Self-Care Strategies for Calming a Busy Brain
Self-Care Strategies for Calming a Busy Brain

“I firmly believe that energy transfers, and I can't tell my company to meditate daily if I'm not doing a mindful practice myself.”

- Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Elizabeth welcomes Dr. Romie Mushtaq, a board certified physician and neurologist. She talks about her new book, The Busy Brain Cure, which explains her 8-week brain shift protocol for reducing chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout. Dr. Romie discusses implementing mindfulness practices in both personal life and the workplace and highlights the importance of improving sleep quality. She gives some great tips on establishing a daily meditation routine, addressing vitamin D deficiency and measuring markers of inflammation.

    Elizabeth Stein 00:00
    Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth and this is live purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey.

    This week's guest is Dr. Romie Mushtaq, the board-certified physician, and neurologist who brings together more than two decades of leadership in neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness. She's an award-winning speaker working with Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, and global associations. Her brain shift program improves mental well-being and helps build a wellness culture. Dr. Romie serves as chief wellness officer for Great Wolf Resorts. In this episode, Dr. Romie shares all about her approach to curing a busy brain and breaking the relentless cycle of stress, anxiety, insomnia, and burnout, including recognizing the signs and symptoms and her eight-week brain shift protocol designed to alleviate chronic stress and boost cognitive function focusing on five key areas including sleep, hormones, inflammation, food, and technology. We talk about her top tips to shift micro habits, add mindfulness practices to your day, and improve sleep. There are so many great tips in this episode. Keep listening to learn more.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to meet you and spend the next hour together.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 02:33
    Oh my gosh, Elizabeth, thank you for having me. And, most importantly, I thank your listeners for taking the time to put us between their ears. I don't take anybody's time for granted these days.

    Elizabeth Stein 02:43
    Yes, absolutely. We all have a busy brain. And so adding one other important thing is key. But I loved your book. And so I'm so excited to dive into this, I think it's so important. And as an entrepreneur, certainly, as like we've got we've all got this busy brain and whether you're an entrepreneur or not. So many of us are living this way. And I think so many of us live this way. And we kind of think it's normal. So I'm excited to uncover all the details that you have and the protocol to help get us out of it. So absolutely. Well, I'd love to start with your background. And really, what inspired you to become a physician but also then to focus on a more integrative mindful approach?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 03:31
    Yeah, thank you for that question, Elizabeth. As a fellow entrepreneur, I will say I've probably spent my entire life being which is a nice term these days, intrapreneur. But when you're in traditional healthcare, you're really just a pain in the neck to your medical chairman. Always thinking of ways to innovate or bring change. And I was raised a daughter of immigrants and English is my third language. My dad is a doctor and I stayed in this country when he had children knowing we could have a better life and opportunities that may not have been there for us in South Asia, especially as a young woman, I was raised with one success mantra, like success at all costs, which as we have one doctor and you will become a doctor. And it was honestly what I knew. I think if you're a parent today, listening to this podcast, you may shudder a little bit, but honestly, that was just what I knew. The first toy I remember was a neon Fisher Price plastic stethoscope, and it was like my emotional support toy. Like if I didn't go to preschool or kindergarten with it every day, I would like, lose it. So it was just that excellence that seated the foundation of me being a stemness today, and you fast forward and my journey worked hard and with the support of parents and teachers entered medical school and became a neurologist at a time where less than 5% of the brain doctors in this country were women. So really just an honor to serve that. And this thing of success at all costs, wearing stress as a badge of honor or keeping busy. It's not just with physicians is with everyone and I wasn't taking care of myself. And you read about it in the book and just focused on acquiring more labels and titles and success and thinking, that'll give me peace of mind. And it was actually robbing my soul. And I ended up very ill and in life-saving surgery in 2010. And that was when I remember laying in the hospital bed thinking, nothing I've learned in medical school is going to help me now. And through integrative medicine healing me, I realized I can heal others. And it's been a decade-long journey that not only healing myself but doing the research to say, okay, Elizabeth, If I lived through my mess, can I help you and your listeners avoid yours? And that's literally why I'm here today.

    Elizabeth Stein 05:57
    That's amazing. So as part of that, what was the impetus for your learning and starting to get into this topic of the busy brain? Where did that come to light?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 06:10
    So in 2014, I gave a TED Talk that went viral. And I didn't know what viral meant at that time. At that point, I was introducing the concept of mindfulness for stress management, and people may roll their eyes listening to this podcast. But back then there really weren't meditation apps available or yoga studios, ubiquitous on every street corner the way it is. Now meditation and mindfulness are a part of our vernacular, and I'm so excited about it. But as I was working with teams, I started to notice other people were having the same symptoms. I was like, oh, Dr. Romie, thank you for talking to us about meditation today, I've tried it, but I just can't shut down my brain is something going on? And I started to see the same symptoms I was having before I got really sick from and burned out and chronic stress. And I just started to do the research. And it accelerated during the pandemic, when corporate clients started to call and all of a sudden talking about mental health wasn't a luxury in the workplace, it was now a necessity. That gave us an opportunity to actually do research and ask people, the busy brain test link that people can take for free on my website, or social media was what we used in research to see what chronic stress doing to your health and your mental well-being. And we noticed this pattern of the busy brain and busy brain is not about the 24/7 news cycle that you and I are bombarded with, or the endless amount of emails, or the never-ending to-do list as entrepreneurs. And it actually has to do with what happens inside your brain when you're under chronic stress and three symptoms happen. Anxiety, like ruminating, you can't stop worrying about or perseverating on one thing, adult-onset ADHD, insomnia, and those three things together. And that's a busy brain. And that's due to chronic stress.

    Elizabeth Stein 08:01
    As you were saying, there are three things. But what happens in our body scientifically? What's really going on? Oh,

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 08:11
    gosh, such a good question. Thank you. Can I geek out here and tell the real science?

    Elizabeth Stein 08:15
    I totally want to hear all of it.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 08:18
    Thank you. Yay, because I love geeking out. And sometimes I never know if the podcast listeners are like, wait, I don't need a medical lecture.

    Elizabeth Stein 08:25
    I think it's important to hear the why. It helps connect the dots better.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 08:29
    What I want to talk about is a lot of the stress management techniques and tips we see out there on Instagram reels and TikTok is no longer really valid in today's post-pandemic world. That was about the acute stress model, assuming that your brain station and my brain station come back to a calm, rested state. We know from medical literature, that the majority of Americans and quite frankly, people around the globe are living under chronic stress as the set station of their brain. So one little thing happens like I have a work deadline next week. And rather than feeling maybe just a little stressed, it's going to take me over the edge and make someone want to quit their job or give up as an entrepreneur. And that's why I want to avoid that once.

    Elizabeth Stein 09:13
    How do you find chronic stress? Because I think I hear that and be like, well, I'm stressed but I don't have chronic stress. But what does that really mean?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 09:21
    Acute stress means there's something that is taxing you mentally or physically, that's lasting minutes or hours, or maybe a day or two at the most. So the example I gave was a work deadline, or an immediate stressor would be if your child or pet was walking into the middle of a crowded street with traffic. That's an acute stressor. Chronic stress means you are living under undue pressure or something that is taxing you from days to weeks to months on end. So that is where most of us are living when you look at the data and there are changes happening in our brain under chronic stress, that is actually really frightening. So the acute stress model talks about your limbic system and resetting it and fine. But under chronic stress, there was a pattern of neuroinflammation, raised interleukins, in an area of your brain known as the hypothalamus, in the SCN nucleus that controls our circadian rhythm. I call that the airport traffic control tower of the brain. It controls 24/7 your biological clock, not just for sleeping and waking up or a woman's menstrual cycle, but every organ system in your body. So I use this airport traffic control tower as an analogy. I flew in from Chicago O'Hare Airport last night, I was there with my new role as a chief wellness officer at Great Wolf Resorts. And there's a delay on the runway. And that's moderated by the airport traffic control tower and too many planes on the runway, kind of what chronic stress are too many things going on congestion. But see, it's not just a problem in Chicago, it's a problem for any plane that's trying to land or take off. And it's going to cause delays all over the globe. Our hypothalamus is that airport traffic control tower. It is connected to our mood and our memory, but it's also connected to every system in our body. For women, especially our Hormonal Health, our digestion, our immune system, and autoimmune disease. So when you have that busy brain center churning, it's why, Elizabeth, under chronic stress, I have people read my story, digestive systems, symptoms, really brat, other people may have migraines, or get frequent flu or their autoimmune disease flares up, they get digestive indigestion, hormonal hot flashes, they're wondering what's going on. That's what happens when you're under chronic stress to not only the brain but to your body.

    Elizabeth Stein 11:51
    So as you think about these stressors on the body, we're in this chronic state, which maybe some of us identify with, and some of us don't. What causes some of us to feel like we're in this busy brain versus it just perhaps being more acute? Is it our ability to handle the stress? Or is it something that's more scientific than that?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 12:23
    Both. It's your genes, number one. But that's only maybe a small percentage of it 10% to 20%, it's our ability to have optimism or hope. Most of it is not our nature, but it's kind of like how we're nurturing ourselves. And so the same stressor, I'm going to use, you and I are in the same job. And we have the same work deadline to have an end-of-month sales report for our divisions. If I'm new to this company, I've never used the software, it's going to be more stressful for me than you. However, if you have other things going on in the background in your personal life, you're at capacity that may be more stressful for you. So, many factors plan what's going on in all key areas of your life. What is your that leads to your current mental capacity, like how full is your brain really to handle it? And to what is your nature and so I want to really highlight that for a living. I, previously before my role as chief wellness officer, was working with high-performing executives, CEOs, athletes, and celebrities, these people had access to nutritionists, and personal trainers, they were “doing everything right”, you would care for health and stress. And yet they were coming to me with busy brains. So I really want to see that up. How do we know? you said maybe some people resonate with living chronically stressed and they don't. Look, you're talking to a practical brain doctor here, Elizabeth. Even though I practice mindfulness and integrative medicine, I just want to know your score, your busy brain score, and because we all have beliefs, some people delude themselves into saying, no, I'm not stressed. I can handle another family emergency, no problem. But I want a number. And that's why the busy brain test is a neuropsychology scale that you take that looks at areas of your life and how you've been responding to stress and a number over 30 indicates that you're dealing with chronic stress. Over 40, okay. We're looking at a busy brain and over 60 symptoms of burnout and that's a busy brain and that's why I don't want people to just think, gosh, well, maybe Elizabeth has more mental capacity than Dr. Romie or Elizabeth has more life skills. It's a little bit more complicated than that.

    Elizabeth Stein 14:53
    Yeah, absolutely. So when people come to you, do you often find that if they're coming to you to take the test in the first place, they're often at the high end of that testing scale?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 15:05
    When you did the research in our book, we were working with high-performing teams. Largely, this was done with corporate teams in the United States and in Europe. In this test, 82% of people were under chronic stress. So high-performing people that we're doing that and by the way, this correlates with data from the World Health Organization and the 2020 - 2023 data from the American Psychological Association of how stressed are people in the workplace, whether you're an entrepreneur or you're employed, it's the same. And I don't know about you, Elizabeth, as an entrepreneur, but can I have some sisterly real talk with you? There are some days as an entrepreneur, I'm like, nobody told me this is what I was signing up for. It is a 24/7 operation. From what I heard, 17 to-do list items today. And it feels like there's another 17 waiting before bedtime, that feels like an emergency.

    Elizabeth Stein 16:03
    It absolutely is. And here we are. It's Friday, and it's not even Friday, because it never ends.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 16:09
    It never ends. It doesn't. And look, you and I have reached a state of success as fellow entrepreneurs in a circle that we are doing what we can to have SOPs and delegate to team members and all the things that you're taught as an entrepreneur to do, focus on a KPI and measure it and blah, blah, blah, all the things. But yet, here we are on a Friday afternoon, and there are still things to do.

    Elizabeth Stein 16:36
    What was most surprising for you in your research doing the book?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 16:39
    Oh, such a great question. I think it's this and I feel emotional kind of sharing this. I don't mind getting emotional with you. I had such a hard time in my 30s when I was stressed, burned out, and had a mental health crisis. And I felt alone at that time, Elizabeth. And we didn't have terms like mental health or burnout in the workplace. You just weren't allowed to talk about those things. They weren't even defined back then. I had irregular menstrual cycles my entire life that people just wrote off as a high-stress personality. I was doing research on women's hormones in the brain and epilepsy and migraine. I remember going, God, this thyroid stuff that kind of sounds like me, and I went to a male endocrinologist. “No, no, your TSH and T4 are normal. You're just stressed out faculty member.” And I had fertility challenges. And it wasn't until I got sick and integrative medicine and I told another integrative medicine male colleague this was going on, and they did my full thyroid panel, that I actually had autoimmune thyroid disease, and that it got worse from the chronic stress and burnout. And of course, they put me on the right medication and nutrition protocol. Notice I said medication and nutrition. And at 39-40, I had a regular period for the first time in my adult life. So as I was researching the book, Elizabeth, I'm not alone in the story. One in eight women in the United States has this undiagnosed subclinical thyroid disease, meaning a doctor has written off your symptoms thinking, oh, I'm just aging, I'm just a tired mom. I'm just an overworked entrepreneur. And it's actually a hidden thyroid disease. And right there in both chapter 7 of the book and in chapter 16, we have the labs and a full thyroid panel for people to go and demand from your doctor. Demand it.

    Elizabeth Stein 18:47
    Yeah, I think that's really important too. Certainly, there are different experiences but in your experience, the difference between perhaps seeing a regular doctor versus one that's more integrative is also looking at those tests, lens and just being open to whether you're seeing a regular doctor versus integrative really pressing because, yeah, a regular doctor might be, oh, that's fine versus an integrative doctor. Functional Medicine may really look at that. Yeah, more fine, Magnus group.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 19:20
    It is. But Elizabeth, can I tell you what I had to do for this book I'm all for sending people to integrate functional medicine. You and I both live in that world. I also am a chief wellness officer to over 12,000 employees now. Not everybody has access to integrative functional medicine where they live or financially. The labs live we created that you can print out and take to a primary care doctor is covered by most health insurances in the United States. So a lot of fellow colleagues in the integrative functional medicine world are asking me well, you left XYZ off and I'm like, I had to create a panel that traditional health insurance would cover, and I really wanted to make this to reach the masses and that people all over are taking this brain shift lab protocol to their primary care doctors. And they're wondering like, why is this brain shift labs coming up again? Like, who is this doctor Romie? Like, that's my dream and that's why I'm so thankful you have me on your podcast. That's amazing.

    Elizabeth Stein 20:20
    Well, let's talk about that brain shift. So, in the book, you certainly focus on this protocol in order to really shift this busy brain. Take us through what that means. And what are the first steps?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 20:35
    I wasn't going to write this book without finding a cure. And then integrative functional medicine, we believe that getting at the root cause and so you have chronic stress, we've identified it, we've gotten labs, we want to get to the root cause. The brain shift protocol is an eight-week protocol that walks people through micro habits known as brain shifts that you do every week that stack up on each other, to actually heal the burnout and busy brain, like literally start focusing again, literally being able to fall asleep and stay asleep and waking up energized and not needing excessive amounts of caffeine or stimulant medications. And that's what it is. The shift, Elizabeth, and then I'm going to have you dig in and ask me all the questions you want, is an acronym that stands for five key areas that we cover. S is sleep, or your circadian rhythm. H is hormones, primarily focused on the thyroid, but a few others as well. I is marker of inflammation. F is how we use food to fuel ourselves, but without putting anyone on a diet. And T is the role of technology. And so that's what the eight-week protocol encompasses. And not really in that order but sleep is the first foundation. That's key. Rarely do I meet someone who takes the busy brain test and they have a score over 40. And they're saying, oh, I sleep through the night just fine. Their chronic stress has hit the hypothalamus and the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. And they've tried every tip on TikTok, and it ain't cutting it and I'm coming. And so in chapter 11 of the book, we put people right into the seven-day sleep challenge that's based on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.

    Elizabeth Stein 22:17
    Let's dive right into that. Because that is the foundation and I think whether you have a busy brain or not, so many of us have issues sleeping. And just like you said, I think people are searching TikTok to find those solutions. They're not necessarily working. So what do you start with? And what tips can you share about sleep?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 22:34
    So first of all, I want to go back again, is that like, people are tired of the generic tips. And I want to honor everybody's lifestyle. You may be working the second or third shift at night, someone may be listening, and they're a new parent, and they're not sleeping through the night. So we want to be kind to everyone. But literally, we can no longer sacrifice sleep for success. And the other thing is we need to divorce our digital devices from the bedroom as well. Those two things in doing this research at scale were what we found impactful. So over 1,000 executives actually have gone through this protocol and we refined it. So the sleep part we started with, and we gave people micro habits, things that are traditional CBTI like picking a time to go to sleep and wake up every morning, as well as removing work items out of your bedroom if possible. Taking your work desk out, not taking files or your work laptop or things into your bedroom to work at night, anything that triggers work. Even if you carry a laptop bag or whatever, take it out of your bedroom. But then additional Fung Shui tips that I've learned from my Fung Shui teacher, like clearing out everything from underneath your bed. It's disturbing the lifeforce and the energy underneath your bed, and clean sheets every week. So we broke it down into a fun challenge that you can actually do with your entire team. And it was wonderful. In addition to that, and those tips that you kind of work through one by one, there are several of them, we also recommend two key supplements that we thought were the best studied in the literature. And I feel like this is the secret sauce that we're talking about here. One is magnesium glycinate. We're really particular about the research with magnesium glycinate over other types of magnesium that this one can cross the blood-brain barrier. I know you've heard other podcast guests discuss magnesium before, as well as this can help with anxiety and focus. The second one is 5 HTP, 5 hydroxytryptophan, the natural herbal precursor of serotonin that will eventually break down into melatonin. Please talk to your healthcare provider before starting the 5 HTP. I need to say this legally on your podcast because of a board-certified doctor. Because if you need to be careful if people are on a prescription antidepressant You can't combine the two. And in that case, we give l theanine. But really, we prefer the medical literature of 5 HTP, starting at a really low dose of 50 to 100 milligrams. Elizabeth, this all sounds so next-level basic to your listeners. But this is a gentle reminder like, hey, check it out in chapter 11, are you doing those things? I cannot tell you the massive shifts that would happen with our corporate teams that were doing this protocol, both during the pandemic and out of the pandemic, I would start hearing from the CEO or the chief people officer or CHRO, like, what are you doing? Because all of a sudden, people are happy. The people who come to our office and are complaining all the time, stop complaining teams that were in conflict or getting along, like, can you imagine working in a place like that it's amazing.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:47
    It’s amazing. I'm such a huge proponent of sleep and take my sleep very seriously. I'm someone who's in bed by nine o'clock, I relish and know how important it is. But I think it's a really great point that you said earlier that this is so important, it's important for your mental capacity, your overall health, your happiness, etc, if you can go into a little bit about the why behind the sleep, because I think for so many people, you also hear like, oh, I don't need that sleep. And I'm going to be a better founder entrepreneur if I work more hours, and I don't need six hours of sleep at night, which is entirely not true.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 26:25
    Not true. And I really want to address this, I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, and tech founders, who really want to pick up both your and my brains on nootropics. And other things to keep give them energy and focus, those things will not work optimally without sleep. Number one, I just want to talk about that like so then let's dig a little deeper, there's something in your brain that knows the glymphatic system. And think of it as the garbage disposal for clearing out your brain if you're not sleeping fully. That can't happen. And over time, even with chronic sleep deprivation in our 20s and 30s, that’s starting to put lesions in the brain that are associated with dementia, and poor memory. So you can start developing poor memory, even in your 20s and 30s with chronic sleep deprivation. Now it can be reversed. So that's the good news. That's why I wrote the book, we want to fix this. There are four or five other things that are critical for your performance and energy levels of restoring sleep. The other one with resetting your circadian rhythm and having a full cycle of REM sleep. We know when people are sleep deprived, that it will disturb their leptin and ghrelin, so their hunger hormones. And not only does it mean you're going to crave more carbs, or more caffeine to push through the day, but it also is affecting your metabolism and your mitochondria. And so even if you're taking these energy drinks that are healthier supplements, in the sleep deprivation, that disruption of the leptin and ghrelin and other energy hormones, your energy factory in your cells basically is suboptimal and not going to work. And you're gonna be like, well, why did that supplement work for Dr. Romie and not for Elizabeth? It was about the sleep. And the third thing that's just critical for men and women is your Hormonal Health with sleep. We know that sleep is a key foundation. Even if you're in perimenopause, menopause, thyroid, and taking medications and doing all the things with nutrition, if you're not sleeping, that same circadian rhythm that is controlling your sleep is linked directly to your pituitary gland and thyroid and moderating hormones in men and women.

    Elizabeth Stein 28:47
    So once you see that people start taking supplements, how quickly… I don't want to just dwindle down to the settlements, but…

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 28:58
    It's not just the supplements because you can't be part of the supplements. You can't be just popping the supplements and taking your laptop and work till 1 am, and I'm gonna cure my busy brain. No. So it's the whole system, we feel that the fine people feel better in seven to 10 days. That's it. So for teams, we run a seven-day sleep challenge and it becomes a competition.

    Elizabeth Stein 29:22
    We need to have you do a seven-day sleep challenge with our office I think.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 29:26
    I can't wait. I can't wait. Here's the thing. I'll tell you, Elizabeth. And I really want other founders and leaders that are listening to this podcast because both of us have a similar audience. Rewind to when Elizabeth was talking about her prioritizing sleep. Because you do energetically, you are more likely to have a team that's going to prioritize their sleep and energy, and the habits of the leader are infectious to the team. We've just gone through a global book launch. You and I are talking a few months afterwards but I will tell you from October to January 9, my pub date, I was working nonstop. But I knew it was just for a short period of time. I would tell my team members, please take the holidays off, take your birthday off, and don't worry about work. But energetically, we were also invested in that KPI of a successful book launch that because I wasn't doing it no matter how much I told my team, they weren't doing it either. They would take a day off, and they were worried. Oh, my God, I still have to do this.

    Elizabeth Stein 30:29
    Yeah. It's so important. So that's a great segue into mindfulness. And what are some of those techniques that you do personally, but then also that you work with all of your team on?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 30:44
    Oh, my gosh, I love that. So I'm going to answer that question in three stages because I have my team at the Brain Shift Institute. But also you read in the book of my previous role as chief wellness officer at Evolution Hospitality, we scaled a mindfulness program to over 7,000 employees. And that was like with an over 70% adaptation rate. Isn't that incredible? I've left that and I'm in a new role at Great Wolf Resorts, you can still go into our hotels and people start meetings or stand-ups with a mindfulness-based exercise known as the Power of Pause. So my personal meditation practices, my faith, I'm Sufi, so I use mantras with the what is like our, in our culture, this may be too personal, I don't think I've told this in any of the podcasts. But I wake up in the morning, and I use the beads and I recite a mantra, and then I sit in silence. And I find my mind wandering, I come back to the mantra and it's really helpful for those of us like myself, who are prone to busy brains to have something tactile to do in your meditation. So that's my morning practice. That's one thing I do for my mindfulness. The second thing I do is, when someone is talking to me, my team members, colleagues at Great Wolf Resorts, unless it's an emergency, and they're like someone's in a medical emergency come now and I need to run, I practice controlled breathing when someone comes to me in an emotionally elevated situation for 90 seconds.

    Elizabeth Stein 32:18
    What does that look like for you?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 32:21
    Okay, so we're gonna practice this on the podcast right now. Can you just talk at rapid speed telling me whatever entrepreneurial crisis people typically face? I won't go for 90 seconds, though.

    Elizabeth Stein 32:32
    Well, what I want to know is as chief wellness officer, how you would suggest other companies have a program because we all can have chief wellness officers on our teams, what tips can really share around that?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 32:45
    I love that. I think it starts from the top and it starts from the leader and the founder. And then you not only get buy-in from your other leaders on your team, and then the rest of your employees, but you also have them help you build it. That is the key. So if I were to say, here are my prayer beads, and all 12,000 employees are getting it and you're gonna recite the same mantra, that's pushing your belief system or your favorite tool. And by the way, leaders do this all the time. I'm really into Peloton I'm buying everybody on the team a Peloton.

    Elizabeth Stein 33:19
    I got everybody one of those weighted blankets one year for sleep.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 33:23
    Yeah. And it's thoughtful, but then we can't be offended as leaders if somebody's like, WTF like, I didn't ask for this, right? It is. So that's the one thing. If you want to bring mindfulness, it starts with me, and me practicing daily meditation, I firmly believe that like energy transfers, and I can't tell a company to meditate daily, if I'm not having a mindful practice myself, and there are many ways to practice mindfulness and many ways to practice meditation, I'm not going to get into which one is better than the other. Because in the East, people don't have the conversation the way they do in the West. It feels like an ego-based system here when people are trying to say, no, buy Elizabeth's mindfulness program, no by Dr. Rumie's Elizabeth mindfulness program, and I don't want that. So that's one. The second thing is to make a case for it in your business. So for us at Evolution, hospitality, and people who read it in chapter nine, we did it for a few reasons we already had a culture of wellness there and we wanted to believe that helps people reach their full potential as individuals inside and outside the workplace. That was like an overall guiding mission for my health strategy. But individually, we were like, we want everyone to feel like they're part of the team. The introverts, the extroverts, people from different divisions. And then hospitality. They run hotels that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you never roll your day, and we wanted to give people the ability to ground and focus. This idea of first controlling your mind and then controlling the situation. So those were the three reasons we in our entire wellness program started with mindfulness. And our program was called The Power of Pause. And we created a wellbeing ambassador. So this is getting the buying and the building and saying, who's going to raise their hand to help? I'm not going to force people, but who's gonna raise their hand to help? And then there were some gentle please raise your hand conversations, because we, at that time, had before the pandemic 125 teams in the United States and Canada, different hotels. So we had to have an ambassador at every hotel, and you train the trainer. So we trained them, and in that, train the trainer, them how to lead the power of pause, and then let everybody make it their own. And people were so creative with it. So you'd let them build it. And then we had people come and share results right away at our leadership meetings. And I didn't talk about the results. The leaders did, they were like there's always one person that hijacked our morning stand-up meetings with what they were doing on the weekend. And there was always somebody shy. But when we started with the power of pause, everybody was present. People put their phones down, everybody felt like they belonged. If we were having a bad day, and there was a crisis at the hotel, before we went running into the crisis, everyone would say, let's do a one-minute pause together. And it would just make everyone feel calm, and you would start hearing them and all of a sudden, people were like, “Okay, well, give me some of that.” That's it. So the lesson here is, to have a strategic plan, have a noble mission, but have measurable KPIs, and get people to build it with you. And that's how you bring it. I think, too many times Elizabeth, people kind of wellness shame or diet shame each other in corporate America. An example would be like, “What do you mean, you eat me? You're an integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Romie, you should be vegan.” or “Dr. Romie, I just tried keto, you've got to try it. You've been talking about getting those last five pounds off from your book launch tour.” That is what we need to avoid. What do you do in your work with your team? Elizabeth, I would love to hear it because you run a successful business, you are so knowledgeable in functional integrative medicine, and I want to learn from you as a chief wellness officer.

    Elizabeth Stein 37:15
    I would love to have the title of Chief Wellness one day, it's funny because we were just going through a survey that we did at the end of the year to really get feedback from people on what they like and what they don't like as part of the culture. And it's hard to find the things that really resonate with everybody across the board. And so we've certainly tried different wellness activities, and how to get people more involved. But it's certainly a process that is maybe something that we've gone sort of too far in and to your point, like if you just start with something that's a little bit easier, and it's a one-minute mindfulness, it's perhaps an easier way to step into it than being too much.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 38:00
    Wellness activities in the workplace were fun and a trend to do, I'd say prior to the pandemic. People are at capacity with their personal and professional lives. Now often it's like, do I have to go to this yoga class with people I work with? We all have to stop to go do this team-building fitness exercise when I have work to do. As a chief wellness officer, the data I'm looking at that I can give you that we're building out and going to be measuring is about caring and mental wellbeing and mental health. And then build the support systems around that. So if one team member may need nutrition, another team member may need help and sleep the resources are there for them. And that's what I'm finding is helping.

    Elizabeth Stein 38:46
    Yeah, for sure. That's right. We need you to come in and give a talk to your team.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 38:50
    Anything I can do to help? Really Yes.

    Elizabeth Stein 38:55
    So let's get back to one other aspect of the brain shift. So we talked about sleep. Talk a little bit about inflammation, because that's everything.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 39:04
    Yes, yes. Inflammation happens in the brain. I'm not giving you groundbreaking new brain science here, Elizabeth. Looking back in the 1990s. When I started my journey into neurology, we were looking at models of inflammation that led to certain problems in the brain that people have with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. What is new in this book is that for the last seven years, chronic stress alone can cause inflammation and disease in the brain. And so we want to measure in your blood and other markers of inflammation because I can't just go in and biopsy your brain and be like, has it inflamed in your hypothalamus? Like, that's just not possible. Maybe one day. You never know with brains getting going. So really wanted to look at the downstream markers of inflammation that happen when you're in chronic stress. So I really want to highlight this for the audience. Two years ago you were doing fine, but you take the busy brain test now. It's time to go get your labs even if they weren't normal a year or two ago. Things change. We talked about the hypothalamus the airport traffic control tower and inflammation that goes from the brain to the rest of the body. What we specifically measure for the busy brain, which is anxiety, ADHD, and insomnia, all wrapped into one, are these markers of inflammation, what are your vitamin D as adopt D3 levels? Number one, I want to know, what is the blood sugar in your body and brain doing so we look at fasting insulin, and hemoglobin, one senior fasting glucose sugar levels in the brain. And the last thing we look at is methylation disorders. Those were the three key things I found. Now look, you go to an integrative functional medicine practitioner, and someone can afford it. And there is a whole host of other labs. But I kind of felt like these were the three key areas to glide on to and address.

    Elizabeth Stein 40:53
    Are you surprised to see how many people are typically low in vitamin D? I was surprised for myself when I did.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 41:00
    it is. And what I'm surprised about, one, is how often it happens. I even in Florida in the Sunshine State. It's just everywhere. And we know with chronic sleep deprivation and chronic stress, your vitamin D levels can drop. There may be problems with the metabolic pathway absorption from skin in the gut, all the things and it's all in the book. But I think what else I was surprised with where people were like, what? I signed up for your eight-week protocol, just to be told about vitamin D is really that simple. No, what really, that's all you're telling me in the book? And I'm like, really, if you did this just one thing. And what's happened now is when we run this live program for eight weeks with corporate clients, or in the public, which we'll do at some point this year, my team that are not medical doctors, they're all experts in graphic design and tech and operations, they even can guess now I bet that person has a low vitamin D. It's just that obvious with that cacophony of symptoms and what they come and says, related hormone issues, like all the things and then people fix it and they leave our eight-week program and as to normalize vitamin D3 levels, minimum, three-month process. And then all of a sudden, we're getting this email back is life-changing. You weren't lying. The only thing I held on to from the a-week protocol was taking my vitamin D. And I can focus again, I'm happy again. That is definitely both of them. But I think it's now overcoming how simplistic it feels to people.

    Elizabeth Stein 42:41
    Yeah. What's the biggest sign of a vitamin D deficiency?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 42:46
    I can't give you that because I'm talking from a place as a brain doctor, right? So you're going to have any one of these hormone experts and they're going to be talking about the hot flashes perimenopause, adrenal fatigue. And for me, I think when I see either busy brain anxiety, difficulty focusing, or people in a brain fog and depressed that too, I'm like, run. Vitamin D3. Run. And I want people to get levels because they're going to be like, Oh, Elizabeth, just tell me what supplements to take. No, we need a level that's the responsible thing to do.

    Elizabeth Stein 43:17
    We're gonna move into some rapid-fire Q&A. Three things that you're currently loving.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 43:30
    I'm at home with my senior dog Raja. He's 17 years old and time is precious.

    Elizabeth Stein 43:37
    What kind of dog?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 43:38
    Bichon Frise. So, that is it. Matcha, hot and hot matcha. Lattes have just been a source of comfort for me through this whole book launch and they're staying for my energy. And the last thing, girl, my sleep. Let me sleep. Try not to book Romie on a red-eye flight. Let me sleep.

    Elizabeth Stein 43:59
    Oh, I will not do that. Favorite words to live by.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 44:05
    To know even one life has breathed easier because you have succeeded from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I found the poem Success when I was in the fifth grade and it's become my guiding north star.

    Elizabeth Stein 44:17
    Love that. Three favorite pantry staples. And since we didn't talk about food, maybe you can…

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 44:27
    I'm going to do that. I'm going to give some of my favorites from my Indian kitchen because it's really important that I don't promote the traditional diet culture that we often see in functional integrative medicine because I'm the chief wellness officer I want inclusivity so one of my favorite pantry staples is dal in the Indian culture. It's the red lentils. And then basmati rice is another favorite pantry staple. And then I'm just going to lump them all into one, my Indian spices from the Indian grocery store like there is just comfort even if I'm making Western food, I use cumin or Tumeric or lots of garlic, girl, lots of garlic.

    Elizabeth Stein 45:11
    Love it. I didn't realize actually how high cumin was on the ox scales. It's one of the top highest antioxidant foods.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 45:19
    Yes, yes.

    Elizabeth Stein 45:21
    So put more of that on all your food. A favorite book or podcast for growth.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 45:30
    It’s going to sound really basic. But the first book I read on January 1 Every year is Paolo Coelho’s, the Alchemist. Someone gave it to me when I was going through a divorce. And it reminds me to just check in on my purpose and my path. It makes us stop. Written beautifully in the way of a fable. And a lot of people don't know that it honors a lot of the Sufi wisdom in there.

    Elizabeth Stein 45:57
    Well, there's been so many people on this podcast who have said that that is their favorite book. And I read that many, many years ago, and I feel like I need to reread it.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 46:04
    Okay, when I come to visit your team, I'm going to bring you a copy of that.

    Elizabeth Stein 46:09
    And lastly, and I think I know the answer to this already, but what's your number one non-negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq Dr. Romie Mushtaq 46:17
    Okay, we've already talked about sleep. So I want to talk about a new one that I have on my wellness journey as an entrepreneur who's also serving a corporate C suite role, as chief wellness officer is saying no as a full sentence, or no thank you as a full sentence. No, thank you, Elizabeth. I'm not available for that meeting. No, thank you. I can't join you for dinner tonight. And that has been key to preserving my energy.

    Elizabeth Stein 46:49
    Any tips that you can share about being able to say that I'm sure you weren't always in a place where you could do that.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 46:55
    No, you read my book. And I'm so glad you asked. Because I come from a people-pleasing culture and women aren't supposed to speak up. I pause and do that 90-second breathing and listening again. And if I'm feeling nervous, and I don't want to say no to you, I say can I get back to you? So that I can understand. And I think it's really before someone even approaches me. We guard my calendar. I know my priorities and work and my KPIs. I know that I don't have to pick your brain calls anymore. We have certain SOPs in my business, that make it easy for a team member or me to say no. And if I go through something and it feels bad, it becomes an SOP so that we're not going to do that again.

    Elizabeth Stein 47:39
    Great advice. Well, in closing, what is next for you? And is there anything else you haven't shared that you want to?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 47:47
    What I want to share with everyone is why I wrote this book and it was so important for me, Elizabeth to come on this podcast is in today's world where so many functional integrative medicine tips are available and great podcasts like yours are on social media, they're still suffering that can happen and burnout and busy brain and you can feel alone and I just want to end and tell every listener what I wish someone had told me when I was hit rock bottom. Your brain has not broken, your mind is not a mess, and hope has not departed your soul.

    Elizabeth Stein 48:20
    Wonderful. Dr. Romie, thank you so much for being here. Everyone, go get your book. And where can everybody find you?

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 48:27 and you can go to my website or find me on LinkedIn and Instagram.

    Elizabeth Stein 48:34
    Amazing. Thanks so much for being here.

    Dr. Romie Mushtaq 48:37
    Thank you, Elizabeth.

    Elizabeth Stein 48:38
    Thanks so much for joining me on live purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoy today's episode, don't forget to rate subscribe, and review. You can follow us on Instagram at purely underscore Elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.

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