The Busy Brain Cure | Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Romie Mushtaq

Have you ever felt constantly frazzled and overwhelmed, your mind in a perpetual state of busyness even when you’re not actively doing anything? If so, you’re not alone. In today’s hyper-connected world, many of us struggle to find focus and clarity amidst the incessant noise and demands on our attention. But what if there was a way to quiet that relentless mental chatter and reclaim a sense of calm?

My guest today is Dr. Romie Mushtaq, a pioneering voice in the field of integrative neurology and mindfulness. With over two decades of experience, she has helped countless individuals and organizations build cultures of wellness and harness the power of the mind. In her upcoming book, The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety, and Sleep Again, Dr. Romie offers a practical roadmap for navigating the modern world without sacrificing your mental well-being.

Imagine being able to silence the constant hum of stress and anxiety, to truly be present and focused on what matters most. Through her innovative brainSHIFT programs, Dr. Romie has helped Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, and global associations unlock new levels of performance and fulfillment. And now, she’s here to share her wisdom with us.

So, whether you’re an entrepreneur seeking to maximize your creative potential, a busy professional struggling to find work-life balance, or simply someone longing for a more peaceful state of mind, get ready to embark on a transformative journey.

You can find Dr. Romie at: Website | Instagram | Episode Transcript

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Episode Transcript:

Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:00:00] There’s a particular pattern of neuroinflammation that happens when we’re under chronic stress that affects the hypothalamus, to be exact, the SCN nucleus and disrupts our circadian rhythm. When we are on a path to burnout, three symptoms occur anxiety, adult onset ADHD, and insomnia, and the traditional world of medicine are treated as three separate diseases, and treating one can often make the others worse. It actually turns out this pattern of neuroinflammation leads to all three simultaneously happening.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:35] So have you ever had those times where you felt just constantly frazzled and overwhelmed, like your mind is in a perpetual state of busyness, even when you’re not actually doing anything, if much at all? So if so, you’re not alone. In today’s just hyperconnected world, many of us struggle to find focus and clarity amidst the incessant noise and demands on our attention. But what if there is a way to quiet that relentless mental chatter and reclaim a sense of calm? My guest today is Doctor Romie Mushtaq, a pioneering voice in the field of integrative neurology and mindfulness. So, with over two decades of experience, she’s helped countless individuals and organizations build cultures of wellness and harness the power of the mind. In her book The Busy Brain Cure, the eight week plan to find focus, tame anxiety, and Sleep again. Doctor Romie offers a practical roadmap for navigating the modern world without sacrificing your mental wellbeing. So imagine being able to silence the constant hum of stress and anxiety to truly be present and focused on what matters most. Through her innovative brain shift approach, Doctor Romi has helped fortune 500 companies, professional athletes and global associations, and individuals like you and me unlock levels of performance and fulfillment.


Jonathan Fields: [00:01:51] And now she’s sharing her wisdom with us. So whether you’re an entrepreneur seeking to maximize creative potential, or a busy professional struggling to find work life blend, or simply someone longing for a more peaceful state of mind, get ready to really embark on a transformative journey with some pretty cool new insights. So excited to share this conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.. And excited to dive in. You know, the work you’re doing is so interesting to me on a number of different levels. I feel like we are all wandering through the world right now, and we’re doing this dance of how do we open our eyes in the morning? How do we do this thing called succeeding in life? Oftentimes a big subset of that is succeeding in whatever work we’ve decided to devote ourselves to. We often feel like there’s a tension between the two, which I think is such a fascinating phenomenon. You have this phrase, the stress, success, success cycle.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:02:53] Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:53] So take me into this.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:02:55] Jonathan, thank you, first of all, for having me and honored to be of service. And I want to start in a way that maybe your typical guests don’t start, and that I’m here on behalf of all fellow type, a success driven, high achieving professionals. We don’t want to be told to slow down. Jonathan. This is one great life we have, and especially if you’re living a life on purpose. If somebody else tells us to go with the flow, eat berries and breathe, we’ll probably run over you with our wearable tech and our designer shoes. But I learned the hard way, and we’re going to unpack that in an honest way, that sometimes we get stuck on what I’ve been calling the stress success cycle. Like yourself meeting thousands of high achieving professionals through keynote speaking, executive coaching, all the programs we run that there’s this wiring and process in our brain that somehow we’ve been taught, and you and I come from the cassette tape era of reading in your books. You were the cool guy that probably never noticed me in middle school listening to your Duran Duran tapes.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:00] I was so not the cool guy. So you were not right there 100% not. I was the dork. Off to the side. Like the the. So that was not me.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:04:09] But we would have been great friends. Isn’t it amazing the stories we tell from the books I’ve read about you? It was like he was the cool guy listening to Duran Duran and had fabulous hair. I was with frizzy hair as a young child and in the same dorky corner as you reading encyclopedias, because I was being trained to be a doctor. And somewhere in that generation we learned this awful mantra that became an embodiment fake it till you make it. In today’s world, it still exists. It’s it’s not real unless you have social proof and that social media proof is filtered and shot from the right angle and captioned the right way. And you get enough likes that fake reality. And I want to backtrack and say we can succeed in a goal that is truly in alignment with what we desire and hope for, personally and professionally. But we don’t have to stress ourselves out. So we set set goal. We use Smart goals or whatever systems we’ve been taught at this high achieving level, and there’s a stress that’s pushing us to achieve the micro steps until said goal or achievement is achieved and our personal or professional life. Buying your first home, getting a promotion, submitting a research grant to both of us, releasing a new book, whatever that is, and that somehow we’re forced to keep pushing to that edge of stress or burnout. Because if we do, we get that false dopamine high and we feel good, like I’m striving towards success. And guess what? We get that success and there isn’t true joy, a peace of mind because we’re falling off that dopamine high and we look around and be like, what’s missing? I thought that was the goal. What’s my next goal? And we start to stress all over again the stress success cycle. I’m really here to say that when you heal a busy brain, we come back to a place I want everyone to live, and that is one of having hope and being someone else’s hope. Holder. And when you’re in that place, we succeed without living on the edge of burnout, without stressing ourselves out.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:09] I mean, it’s interesting that you started that by sharing also that, you know, the last thing that certain people want to be told is dial back, you know, like change what you’re aspiring to. And it’s interesting, right? Because we do this dance, I think, and I’m curious where you land on this. I tend to tease out working towards something that is intrinsically meaningful to us intrinsically joy, you know, producing to us and then pouring ourselves into that. And, you know, we can literally open our eyes in the morning and nobody says, you have to go to work today. We’re like, let me at it, you know? And then there’s the thing where you’re working just as hard, but often the thing you’re working towards is some indicia of expectation. This is what I was told success is These are the signposts of it. They don’t necessarily mean much to me, but I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. So you pour yourself into this same, different thing. Now, from the outside looking in, you could look at those two different people and say, they’re just working a ton. They are just all in on this thing. But my sense is the inside is experiencing it very differently. What’s your take on that?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:07:14] You said it so eloquently, and I have been both of those people and week to week, we’re all human. I want to start on the inside and the outside of what we’re projecting in those two scenarios, in the scenario where maybe we’ve been programmed to your point of this is what success looks like from caregivers, from the media. However we define our external world. That’s ego at play that will push us to a stress and success cycle. When we’re in alignment with our internal soul compass, when we heal a busy brain and you and I will unpack, that ego shifts away. You’re really able to say, you know, that was a success mantra that was maybe projected onto me by a mentor, a coach, a parent, a a well-meaning individual that isn’t in alignment with what I truly hope in the world. And when we have that hope, we then have agency, and then we’re able to create our own goals towards that. And so that’s the inner thing of ego versus non ego. And we all go through that balance. But the outside Jonathan how do you know that that person is truly successful or not? I feel blessed to say this. And just from a place of gratitude you and I embody most days. Neither one of us pretend to be perfect, this place of working and what is our life purpose? We wake up in the morning literally.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:08:37] How can I be of service? People are drawn to that energy. I’m that person. I may have my headphones on on a flight coming in and out of a keynote lecture. The person next to me will take off my headphones just to tell me about their day. Right there. Is this something about you? They’re drawn to the energy. Even if they want nothing to do with my neuro neurology, integrative medicine background and research on busy brain. They’re drawn to that because there’s not ego involved. It’s give me some of that joy. It’s contagious. Now when you’re around someone because I have also been that doctor that is just going on the grind and getting to that next goal. I have to submit this research grant. I have to get through teaching these classes. I have a full clinic load today. Your energy repels others. Okay, they’re successful, but something about your energy. You don’t want to sit next to that person. You don’t want to confide in that person. You’re not wondering what’s the secret sauce that they got in life. I want some of that. You’re just like, no, thank you. I don’t know what that is. She’s polished from the outside, but there’s something that, like, I don’t want any of that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:40] Yeah, it’s so interesting. Right? The way that we can pick up on energies, on signals like that. I often call it being a beacon, like there’s something where the internal is aligned with the way that it’s expressed on the outside that you just you show up energetically differently without getting moved. There’s just but there’s we know those people. When you walk in the room, we know when we are those people and we know when we’re not those people also. Absolutely. You know, and there is something about it. But it’s a really interesting thing that you point to that as sort of like this indicator to sort of like, you know, tell ourselves when we are and aren’t in that place or when other people really notice, you know, what is this all coming from? I’m curious also this cycle that you described the stress success cycle. For many of us, it will have the effect of at least in a certain amount of time or over a certain amount of time, getting us to a certain place. What is the downside? Why is this a bad thing for us to step into?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:10:37] I want to backtrack and maybe offer an additional thought to Jonathan. The question you just answered to me. Most of us are programmed that we must stress in order to succeed. I look at I entered neurology at a time where less than 5% of the brain doctors in America were women, and I stressed myself out through every day of internship and residency. Although I enjoyed it. I love brain science. I had outstanding mentors that you read their stories of how an ally and a mentor and a sponsor shows up in the middle section of my book, The Busy Brain Cure. Those leadership lessons. But I thought that was the paradigm. And that’s just one example you can insert any example related to careers or professional or personal goal people have. I don’t think that has to be the way, even if we were programmed that way in society was what if if we just said, I fully have hope in my life, Jonathan, for who I am today? As a feminist, my focus is on young girls in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine from kindergarten to women all the way up in the C-suite.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:11:43] I want all of us to learn the skills I had to learn late in life around mindfulness and emotional intelligence, so that we’re able to go into that internal soul compass and say, what truly do I hope for? What is truly in alignment with me and be able to have the skills to quiet a busy brain and move forward to that goal. And what is the example? How many of us? If you’re blessed to have a young child in your life, your own children, children’s friends, nieces, nephew, or you see famous children on television that have a skill that feels like it is divinely guided. They are so young, yet they have an incredible singing voice, an ability to win a national spelling bee, all the things that is a child that was allowed to succeed without the stress cycle. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have bad days or as adults we have good and bad days. We have days that don’t follow our best laid plans, but we don’t tip to the edge of chronic stress. And we’ll break down the neuroscience in a second of that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:50] Yeah, you’ve used the phrase busy brain a number of times now. What do you mean when you use that phrase?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:12:55] Yeah, Jonathan, it was a term that I coined, an unofficial medical term, but something that I noticed about myself first before I hit the physical symptoms of burnout and ended up in life saving surgery. I literally felt, Jonathan, that some days someone else had a remote control to my brain. Why was it that some days I was focused and executed? My days and other days my schedule was in control of me? Well, it turns out, as I started to research in the pandemic and post pandemic world, the impact of chronic stress and burnout in working high achieving professionals, that a few things stood true. There’s a particular pattern of neuro inflammation that happens when we’re under chronic stress that affects the hypothalamus, to be exact, the SCN nucleus and disrupts our circadian rhythm. Now, this pattern of neuroinflammation is not something new and groundbreaking. I entered neurology in the 1990s. We knew different patterns of neuroinflammation and different parts of the brain caused diseases like Ms. or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. But in the last seven years, cutting edge science with advanced neuroimaging showing us that this area in the hypothalamus involved I to the layperson, I call it our airport traffic control tower. Well, when we are on a path to burnout, three symptoms occur. And I’m here so boldly to tell you, Jonathan, that we in the neurology psychiatry neuropsychology field got it wrong. Anxiety, adult onset ADHD, and insomnia and the traditional world of medicine are treated as three separate diseases, and treating one can often make the others worse.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:14:30] It actually turns out this pattern of neuroinflammation that you and I will unpack in a second leads to all three simultaneously happening. So it is something like, regardless of the 24 hour news cycle or how many emails are waiting in your inbox, you wake up and you’re low energy. Don’t get me started. My personality is not here without a stimulant like caffeine or Ritalin, and you need that to energize. And then you’re feeling low key, anxious or panicked all day. Multiple digital devices open in front of you and in your brain. This adult onset ADHD, or just maybe inability to focus. You try to go and unwind, and the skills that we all are taught to have some semblance of a of a pause in our workday and focus on a personal life and you can’t turn it off. You need a sedative like alcohol to take the edge off. And when you put your head down on the pillow, because we know how important sleep is. You’ve done so many podcasts on it. There’s 72 warring conversations going on in your brain. And the negative, most inconsequential thought is the loudest. And after that, you wake up somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning. You’re wide awake. You fooled yourself to think I don’t need the sleep. Let me wake up at 2:57 a.m., knock out a few emails and ding at 3:01 a.m. you’ve woken up everybody else on your team because you hit reply all. That is a busy brain.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:51] It’s interesting as you’re describing this, I’m thinking this has been me on and off, like and in the not too distant past. It’s funny how you know, you can hear so many of these things, how you can nod along and say, well, yes, this makes so much sense, right? And then you can tell yourself, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I’m going to change. I’m going to say yes to these practices, skills, behaviors, tools. And then life happens. It does. And then you just start to say, oh, I’m back there again. You have some really interesting strategies and tools and a whole process to sort of like say like, let’s get underneath this and see if we can do some rewiring. But fundamentally, the big building blocks that you talk about are summarized in this acronym brain shift, with the word shift being the first initial of the letters of these five different qualities. Let’s walk through each of these and unpack them a little bit. Yeah, we start out with that’s representing sleep. And you started talking about that. But and I think we’ve all become more attuned to how important sleep really is, just in terms of general health and well-being. The context, what that we’re talking about take me into its role.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:16:59] Yeah, I really want to unpack that. Thank you so much for asking. You know, how we came up with this is we took a validated neuropsychology test that has been in existence since the 1970s that measures the direct impact of stress on cognition, mood and physical health. And we relabeled it the Busy Brain test so I could take it into corporate America. 17,000 people took that in our 24 month research period. And that gave me an incredible insight into, well, what is stress in this modern day world and burnout doing to us. But also let’s heal the root cause of burnout, because these superficial tips to your point eat berries and breathe are no longer serving us, and a lot of outdated paradigms that talk about acute stress management. So as I was looking at the root cause, we broke it down into five key areas S is sleep or your circadian rhythm. So as we alluded to it earlier here in the podcast is when that neuroinflammation happens, it actually surprisingly in the chronic stress targets this hypothalamus in our circadian rhythm we see increased inflammatory markers like IL one elevated. And with that a disruption of our circadian rhythm. So one of the most important or obvious functions of our circadian rhythm in an easy way to treat that is moderating our sleep wake cycle. Well, it’s a chicken and the egg phenomenon and the busy brain. Jonathan, isn’t it because we may be addicted on the stimulant sedative cycle, both of them are going to disrupt our circadian rhythm and our sleep patterns.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:18:26] So that’s an external behavior, but internally inflammatory. Think of it as the airport traffic control tower is malfunctioning. The typical things of, you know, sleep when the lights and the sunlight go down and wake up as the sun is rising. Our brains are no longer in harmony with that, and we actually need to reset that. There are serious other ramifications of that’s or their circadian rhythm being off that affect other key areas that kind of build into the rest of the protocol, but they account for symptoms. To break it down into simple terms for the listeners is you could easily be listening to Jonathan and I and saying, look, Romi and Jonathan are easily admitting that they’ve had periods of busy brain or stress, so am I. You’re stressed. I’m stressed. Who isn’t? But then all of a sudden you go to the primary care doctor’s office and they tell you you’ve got pretty severe hypertension, you’ve got type two diabetes. Your autoimmune disease is now in relapse. All of a sudden your menstrual cycles became irregular. And you’re wondering is it infertility or early menopause or PCOS disease. It has serious ramifications under that’s or the circadian rhythm. And so that is kind of the core starting point of everything else we’ll discuss.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:41] Yeah. You know it’s interesting we start with sleep also because in my mind, it feels like the one to a lot of people. And maybe I’m just raising my hand here that often feels least susceptible to really genuine change. And we’ve all heard sort of like the general guidelines about what to do in court, you know, your basic sleep hygiene tools. And maybe some people have tried it, maybe some people haven’t. But at the end of the day, it feels to me like this is one of those things where we feel like we actually have the least amount of control.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:20:12] Thank you for that honesty.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:13] I feel like it gets into this chicken and egg thing. Also, you describe like that person, you know, where you lay your head down, you know it’s 1130 at night and you feel tired, but your brain is saying, nope, not yet.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:20:24] Yep, nope. Tired and wired.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:26] Right. And then it becomes this thing where when you’re still there, an hour later and you’re still up, then you’re starting to tell the story. You’re adding to the spin cycle. Will this ever stop? Will I ever fall asleep? What’s this doing to me? I’m causing all this harm, which then makes it even worse and almost ensures that will never happen. Yes. So it’s, you know, the. I feel like there are these layers when we talk about sleep in particular, where people feel really frustrated trying to actually wrap their head around it.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:20:54] We do. And yet when I was practicing and still seeing patients in the integrative medicine clinic, that was my specialty. People that were coming and eating clean, doing Iron Man’s, doing all the things right, and they were suffering from this. And I will backtrack to step one in the entire protocol, which is please get your busy brain test score. It’s this moment. It’s here in the United States. I know you have a global audience. We have something known as our credit score or credit worthiness. If you’re in any phase of your life wanting a new business, credit card, opening a new business, getting a new car, another mortgage, whatever it may be, you need to know your credit score. Most people do. Yet we don’t know. Our brains score. We don’t pay attention. So sometimes I want to backtrack to this, Jonathan, which is this idea that if I now know my brain score and I have a self-realization, that some of the symptoms that are hindering me from living a good life, a life on purpose, is related to my brain performance. All of a sudden I have hope to fix the sleep. And so it’s dispelled. This woe is me and this negative wiring of nothing is going to help now.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:22:02] So step one is actually self-awareness and healing that self-judgment. Step two is let’s get practical. And that’s why in week seven of the protocol. But we actually send people right away. Jonathan, I actually check labs. I want to look for markers of inflammation. We recommend scientifically studied supplements that can actually, number one, help bring some calm to the neuroinflammation or the hyperactivity of the neuronal state that’s keeping us wired, despite us feeling physically tired and also really help to reset the circadian rhythm. And so between checking the labs and looking for imbalances that may be feeding into it. And number two, some supplements, when we ran over 1000 executives through this eight week protocol in our test period, people that said, I’ll never fall asleep. There’s too much going on at work. We run global teams, with the exception of new parents who had young children that wake up for feeding in the middle of the night, or if you’re a caregiver to elderly loved ones who have, you know, middle of the night arousal things you can’t control. People actually were falling asleep when we looked at our research data. Sleep was the one area that had the most improvement in performance, like a 40% improvement over baseline.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:20] Now that makes so much sense. And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. I want to circle back to the eight week protocol that you developed. But let’s move through these five different elements first. So we start out with sleep. Next up the h in that word represents hormones. Take me there.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:23:39] You know, hormones is a loaded word and the listener is casually. And most people, if we say hormones, have a negative connotation around your sex hormones, unless you’re in a good relationship with your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone levels, that’s actually not what I’m primarily talking about. That same hypothalamus is connected to the hypothalamic pituitary thyroid adrenal axis. The hypothalamus also governs a total of 50 neurohormones and hormones that circulate through the brain and the entire body, Jonathan, that govern every organ function in our body, from our immune system to our GI system, to our respiratory, to our digestion, etc.. The key things that we found, looking at the research that we enumerate, which was eye opening to me, and it shouldn’t have been because this was my problem as well. You could have had your full hormones panel checked and you were feeling fine. If you have symptoms of a busy brain, your score is now trending above a 40, which we start to see trends towards having a busy brain or those neuroinflammation. My biggest concern, shockingly, was the thyroid hormone levels in both men and women. I want to be clear, the data in thyroid disease and men is a little esoteric still, because there’s so much focus on a male’s testosterone levels or giving them human growth hormone around sexuality and weight loss, we’re doing a disservice to men. I think larger research studies are underway, but the research actually shows traditional endocrinology literature that 1 in 8 women in the US has subclinical thyroid disease, either an underactive or overactive thyroid disease. So I’m on the stress success cycle. I have a busy brain on the path to burnout that hypothalamus is now negatively impacting my thyroid disease. And the worst part is, is that we often with a traditional one medical screening test of the thyroid stimulating hormone TSH are missing the thyroid. It’s why it is so important. I discuss in the book for men and women to get a full thyroid panel so that we’re not missing subclinical thyroid, autoimmune thyroid disease. It’s fascinating.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:44] Yeah. I mean, these are fairly straightforward tests. I’m curious why you think they’re not so typical.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:25:50] I personally grapple with this. I, I know we’re supposed to be having a scientific discussion here. Don’t know why I find myself getting emotional, Jonathan, at this point. And I shared the story in the book. Remember when I told you I was doing research in my early career as a neurologist? I was there was a big gap at that time, still is, but at that time, looking at women’s hormones as it related to brain health, specifically migraines and epilepsy. I was reading about thyroid and I was like, God, this sounds like me. My hair is falling out in chunks, that remote control feeling of my brain, and by this time I had never had a regular menstrual cycle in my life. I went to male endocrinologist saying, could you check my entire thyroid? I really intuitively feel like something is wrong here, and fertility at this age is important to me. This was before I got sick and ended up in surgery and they missed it. They just checked the TSH. That’s standard protocol, very old protocol in traditional medicine that needs to be updated that I think those of us in integrative functional medicine are fighting for and why it’s important we have this conversation.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:26:52] They’re covered by US insurances. They’re part of standard lab testing globally. And it wasn’t until I got sick and recovered and found an integrative medicine doctor that that doctor listened. Number one did the full panel. Turns out at age 39, I get diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, get put on the correct prescription medication by an MD licensed MD, and for the first time in my life, had a regular period. And I hear this story over and over again. And by the way, the story is similar in men. They can’t understand why in their 20s or 30s, they’re feeling pretty anxious or irritable compared to the typical man they work with. Maybe a doctor checked their testosterone level, they’re getting pumped full of testosterone and even more anxious. And a thyroid hormone panel was missed. And it turns out why this is so important in a busy brain. Leaving testosterone fertility out of it is that for men and women, when you look at 40% of those that have a subclinical thyroid disease, what are the symptoms? Non-specific mental health symptoms, feeling anxious and I can’t focus.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:00] Which could be misdiagnosed or missed or translate as so many different things without even ever looking at that?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:28:05] Yeah. And you get put on an anti-anxiety medicine, you get put on Ritalin or Vyvanse and the thyroid disease is missed and only becomes worse.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:13] I mean, so interesting. And earlier in our conversation you mentioned anxiety, ADHD. There was one other that you mentioned that are often seen as these three distinct, different things we are seeing. And I’m curious whether the data supports this, at least anecdotally, what it looks like on, you know, I’m seeing more people as adults in their 40s and 50s being diagnosed with ADHD. Is that accurate? Do you know the data on that? Okay, I do absolutely.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:28:36] Let’s break it down. And it’s in the book, in chapter nine of my book, and we break it down in detail. When I first went into neurology and was doing my psychiatry rotations, Jonathan, there was no such thing as adult onset ADHD. If you diagnosed it for the first time in an adult, you could typically backtrack if someone had that ability to look back in childhood or talk to, you know, family members and see that it was missed. We now know, looking at the last decade as we’ve transitioned into primarily digital society as adults for our both work and our personal use, that multi digital device use is actually, quote unquote, to use a layperson’s phrase, rewiring our brains, the structure and the function of our brains that repeated dopamine stimulation of touching a screen. How many likes did I get? Let me check my email. Let me thumb back a response really quickly. Being on multiple screens at once. How many people are binge watching something on Netflix and they have their phone open at the same time, or an iPad, right. A very similar thing. So the data is there and robust. Number one. Number two, we see that not all of these adults were missed in childhood. Typically women more than men because in certain generations, if you were born in the 1960s, 70s, early 1980s, it was boys that were considered impulsive and the inattentive type of ADHD was missed, which is typically in women. So sure, there’s a subsegment of that, but we actually know that adult onset ADHD is a real phenomenon now. My concern, Jonathan, is that we as doctors are overprescribing stimulants such as the Ritalin Adderall, Vyvanse 85% of these stimulant prescriptions are taken here in the United States. And so I do think we’re missing the underlying root cause, the disruption of the circadian rhythm, sleep being one of them, the second one being hormones. And we’re going to unpack the rest of them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:35] I mean, the hormone side is really interesting. As you’re speaking, I actually was recalling somebody I’ve known for many, many years who in school, in college was really struggling, was, you know, good kid, like devoted kid, worked hard. It couldn’t focus. Literally. The mind just spinning all the time would show up for a test and all of a sudden just couldn’t do anything. And thankfully, he was in touch with some fairly forward thinking physicians and who tested. They said, okay, so we’re seeing these cognitive things show up. He’s spinning. He can’t focus. Let’s actually do a thyroid test. And it turned out, you know, he was very I guess it was hyper thyroid. Mhm. Um, so as soon as they they figured that out, they figured out a course of treatment with literally in a matter of weeks. I remember him saying, like, I feel like my old self again, and I feel like that’s looked for more in a kid in his late teens or 20s, because maybe it’s more expected, like this is something we should look at rather than somebody when they’re a little bit further into life. Rather than saying maybe there is something hormonal underneath this rather than something else going on.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:31:38] So yeah, and there’s a movement in medicine, right? I loathed this term subclinical because what it’s alluding to by traditional doctors is your case isn’t as severe enough to land you in the hospital with an abnormal heart rate or metabolic syndromes. Okay, if your hair is falling out, your periods not regular. It’s okay, you know, and men and women are getting dismissed like that. And so there is this movement now. And one of my hopes as I brain shift myself is this lab slip we designed at Jonathan In a way, I wanted to say this was important to me. So you go to the other extreme, which is being able to work with a board certified integrative functional medicine doctor. Those labs are extraordinarily expensive. So I knew I was working with a certain type of clientele that are still privileged to have health insurance. What were the labs that could give us the answers we needed that are covered by most traditional US insurance systems, and that was how we designed this, so that we didn’t want people to feel they were left out of pocket. And we wanted a primary care doctor to look at this lab set and say, I could do this. This makes sense.


Jonathan Fields: [00:32:45] Yeah. I mean, access is such a huge part of this conversation, you know, because like you just described, there are a whole bunch of tests that are available to you through functional medicine, doc, from, you know, integrative medicine that can provide a tremendous additional value and insight, but most of them still to this day, many of them at least are not covered, and they can be almost obscenely expensive.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:33:08] Thousands of dollars, thousands of dollars for the labs, not to mention the fee for the doctor. And this is one of the things I will tell you I’m genuinely proud of that we figured out in the book.


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:18] Yeah, no. It’s fantastic. That brings us to the the AI and the model here, which is inflammation. And you started out earlier in our conversation talking about, use this phrase neuroinflammation more broadly. What are we actually talking about when we’re talking about inflammation?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:33:31] You know, inflammation is a process that should occur naturally with checks and balances in the brain and the body. It’s how we maintain homeostasis. Neuroinflammation in the brain, however unchecked, is not healthy. It will lead to disease. Again we know the genetic and lifestyle things that can lead to diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc. but what was chronic stress doing that literally causing this neuroinflammation? Well, Doctor Romey, do I have neuroinflammation? You know, we can’t just biopsy the brain and look for that. It doesn’t work that way. So we needed other measures or clues. One is your symptoms. Two okay. We can do this neuropsychology test that we’ve labeled the busy brain test. But now you know I’m a doctor. In addition to that brain score, I want to quantify things. What were other peripheral labs that in combination could give me a picture, one that talks to us about inflammation in the body. In the brain is your high sensitivity C-reactive protein. But again, that could point to inflammation in many areas of your body digestion, your immune system, your brain. I really was looking for two key things that I know. One we needed to fix. Two are heavily related to the functioning of your brain properly. Your vitamin D, as in dog D three levels. It sounds a little off base when you hear the word vitamin. I think we mismarketed vitamin D3. It really needs to be the super hormone superhero of your brain. It plays an integral structural part of all 50 hormones of your brain and your body, and structure and function of many chemicals in the brain and processes.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:35:07] And by the way, I’m not giving you anything groundbreaking and neuroscience here. It was in the 1990s. I started in neurology and we knew our Ms. patients, low vitamin D3 levels, schizophrenia. And yet nobody was saying, well, how about if you’ve got run of the mill depression? How about if you want to be a peak performer in your brain? What do we do with your vitamin D3 levels? Now we have that data that is probably one of the most common abnormalities we screen for and find. Even if you’re living in a sunshine state or country with chronic inflammation and stress in the body, the mechanisms of you having an exposure to sunlight and that metabolizing to the correct form of vitamin D3 is stunted. Not to mention, the skin exposure needed in sunlight without sunblock is not recommended because of skin cancer risks in anybody. So what? Vitamin D3 was one of them. And the second one. And then we can unpack. This is your fasting insulin levels and your fasting blood sugar levels. At really important we have insulin receptors in the brain. We know that we can see a blunted or elevated fasting insulin levels and blood sugar levels when there is stress in the brain. So this combination of a vitamin D3 level, your fasting insulin, blood glucose levels, hemoglobin A-1c, and high sensitivity C-reactive protein kind of point me to, hey, we’re looking at a place of neuroinflammation in the brain.


Jonathan Fields: [00:36:29] It’s interesting to, you know, around D3 that it feels like this is one of those things where it both and from what I’ve seen, the data shows that, you know, the vast majority of people, at least in North America, are pretty deficient in this. And it’s so critical in this process can the existence. So we know that the D3 can be in some way preventative. It can help keep inflammation or but does the presence of inflammation in some way affect the way that our we process D so that it will keep us from effectively being able to have enough, like high enough D levels to really be effective?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:37:08] Not in the brain directly, but indirectly. You’ve had many guests before allude to this pattern of neuroinflammation. I just want to double click on it. We can link to those podcast episodes. Here is the importance of a gut brain connection. Again, I go back to the hypothalamus, the airport traffic control tower. We’ve talked about the hypothalamic pituitary thyroid adrenal axis. It also modulates the entire autonomic nervous system and the enteric nervous system, the parasympathetic sympathetic innervation of our gut. When we’re under high stress, there is a plethora of literature that just the chronic stress alone, even if I’m, quote, clean eating, an anti-inflammatory appropriate diet for my gut is disrupting the gut microbiome and that disrupts digestion. So now we’re orally taking a vitamin D3 pill. And it and also if we’re not taking it with a healthy fat, it is a fat soluble vitamin as well. So both things are true that it can actually blunt the absorption and metabolism of that. So that’s kind of why we actually backtrack and say, I wanted you to start with sleep and reset the circadian rhythm. So hopefully there should be some rest in the gut as well.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:21] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You know you also mentioned you mentioned blood glucose level and insulin level and a-1c, which I think a lot of people are starting to become much more attuned to. I feel like that’s it used to be this thing where like, do you feel like, you know, your doctor is like, well, you’re, you know, if you hit a particular number, then you are. We diagnose you as having type two diabetes. Now there’s this sort of like there’s this preclinically diabetic category that is commonly called prediabetes. And I feel like because of that, a lot more people are now falling into this range when they get their labs back and the eyebrows are being raised a little bit, it’s like, wait a minute, so I don’t have the thing, but the physician now has an opportunity to say, yes, but this is a range where we want to do something about it, and we have a window of opportunity to actually address it now. So I feel like the conversation has really expanded around that.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:39:12] So yes and yes to all of those things being very important. But I’m going to also talk about a different role in insulin, a diabetes type three and why it’s important in busy brain. So let me address the first question about prediabetes. This is the as a workplace wellness expert, you know, when I’m thinking of a wellness of an entire organization, there are two things that we’re addressing the mental health crisis. And the other one is this prediabetes diabetes crisis that coming out of the pandemic, the high stress levels, the poor eating, the sedentary lifestyle, all the things we know are now predisposing us to pre-diabetes, that there’s actually concerns that in the adult population, once you get to about after age 32 to 35, 70% of individuals are at risk of pre-diabetes from their lifestyle factors and chronic stress. And this is really concerning. And so absolutely, I think advanced level physicians trained in lifestyle medicine, a family primary care doctor watching these things should be flagging someone at a borderline hemoglobin A-1c level. I look at insulin for a different thing. Jonathan. In diabetes Type three A, defined by the Mayo Clinic. There are separate insulin receptors in the brain. They are really important for modulating the main energy source glucose to the brain. But here’s the thing that happens I am under high stress. I stress eat and eat a high sugary meal. We know what happens with the pancreas. The insulin is released and in response to a high blood sugar of eating, you know, high glycemic food and insulin gets released and it drops the blood sugar.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:40:47] Well, when this happens in the brain, these insulin receptors are now being kind of utilized elsewhere to modulate blood sugar fluctuations in the brain. And over time this will create neuroinflammation in the brain. Their role is to modulate your energy or focus. So set in a simpler way, we eat these sugary meals. In my book I discuss combining it with caffeine the mummy phenomenon from my aunties. You know that a cup of chai should be taken with some sweets or anywhere else in the world. Your morning coffee with a croissant or a bagel or a donut. We can’t do that because that combination of the caffeine binded to the adenosine receptor, and now the triggering of the insulin receptor from a high sugar meal, is actually promoting that neuroinflammation in the hypothalamus and also disrupting your attention mechanisms. Very complex. And so you’re wondering why can’t I focus? Why did my energy go off? I just pumped myself full of caffeine. I got an energy jolt and that. But you’ll see, the quality of your focus is actually reduced, and the valley is pretty low from a dopamine high to a crash. And then what do we do? We give ourselves more sugar or more caffeine. And it’s this keep the cycle going. So it’s actually a almost a completely different metabolic pathway that we’re looking at, at the role of the insulin receptors in the brain.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:11] Yeah. No, that makes so much sense to me. I’m curious also about the role of, um, the relationship between the non nutritionally triggered stress and, um, like glucose levels. From what I understand, even if you hit that point and you don’t say okay so I’m going to go grab some caffeine, I’m going to go have some sugar. I’m going to go have some things where nutritionally now we have a response set, you know like changes our insulin levels which increases our blood glucose. So we have to that even without that, that stress alone can actually raise blood glucose levels and inflammation because that can happen. One of the things that actually can do that as a secondary mechanism is stress hormones.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:42:50] Absolutely. Yes. So I think that’s been well cited, I think prior to the pandemic, that’s actually it’s there as a protective mechanism in acute stress. I use this example in my book is I was raised in the cold Midwest. Acute stress response where you want it to work is if you’re driving a car in the winter and you hit a patch of black ice, you know that acute stress response is going to make me focus to get my, you know, foot off the brake and, and steer into which way the car is swerving. That is acute stress response working in your favor. Think about that protective mechanism of that airport traffic control tower. The hypothalamus is triggering this adrenal response through that hormonal pathway to release cortisol. With that it’s releasing blood sugar. It’s giving energy to my muscles that fight or flight response that needs to work, that was designed to be there for seconds or minutes, not for days, weeks, months on ends and chronic stress response. So now when we’re chronically stressing pituitary, the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal gland, we’re actually constantly pushing out this cortisol that is going to constantly push over our blood glucose levels, constantly pushing out the insulin. So to your point and I said this earlier, you’re running in chronic stress and you’re just writing it off. And all of a sudden you go to the doctor and they’re saying, hey, you’re pre-diabetic or diabetic because your pancreas has been under tremendous amount of stress modulating and trying to keep homeostasis with the stable blood sugar. It gets too low. You could get irritable. You could get even like lose consciousness. You can’t focus. It goes too high. Same thing happens.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:30] Yeah. I mean, it’s so interesting also because it helps explain why somebody who’s sitting there saying, you know, hey, I do all the things I try and eat, right? You know, I do. And they show up and they actually they see the labs and they see these numbers and it’s like, oh, chronic stress can have a huge impact on this. And it’s like, oh, so, so actually I really need to deal with this in a meaningful way, which does bring us to food also, you know, because and this is one of, you know, this is the F in the model that you have, we’ve talked about it a bit, but talk to me more broadly about how this works into the model.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:45:01] This is going to be controversial with a lot of your health and wellness experts that come on, but I’m putting my stake in the ground here is that we don’t need to put the world on another diet cleanse, calorie limiting, tasteless protocol. As high achievers in a busy brain, we actually know when you’re following a rigid protocol, it actually raises stress hormone levels in the brain. Number one. Right. Two, it can feed into a orthorexia eating disorder. Jonathan, you and I both speak for a living, and, you know, it’s lovely. Boost to the ego or, you know, you’re being of service if you get a standing ovation. Only once have I gotten a standing ovation in the middle of my talk. And that was speaking at the American Counseling Association when I was going through the data of this, got a standing ovation from a room full of almost 2000 psychologists who really want this obliterated. But also I talk about the humanity. Now I’m a chief wellness officer, and I want all of our pack members, our employees, to feel like they belong. So does any other company that you and I work with, whether you’re vegan, paleo, a carb lover, a meat lover, a chocoholic, the I don’t know what I put in my lunch bag. It was whatever I could find in the fridge.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:46:13] Everyone belongs at the table, and so we need to be really careful that we’re honoring and make sure everyone belongs. So that was step number one when I was looking at food. Step number two was I feel like food and meals are the sixth love language anywhere in the world. And there are foods that bring us comfort. So much so that at the end of the book I share my Nani, my maternal grandmother’s beloved nanny’s lamb biryani recipe. Other family members share their that I want you to have joy in your life. I want you to feel at hope. How much healing can happen when you eat a food that’s tied to a religious holiday, a family memory, a a trip you took to somewhere special, a child’s birthday party, whatever that is, and be in community that is actually healing for you, even if it’s a quote, bad foods. So I had to find a system that could alleviate this problem in the brain of the adenosine caffeine receptors and the fluctuating blood sugar, and still honor all the traditions. And so we call it the mummy takaro like mummy takaro literally means to sweeten your mouth. And my aunties, if I was being irritable or talking too much when I was young, would give me a piece of chocolate or a sweet to quiet down mummy takaro.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:47:27] It also means to sweeten your words a little bit. If you’re talking acidic, you know, and mummy takaro is if I’m going to have that comfort food and it is a high glycemic food. White sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes. Go ahead, have it. I hope you’re having it. Enjoy. And not stress eating. But then don’t consume caffeine one hour before or after. And if you’re going to choose caffeine, we hope it’s in the morning according to the brain shift protocol, and not after about 12 to 1:00 PM your time, but in whatever time zone you’re in. But then skip the high glycemic food. And what we found in the thousand executives is most of us high achieving professionals, at some time mid-morning to early afternoon, prefer the coffee and not the high glycemic carbohydrate. And by the way, by this time we’re five weeks into the protocol. Most of us have restored our sleep and sense of sanity so that stress eating is mitigated. So if you’re to enjoy a child’s cupcakes and ice cream at the birthday party, you’re not going to sit off and polish the entire pint of ice cream eating your emotions because you’re worried about work the next day.


Jonathan Fields: [00:48:30] I love how you you know, we’ll get into the protocol itself in a minute, but it is. It’s sensible and progressive. You know, it’s sequential saying first this, then this and this, because we need to scaffold the way that you’re doing it, and we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. Let’s loop in the last element of the bigger model though, which is you reference it a bit earlier, which is technology, which is, you know, this is this thing where in the world of addiction, I had a conversation years ago with a friend was saying, you know, it’s when people’s addiction or they perceived addiction, however you describe the behavior towards food is the center of this conversation. It’s a different conversation because food is not something where you can just say, well, just stop doing that. You know, it’s like, just stop eating. Just stop drinking. It doesn’t work that way. You have to do this thing. So you have to figure out how to how to have a relationship with it. I feel like these days, increasingly technology is starting to fall into that category because if you ask so many people, can you live without your device, your phone, your whatever it is, they’ll literally say no. I remember seeing a survey that was asking teens, you know, like, what would you give up? The last thing that they would give, but they would give up almost everything that they valued, that they treasured. But it was their phone. They were like, this is a part of my life that is so central to who I am. So it’s an interesting relationship that we have now.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:49:47] I don’t know if anyone listening is one of the blessed to be at a Taylor Swift concert, the hottest ticket in the world, or any musical concert. I grew up in the era, as you did of record albums and cassette tapes. And I’ll say this, Jonathan, is I can close my eyes and remember the concerts where I was present and I didn’t have a cell phone. I think of my biggest crush in the world, sting, or my very first concert, Whitney Houston. They were decades ago and I can remember the entire set. But these recent concerts where we’re holding up a cell phone to capture the video simultaneously to share on social media or maybe watch later, but we really don’t. You may not have as much of a memory, or that feeling of immersion, of joy, that brain shift, the power of sound healing that we talk about. And digital devices can rob us of that. But to your point, you really can’t function in your workday, school day, even social life without a cell phone, right? Unless you’re like one of my curmudgeony aunties that lives in my forever busy brain and we excuse them that they still want a rotary phone in their home and a flip phone in their life. But really, you can’t do that. And so there has to be a guardrail around it. And when we’re motivated to say this is going to improve my quality of life, my quality of mental health and the performance of my team, well, then all of a sudden we’re a little bit more motivated.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:12] It’s such an interesting moment. You know, like not too long ago, Jonathan Hyde came out with his book, you know, about anxiety and kids related to technology and which created a big stir and a big debate.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:51:21] As it should have. Yes.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:22] And now you’re starting to hear about schools, school districts that are saying not until they’re 16. Like, yeah, like there’s no. And which is an interesting thing, experiment to run because so many kids also their social context is built around the device. So you’re not just saying like let go of the technology and the distraction, you’re saying opt out of this. But the only way to actually do that in in a way that allows them to not freak out is if everybody is opt out out for the same window of time. So it’s so interesting to see the policy developing around this.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:51:56] Now it is. And so first I want to be clear. My research busy brain is around the adult brain. Pediatric brain and development is in the anxiety. Adhd in children is something different. It’s like talking apples and dragons. And even as I look at the medical literature, you know, my research started in 2017. We started to do the protocol and research that in about 2020, and the manuscript went in in its first form in 2022. I say that we’re recording this podcast in 2024. Even in the last 24 months, there’s been a wealth of medical literature and psychology literature that’s come out, that came out post-publication from my book that we just couldn’t enter in. But the key I look at is even if maybe 25 and older, you know, is is what we’re looking at and what I know to be true is, again, I don’t want to take away the joy to your point of food and a comfort meal. There are moments that are appropriate, professionally and personally, that we need our mobile phones. But if we all did a self audit, the screen time that pops up, the amount of time we lost, scrolling through emails or social media, we could be honest with ourselves that we’ve lost that time that could be better utilized in boredom. Yeah, reading a book, something else. And so the brain shifts that we really one I think the science of it was understand that using devices nonstop and playing a video game tap tap tap, social media swipe scroll that’s feeding into the dopamine reward network that is like the addiction system, Jonathan. And so I’m feeding into the ADHD circuit. I’m feeding into the anxiety, not to mention the emotional context of the post. Now I may see a post that angers me or irritates me or makes me anxious, and you may not react. So it’s also personal on that level. So it’s a double edged sword, the dopamine hit, but then the content and the emotions it may trigger. And that’s different for everyone. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:53:56] And the fact that simultaneously so often it pulls us away from the in-person relationships who are right in front of us or next to us that we claim to hold dear. Yes. And yet we’re sitting there like, you know, side by side on a couch, like each with your device scrolling and scrolling for scrolling. And you’re like, what if we just put them down and had a conversation? I actually like this person and I hope they like me. Can we just talk? Yeah, I.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:54:16] Mean, I know it feels like ages ago, pre-pandemic, but I did the first study in 2017. It hadn’t been done to do digital detox outside of a sleep lab. I had been working. I hadn’t been named chief wellness officer yet of Evolution Hospitality at the time. I went to a really forward thinking CEO, John Murphy, and I was like, I have this research idea. Could I tell your employees to shut down their phones 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime? And by the way, I’m going to do all these invasive tasks like, you know, anxiety scales. Look at their sleep, look at their stress. He was so forward thinking, as was the VP of HR at the time. They were like, could you just turn it into a fun wellness activity? You know, while you’re doing the research on the side.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:58] Clinical, more fun.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:54:59] Less clinical, Make it fun. And by the way, so we did 21 day digital detox. And to your point, we saved in that 21 day 500 executives went through it. We saved four marriages or partnerships during that time because people were forced to put down their iPads or their TVs and like, what do we do now? And I remember them reaching out to me and a couple of them, I was like, let’s go to marriage and family therapy counsels for others. I found books, we came up with activities, and I was like, look at that. Rekindling communication and romance with your partner. I mean, for all of you that are blessed to be partnered, please do that tonight. On behalf of all of us singletons you know that are wondering, what’s that like? You know, and, uh, I loved that moment to know it’s that simple to improve a relationship in your life. And by the way, this was a company and still was managing at the time, 125 hotels in the United States and Canada that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And the rule was, look, if there was an emergency at the hotel and the general manager, these leaders needed to be called, you would call them and not text or send an email. And, you know, the data’s in the book and that, but that alone was enough. And by the way, that is the still the most requested wellness activity that that company wants to do. When are we cycling through another 21 day digital detox? Yeah, yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:20] It’s like I need permission to do that. Like give me the go sign. Yeah, it’s so interesting.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:56:24] And we want to do it in community. Right. You know. Right. Right. So that the entire work team is agreeing that I, as your colleague, am not going to text you at a certain point at night over work things that could wait until the next day.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:37] Yeah. So you feel like you’re not being left out or not violating the norms? Yeah. It makes so much sense. So this is sort of like the larger context of the model. And you’ve referenced a number of times during our conversation, a protocol that you have developed over a period of years that kind of walked you through. Okay. So all five of these key elements are built into this protocol, but you do it in a way which is really fascinating to me, which is saying, let’s not do all five at once, because we kind of know that behavior change doesn’t work that way, even though we often try to do that. You sort of say, let’s take two months, let’s take eight weeks, and let’s describe them as micro habits, like, let’s kind of go step by step. Let’s pick the things that make sense to do in the order that makes sense, and go a little bit at a time and build and build and build so that we can eventually feel better. Yeah. Um, take this busy brain and bring it down to a place of peacefulness. Yeah. Take me into the protocol a little bit more. You’ve dropped seeds about a little bit, but. Yeah, give me the the download on this protocol.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:57:35] I wanted to say I created this protocol because when I was in integrative medicine and we would do these 90 minute intakes and I would have this comprehensive plan. And I’m working with a high achieving professional. I remember overwhelming them with everything to your point that you needed to do, and then it creates this inertia of where to start or, you know, confusion and and this. So that was one thing. The second thing was was we’re busy, you know, a busy a term I don’t like productive, full schedules. I didn’t want this to disrupt your personal or professional life. I wanted it to feel so easy that you almost felt like, am I really doing anything that’s going to make impact? And the third thing we learned the hard way was read the book. Great, but get someone to do it. Cohort based learning community, doing it in context with a loved one or teams where there’s competition. It was fascinating to watch the change of dynamics. So that was it. So we wanted to make it easy and do these micro habits that we call brain shift. So we’ve all read the best selling books and you’ve had them on your show talking about Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg or Atomic Habits.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [00:58:42] James Clear. But I said, I want to take it a step further. I’m going to pick the habits for you, and we’re going to research them for you before we go to manuscript. So I’ve given you the menu to do. There’s no other questions asked and there’s nothing else you need to add. So we’re not going to disrupt your life. So that was it. Step one, week one was I want you to get your busy brain test score this replacing self-judgment with self-awareness. What’s my brain score? And I go back to that place of what is my intention? Jonathan? What is it that I hope for from my brain and my body? Because if it is back to that original thing, how we opened in alignment with agency and goals, and I’m saying, here’s the steps to get you to that goal so you have less back pain when you’re stressed or your blood sugars under control for your diabetes. Rekindle romance with your partner at home, then you’re more likely to be emotionally involved. That’s step one. That’s the hardest step, by the way. You get past that. Everything else is cake. Literally. Comfort food.


Jonathan Fields: [00:59:42] No, I love it. What I really enjoyed about the protocol also is that you’re taking people as they are. You’re not saying you need to actually change before you even start this. You’re saying, okay, let’s acknowledge the state of your life. There’s a lot going on, and maybe there’s a lot going on that you don’t necessarily want to say no to, because maybe you’re working towards something that you really do want to make happen, or it’s enjoyable, but at the same time, there is harm that is probably being caused as a part of the way that you’re sort of functioning now. So let’s find ways that are accessible, that are doable, that you can bring into your day, that don’t feel like a burden, don’t feel like another thing that you have to add to your schedule to make it that much more brittle. But you can kind of just nod along and say, well, sure. And I love that. The you know, the what you said, which is that it feels like such a small lift that you’re like, you’re almost asking, could this really make a difference? Like, how could this actually be effective?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [01:00:32] It is the one thing we heard over. And it does, it does. Hair was the best part. So week two we start the seven day sleep challenge and we loved doing it. It with teams. Every company and organization we went to was highly competitive. We gamified it. We gave them points for various cognitive behavioral therapy. We will tell you, most of the people who found success, they partook in the supplement recommendations we gave. Right. It was fascinating because while people were coming back week three to the call, like who won? Who had the most points and I didn’t need alcohol, or I gave up my sleeping pill. The phone call I was getting was from the CEO and the crows. What’s going on in that brain shift protocol? People are happier. Doctor Romie, you know, these two executives or this team that was infighting, and we were going to have to bring in a mediator. They’re all getting along. All of a sudden, the person that was ready to quit is fine. Now. It was that simple and that’s how transformational it was. And so by the time you get to week three, that’s the time we add in step three, Digital Detox 30 to 60 minutes and backtrack. And many people were like, give me the next step. They were kind of bored already, but we did it because that was one of the harder weeks. Jonathan as well, because the first two, three days there literally is like a drug withdrawal from your phone or your iPad or whatever you have. And so we really had to work with people and our coaches had to work with them one on one, like, let’s make an actual list of what are different things. You can see, touch, smell, hear, taste, do that are processing through your senses that will keep you busy.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [01:02:07] So I wash my dirty dishes and I take my senior dog out for a last walk at night, so it’ll keep me away from my digital devices. So that was the example we used. And then week four or step four, I had to find an addition to traditional medicine. Jonathan a meditation. I’m sorry. Look, I’ve been meditating and I talk about it in my Ted talk. It’s made all the difference in my life. But people with a busy brain will say my anxiety or focus is worse when I sit down to meditate. And so step four, we introduced sound healing as a modality and really went into the data of music therapy and the binaural beats. And if you could put this on before you sleep, or if you need to focus on a task during the day for just 20 minutes, the difference it could make. And that’s the first four weeks. And most people had honestly like it sounds unscientific, but I just feel so thankful for the over 1000 of executives that went through this for our research period. Like I and my team were moved for the stories that they were coming back and telling us, and I give thanks to the nine executives that gave us their actual names for the book. They’re like, Doctor Romie, please put my story with this brain shift so that if someone else is a doubter, they will do it. And I just sit here and pause. I too have been in this go, go, go mode with this book launch and my new role and kind of having a pinch me moment of like the impact. And it was so joyful, like it really worked.


Jonathan Fields: [01:03:33] Yeah. It’s amazing. As we start to wrap our conversation, you shared this notion of the stress success cycle, how oftentimes we have this thing called the busy brain, what it does to us, even though we sometimes think that it’s actually doing something for us, Deconstructing all the different elements that go into what’s going on inside of us and how we start to what are the critical building blocks of how we do some using, as you describe in layperson’s terms, rewiring. And then the protocol will certainly, you know, for those who are really curious about the details of the protocol, by all means, like take a look at the book. I think it’s it’s laid out beautifully and it’s doable, which is what I so appreciate. Like, this is not something that says you need to make big disruptions in your life all at once. It says, let’s take a step by step. And the scaffold, it’s like you lay down the scaffolding in a way where behaviorally, the thing that you needed to be in place for, the thing that comes next, you’ve just done so that it makes it so that you’re not fighting against yourself and your own sense of willpower and self-regulation the whole time, which is unusual because we tend to just rush past all that stuff and say, yeah, of course that matters, but let me just get the real stuff that will make a difference. And then it fails. It pretty much always comes crashing down. And so the intelligence, the thoughtfulness behind the progressiveness of the protocol, I just find really compelling.


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [01:04:49] An honor coming from you. Thank you so much. It is received. I want to take a moment and receive that, because this is years and years of research and thoughtfulness, and thank you for that.


Jonathan Fields: [01:04:59] It feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well. So as I always ask at the end of every conversation here in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq: [01:05:12] Um, two weeks before the day we recorded this podcast, I turned 50, and when I was in my early 30s, sitting in the surgeon’s office and they were telling me, do you have disability insurance, Jonathan? I didn’t know what even that meant. The rug had been lifted out from underneath my entire life and hope departed my soul. And today, by living through the suffering and understanding what worked for me and researching a protocol and service to others who don’t feel hope in their lives at this moment because of a busy brain and burnout, I’m cognitively sharper today than I was at 25 when I graduated from medical school. And so when you ask me what is a good life, it is humbly to have been in that dark place, devoid of hope and knowing that there were people that held hope for me when I didn’t have it. And so now, coming and being that hope holder for others and me particularly having hope for all the other busy brains that are out there to say I will hold hope for you and your healing and your best version of dreams of success for yourself as you brain shift. That is what’s living a good life is to be that hope holders for others.


Jonathan Fields: [01:06:31] Mhm. Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you loved this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Light Watkins about meditation. You’ll find a link to light’s episode in the show notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help by Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project 

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