread, white rice, or white potatoes, you have to separate it from caffeine by at least an hour before and after. That’s the magic thing.

Why all the media is like, “What? She’s got a plan that you’ll lose weight and feel better without going on a diet. Is that brain doctor crazy?” No, I researched it and it works. Try it but you have to go through weeks 1 to 4 of the protocol. First, you have to reset the circadian rhythm and then the cravings go away, I promise. Tell me something sugary you’re craving right now. What’s in your pantry?

It’s Halloween as we’re recording this. Halloween is a problem for any working mom. Anything gummy. Everybody, now, I’m going into it. Swedish fish, all of that kind of stuff.

Mine is the Girl Scout cookies. I stepped onto the National Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts and people sent me gluten-free cookies. I go on out and support the troops. As a hostess gift, people get Girl Scout cookies as gifts from me. They’re always around. Comfort food is, “I’m going to enjoy a few Girl Scout cookies as a treat.” Stress eating is the entire cookie.

What if I said that when you go through The brainSHIFT Protocol, we check your labs, we have supplements, and we recommend that for weeks 1 through 4, you’ll be able to look at that bowl of gummies on your desk and not crave them or say, “I’m going to give myself a reward for getting ten tasks done and have a handful? That’s it. The craving stops and it becomes a treat. There’s a difference.

That is a big difference. I’ll be diving in more.

By the way, I’m saying this lovingly because I was in burnout too. This show is coming out later with your production cycle. It is now officially several weeks after Halloween. That’s pretty much stale Halloween candy. I know because I used to eat stale Halloween candy for a living. At least get fresh candy jam.

That’s so funny. I’ll be around springtime and I’ll be talking to you. Dr. Romie would be like, “I’m still breaking out my chocolate.” Chocolate is not my jam, but gummies or whatever. You’re going to be like, “Give me that candy now.”

To the audience, if you’re doing this now, please can we have an intervention and help Jen get rid of her Halloween candy and send her a fresh batch of gummies? I got you. When I get your email to send you the labs, I’m going to do that as well.

It’s so funny. Let’s wrap up on your protocol. You talk to companies all the time. This is what you talk about as a Chief Wellness Officer. Why is this so important that it’s integrated into us as leaders in companies? This is a big deal.

I say 5 to 10 years ago, workplace wellness programs were a luxury and only the wealthy companies had them. Now, you can’t have leadership without wellness and you can’t have wellness without leadership. Thinking of the well-being and mental health of your employees is a part of running a company and workplace culture. It is now, in a post-pandemic world, demanded by the workers. We saw that. On top of it, the data backs me up. It’s not only our data showing that 82% of people had a score above 30, meaning they’re stressed or burned out at work.

You can't have leadership without wellness, and you can't have wellness without leadership. Share on X

Every year the American Psychological Association does a stimulus study and the rates of chronic stress and burnout are getting worse every year, even coming out of the pandemic. People need a solution. Giving your employees a Fitbit or making them log onto an app to do a class is a nice start and I don’t want to knock it, but you have to measure the ROI. As a Chief Wellness Officer and somebody who measures this with companies for a living and understands, this is why we do this.

I get hired by Fortune 500 companies as a keynote speaker. People take the busy brain test live. They get the protocol now that they’re getting the book as a part of it. We run with companies and now we’ll be doing it with the public too. We run the eight-week program live. You are doing it in the community. Jen, you and I are no longer feeling alone in our burnout stories.

Can you imagine how much easier this program is to get through if you have me and my experts leading you every week, and you’re doing it in a community of other high-achieving professionals who are like, “Jen, I’m like you?” For you, it’s gummies. For me, it’s chocolate, potato chips, or whatever. All of a sudden, when we realize we’re not alone, that’s the first step in healing the spirit, then the mind and the body follow.

I love it. I also love that, we don’t always talk about this at Brave Women at Work, but the idea of the spirit being not the purpose, not being connected to what you’re doing right now. I feel and talk a lot about burnout on the show, but this has been a unique spin. I also think that what you said is at the core of it, that your spirit or your purpose is disjointed from what you’re doing or how you’re living. That also has to be addressed.

It does but I want to be careful with entrepreneurs because there’s the shiny project syndrome and entrepreneurs are now fed this thing of, “If I’m not joyful at all times, I’m not going to do this.” Jen, I love my mission. I am truly, with God’s grace, serving a mission that is bigger than myself. I have a full schedule and I love what I do. There are tasks every day that I have to do that don’t give me 100% joy but it’s a part of the work. As a smart leader, I delegate what I can to my team and we hire out. There are things all of us have to do. I know, in alignment, doing the work it requires to launch this book gives me joy, even if there are all these processes in between that can feel difficult sometimes. That’s the difference.

That’s helpful. The show is Brave Women at Work. I wanted to ask you, what are 1 to 2 ways that you believe women can be braver at work today?

When a woman is blessed with the tenure and the platforms that we have, I’m not going to mince words. You walk into a room, look around, and ask, “Where are the women in the room?” People are going to be uncomfortable because men are uncomfortable. When I say that, I try to say it with a smile. You’re going to hear the term “muh meetha karo.” In chapters 16 and 17 of the book, a Hindi phrase, sweetness in your mouth and sweetness in your life.

Literally, where are the women in the room? People need to be aware that it isn’t enough that there is one woman in the room. I want to say that. What am I doing in my position of leadership and what am I reminding male allies to do? What are you doing to be a sponsor, ally, and mentor every single day? For women who are blessed with our position, that is what I would recommend. I want to have that real talk.

We say it’s lonely at the top and all of that. The second thing to be brave is to have moments like this that I’m going to have with you. This journey of being a woman on a mission can be lonely at times. I am divorced and one of my hopes is I get a second chance at love. When your brain shifts, when you cure a busy brain, you get anchored back in hope.

When you cure a busy brain, you can anchor it back in hope. Share on X

I’m brave to reach out and say that I need other circles of women entrepreneurs or C-Suite executives in my life who can be a safe sounding board for what’s going on for me in the workplace. I’m blessed with my circle of friends. I don’t have children. My closest sister friends are all mothers. I have to be brave sometimes to reach out and say, “I’m sorry. You’re busy being a wife, a mother, and a working woman, but I need a sister friend right now.” Sometimes it can be brave to reach out and say, “I’m lonely and I need help.” Those are two ways I will ask people to be brave.

I love that answer and I will say I’m going to change what you said that you hope that you get a second chance at love to say that you will. You’re an effective personality.

Thank you. As a mindfulness teacher, I see hope differently. Hope is something I deeply desire and hope for. It’s in alignment with my spirit. From there, I make the smart goals, whatever it may be, personal or that because nobody wants to be told what to do by a doctor, by an elder, or whatever. For me, there is science of hope and we need more hope in the world.

Hope for you is not a wish. Hope for you is deep in the spirit.

It’s not wishful thinking. Hope and wishing in the world of mindfulness should not be interchanged. It’s the same in psychology. Hope and wishing are two different things. Hope is something that’s a deep spiritual desire. I am hopeful. I feel that hope. Now you, being my hope holder, because we end the book this way with the hope holder meditation, and we end all my lectures this way, you are being a wonderful sister right now.

We’ve just met but you’re a part of my conscious sisterhood. You’re my hope holder, and you mirror it back to me because I could feel it from your gut saying, “Romie, you will find your life partner.” That’s it. I need those hope holders in my life so that when my light gets a little darker, I’m so busy with being a Chief Wellness Officer, speaking, and launching this book, and my dating life. You, at your core, believe it.

I feel it right now.

I’m getting spiritual goosebumps. Thank you. It’s important for people to have hope. That’s what happens when you cure a busy brain and your brain shifts. You get anchored into this deep place of knowing and hope. You have hope again for yourself and your team. That becomes the actions you take in your life.

What a beautiful way to close this conversation. I’m so honored to have met you and speak with you. Your book again is called The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again. Why don’t you tell us one more round how women can find you and everything online?

Thank you, Jen. I’m Dr. Romie. That is my website, DrRomie.com. @DrRomie on Instagram and LinkedIn. Send me a message with your brain shift of the week and your favorite comfort food and let me know that you tuned in to us on the Brave Women at Work show. I love meeting members of other communities and I’m here for service. In case, Jen and my story of burnout tapped into your spirit and you’re feeling alone right now, I want to end this with the words I wish someone had said to me. Your brain is not broken. Your mind is not a mess. Your spirit didn’t depart your soul. We’re here to hold your hand this time to brain shift.

Thank you Dr. Romie for being here. It’s been a wonderful conversation.

That’s a wrap-up of my discussion with Dr. Romie. This one made me feel all the feels, especially with talking about the cause of burnout, our busy brain, and how we can heal. I hope that this also struck a chord with you and that you found our conversation valuable, educational, and inspiring. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on Google Podcasts or any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up, shift your brain to a state of health, and be brave.

 

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About Dr. Romie Mushtaq

BWW 161 | Busy BrainDr. Romie Mushtaq is a board-certified physician bringing together over two decades of leadership in neurology, integrative medicine and, mindfulness. She is an award-winning speaker working with Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, & global associations. Her brainSHIFT programs improve mental well-being and help to build a culture of wellness.

Dr. Romie serves as Chief Wellness Officer for Evolution Hospitality, where she scaled a mindfulness & wellness program to over 7000 employees. Her expertise is featured in the national media such as NPR, NBC, TED talks, and Forbes. Her first book, “The Busy Brain Cure” is being published by Harper Collins in January 2024. You can learn more at drromie.com or join the brainSHIFT movement @drromie on social media.

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