Curing the Busy Brain to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety, & Sleep Again with Dr. Romie Mushtaq

About this Episode

On this episode, Dr. Amy and Teri are joined by Dr. Romie Mushtaq, a board-certified physician with more than 20 years of leadership in neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness. She’s here to talk about the subject of her new book, “The Busy Brain Cure,” which includes an 8-week plan to help adults regain their focus, alleviate raging anxiety, and get better quality and quantity sleep.She’s getting into the details about everything from healthy fats and thyroids to digital detoxes and a culture that has left so many of us overwhelmed, exhausted, and struggling to think clearly. Tune in to learn more about the latest discoveries into taming our busy brains!

About Dr. Romie Mushtaq

Dr. Romie is a board-certified physician bringing together over two decades of leadership in neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness. She is an award-winning speaker working with Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, & global associations. Her brainSHIFT programs improve mental well-being and help to build a culture of wellness. Dr. Romie serves as Chief Wellness Officer for Evolution Hospitality, where she scaled a mindfulness & wellness program to over 7000 employees. Her expertise is featured in the national media such as NPR, NBC, TED talks, and Forbes. She is the author of the book, “The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again”.

Connect with Dr. Romie


Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn: @DrRomie

YouTube: @DrRomieMushtaq

Buy her book:The Busy Brain Cure: The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety & Sleep Again

Take the Busy Brain Test:

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Read the transcript for this episode:

DR. AMY: Hi, smart moms and dads. Welcome to another episode of the Brainy Moms podcast brought to you today by LearningRx brain training centers. I’m your host, Dr. Amy Moore, joined by my cohost, Teri Miller. And we are coming to you today from Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

TERI: Hello. Good to see you. 

DR. AMY: Teri and I are super excited to welcome our guest today, Dr. Romie Mushtaq. Dr. Romie is a board-certified physician bringing together over 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 programs improve mental well-being and help to build a culture of wellness. Dr. Romie serves as chief wellness officer for Evolution Hospitality, where she scaled a mindfulness and wellness program to over 7, 000 employees. Her expertise is featured in the national media such as NPR, NBC, TED Talks, and Forbes. And her first book, “The Busy Brain Cure; The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety and Sleep Again” is just out and she is here to talk to us about the busy brain. Welcome, Dr. Romie.

ROMIE: Oh, thank you so much. Dr. Amy, Teri, honored to serve your brainy moms and brainy dads that are listening. And I don’t take any of your brain time or actual time for granted. So thank you to all of them for listening to us.

TERI: Thank you. Yeah. Thank you for being here. Hey, I’m going to just ask a crazy question because if some of our listeners Google you, I wonder if they’ll have the same experience. When you Google Dr. Romie, on my page at least, the first thing that pops up is musical artist.

ROMIE: Oh, my God.

TERI: Got a picture of you and underneath it, it says musical artist. So I’d like you to tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and what brought you to your research and your book on the busy brain. And why does Google say you’re a musical artist? 

ROMIE: Teri, that is AI failing forward fast. We have been trying to correct it for two years. If I were to start to sing on this recording, Zoom would shut down and iTunes would refuse to upload your podcast. So why it thinks I’m a musical artist, I don’t know. My father and mother would be mortified. And if they hear this, because when I was born, I am the first-born child of immigrant parents and have two younger brothers, my dad had one success prayer mantra intention for me and my mother and my aunties executed. And that was, “I have one daughter and you will become a doctor.” So musical artist is far from my background in STEM. I greatly admire musical artists. That is just not in my DNA and genetic code. How about you? Are you, do you have any musical inclinations, either one of you? 

DR. AMY: Yeah.  Yeah.

TERI: We actually, we actually both sing. In fact, when we’re hanging out together, we generally turn on music in the car and we sing together. 

DR. AMY: Teri’s a dancer too.

ROMIE: Oh, very cool. You know, I admire you both greatly that you work in a clinical space and have developed that music artistry side. That was just something that did not happen in my world. Yes.

DR. AMY: Well, I think we, we were the opposite. We were creatives before we were clinicians and scientists. So, I think because we realized, yeah, that doesn’t pay the bills. So.

ROMIE: Well, no, but you know, in today’s world, so I just stepped onto the national board of directors for the Girl Scouts and STEM is a large initiative was, or as we say STEAM. Really, we know in brain studies, and this is kind of off the topic, but I think really important for parents to know is, one, as you’re tracking your children, if you have parents like mine in a field of in science, technology, engineering, math or medicine, that the creative arts are crucial for brain development, especially in an analytical field. So really hats off to you all.

DR. AMY: When I’m working on a scientific article, I actually will go play the piano for 20 minutes kind of to just jumpstart  the way that I communicate right and then I’ll come back into my office and go, “Okay I’m ready to write.”

TERI: Yeah I think this is this actually is interesting coincidence but I think this will actually probably intertwine pretty well as we get into talking about your book, because I think that sometimes the arts, for me, dance and music is a way that, honestly, in my life right now, it’s probably the only way that I can finally let my brain unplug from the chaos and stress and busyness. And I take a dance class once a week and it’s my time to breathe and unplug. So interestingly, your musical artist designation there has brought up some good topics, but for our listeners, if you’re Googling her, she’s not a musical artist. We go, that’s the truth.

ROMIE: And if any of the listeners have an inside scoop at Google. I’ve even spoken to them and we’ve not been able to correct it and you know how to fix it. Please let us know. We would be so thankful as would my mom and dad.

DR. AMY: All right. So we usually like to start our show just having our guests talk a little bit about how they got involved doing what it is that they do. And so you were a neurologist working in a hospital setting. So talk a little bit about how you decided to transition from this traditional medicine role to really the idea of managing stress in the brain. Talk to us about that. 

ROMIE: You know, I can give you a clinical answer, but just something in my heart is saying a listener needs to hear this. I remember walking through the hallways of the hospital where I was working, not only as a doctor seeing patients, but doing cutting edge research on the role of hormones on women’s brain, especially in epilepsy and migraines and teaching medical students. And we didn’t have these terms back then in the, in the 2000s, but, you know, now we will say it was a mental health issue and burnout. Back then I just felt so alone and in a really dark place and saying I was depressed, didn’t feel like enough. Something was wrong, But the worst part was that loneliness and, Amy and Teri, you know, the worst part was not a single colleague asked me if I was okay. They noticed that I wasn’t myself. And they were gossiping behind my back because the EEG texts and nurses were telling me and then I was struggling with the sleep deprivation, which so many of your parents can relate to. This is not just a doctor problem. You know, I hadn’t slept a full night in 14 years from medical school, internship, fellowship, my clinical career. You know, I’m a neurologist. We were awake all the time. And when a pager wasn’t waking me up, my busy brain was waking me up in a panic that I had missed a page. You know, and for the younger parents that are listening, a pager preceded cell phones. So, and my aunties looked at me as I, the stress took its toll and I ended up very physically sick and on my way to life-saving surgery. And it’s in my Ted talk and we’ll include that for your show notes, but this was their diagnosis: “It’s as if the lights are on and nobody is home. What happened to our little Romie? You were so happy as a child. We would send you to read an encyclopedia, give you chocolate. You were so happy and bubbly, always talk, talk. The lights are on and nobody is home.” So like, if there is somebody in your life that fits that description, the lights are on and nobody’s home, this is why I’m here today. It wasn’t just me. I was laying in the hospital, recovering from surgery, realizing nothing I learned in medical school is going to help me move forward. And it took eight years for me to journey through my mess so I can help you with yours. That now we’re in a burnout mental health crisis in the workplace, I know this is a chief wellness officer and companies calling me to consult and work with them. And I mean, my sisters, I’m going to tell you, ain’t nobody want to listen to “just eat berries and breathe and here, watch an Instagram reel of puppies hugging on babies. And you’re going to feel better.” We need a solution. And. Not only did I find my solution and realize, wow, there are other women and men that can benefit from this. Then we researched it, which both of you I know appreciate it. Then I realized the busy brain cure is real, busy brain is real. Then I had some ideas of the protocol. We tested it in over a thousand executives and refined it. And now here we are with the busy brain cure. I hope to disrupt two sectors, the mental health sector, traditional neurology, psychiatry, psychology world, which I know both of you really appreciate, as well as disrupting workplace wellness. And we need to get it right. So nobody feels like they’re alone in that dark place.

TERI: So I want to, I want to interrupt and say workplace wellness. If you’re a stay-at-home mom with kids, that is your workplace. And everything you just said, I’m just like fighting back tears because I think probably a good, I’m going to say, you know, three quarters of our listeners, they’re going to nod their heads to everything you’re saying, and they’re going to say, “My brain is so busy. I’m exhausted.” And it is not just workplace, out of the home workplace moms. So, please hear that clearly.

DR. AMY: So I was reading your book and Teri’s talking about holding back tears right now and I thought, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do this interview.” Like really did not know if I was gonna be able to have this conversation with you because I just went through a week of, you know, 16-hour cortisol DHEA testing last week. Like I’ve just had every hormone tested. I’ve had right, like every test you could possibly run because my brain is not working the way that I want it to work and something is happening, right? I know I’m stressed. That’s why I said, “Let’s test my cortisol levels.” But as I read it, I thought, “Oh, this is me. Oh yeah, that’s me too. And this is me as well.” So it was half relief, right, to look at this and go, “Oh, wow! There might be a solution here for me.” But then also half shock at the realization that I’m this close to burnout. 

ROMIE: Well, here’s what I would say to that. I remember sitting in the surgeon’s office and you’ll read this in chapter three and four of the book. And I’m no longer the doctor that my mom and dad so proudly raised. I was sitting there bawling like a little girl who had lost her Fisher Price stethoscope, you know? And my mom and dad didn’t know how to console me and neither did the surgeon. And I’m in my young thirties, and they’re talking to me like, “You know, we’re going to need one surgery, maybe two, three more. Do you have disability insurance?” And I broke down and I wish somebody had said to me what I’m going to say to you both right now and to the listeners, especially the moms who are working inside the home and need a lifeline: “Your brain is not broken. Your mind is not a mess, and your spirit did not depart your soul. Like, really, here, Amy, Teri, and I, Romie holding hope for you, and take our hands and let’s brain shift together.” That’s why I wrote this book. 

TERI: Will you tell us what is, what is a busy brain? We described that to our listeners.

What do you mean by that?

ROMIE: Yeah. The busy brain is me calling out our traditional community of neurology, psychiatry, psychology to say, “Hey, my fellow colleagues, we got it wrong. Adult-onset ADD, ADHD, anxiety ,and insomnia are not three separate disorders.” When you’re chronically stressed and burned out, which how many parents, or even if you’re not a parent and you’re a caregiver for elderly loved ones, and then how many of your listeners are doing both—that sandwich generation and you’re chronically stressed and burned out and you think this is the norm. And what happens is you’re stuck on the cycle of needing stimulants all day; coffee, energy drinks. If that fails, doctors are overprescribing stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Some people need it, but not everybody. And then you’re anxious all day. So then you need wine or alcohol or a prescription sedative, like a sleeping pill or anxiety pill, to take you off.

And it’s making it worse. So “busy brain”—and clinical terms for the clinical folks listening—is a specific pattern of neuro inflammation, inflammation in the brain. And what I call the “busy brain center,” the limbic system and the hypothalamus that’s disturbing the circadian rhythm, the biological clock of the brain, and you’re stuck in the cycle of difficulty focusing and anxious thing all day, and you’re wired and you’re tired and you want to fall asleep and you can’t shut down racing thoughts when you go to bed at night, or you wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Ooh, I’m wide awake. Let me just get a load of laundry done before the kids get up.”[GU1] 

DR. AMY: I love how you turned “anxiousing” into a verb. Yeah.

ROMIE: Yes. Yes, it is. It is from feeling anxious to full on ruminating anxiety. And if one more woman gets written off as “you’re just hormonal, you had a baby,” or maybe “it’s menopause early. Here, have a Xanax.” That’s why I am here screaming loudly on your podcast. Like as a woman doctor, as two female colleagues and clinicians yourself, like what can we do to stop this crisis? 

TERI: This is so good. This is so important. I think Amy and I are both like, “Uh, this is for me.” This is actually—

DR. AMY: Right. Well, I think it’s for me and everyone listening, right?

TERI: Exactly.

ROMIE: And I’ve been there, but I’ve been there. So this is no judgment. It’s not just the doctor who did the research, but I’ve lived it and said, “Hey, please listen to me. Something is wrong.” You know, I was confessing to you all before we started this podcast interview. You know, we’re on a podcast tour for my book launch. This was the one podcast I was nervous to come on because I was like, y’all, “I’m not a mom.” And you read the heartbreaking journey and chapter four and five is I had this guilt and shame around fertility and as a doctor I’m taking care of female patients and doing the research going, “Is something off with my thyroid? I’ve never had a regular menstrual cycle my entire life.” They gave it all sorts of other names and diagnoses and “Oh your TSH is normal” and it wasn’t until I got sick and I finally went to an integrative medicine doctor before I did my own board examine in it. At 39, they diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. They give me the medicine and supplements for it and it was the first time I got a regular menstrual cycle. And that’s tragic. And if we can save any other listener from being there, like, I want to be here to help. 

DR. AMY: All right. So let’s talk a little bit about attention and, you know, other cognitive skills that are impacted by this busy brain trend.

ROMIE: Yeah. You know, Dr. Amy, you and I were talking, we came up in training about the same time, as did Teri. Back when you and I were training in the brain sciences, adult-onset ADD or adult-onset ADHD was not recognized. They said, “Hey, if you have it as an adult, it was probably because it was missed as a child.” Now you look at the medical literature—and I want to make it clear, it is a real thing that you could have been fine in childhood and all of a sudden you’re like, I’m having difficulty focusing to paying attention. Attention is your ability to focus, like opening the book and reading it and keeping attention despite there being, you know, Amazon ringing the doorbell and dropping a package at your front door. And now all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, let me go fold laundry. Oh, wait, there’s a box at the door,” right? “Oh, let me check my Instagram feed to see who liked my last post.” You know? That attention is real. And we know it’s real for two reasons: this busy brain, the chronic stress in the hippocampus, is affecting a part of our brain, the default mode network that’s critical for helping us to keep pay attention. So chronic stress is doing that to us. Our circadian rhythm is off. We’re not sleeping. And then let’s talk about how different our lives are today. I mean, I’m not going to age anybody else on this podcast, but I’ll age myself. Like when I went to school, it was all really thick textbooks that were heavy to carry, like the ones behind Dr. Amy on the shelf right now during the video interview. Right? And Dr. Teri too. And now, because we’re on devices all day long and multiple devices, it’s rewiring our brains as adults. And that is leading to this feeling of, “I can’t pay attention” and it feeds anxiety and it becomes this awful loop that feeds the busy brain. Have you seen this in both of your practices?

DR. AMY: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, and I think in ourselves as well. But I, you know, I like I’m an ADHD warrior and so I like, I get it. And I was one of those people who thought, “Yeah, you’re an adult. So if you didn’t show any signs or any struggles, you know, before now, then obviously there’s another explanation, right?” And so I love that it’s being recognized now as adult-onset, because then we take it seriously and, you know, we say, what do we need to change or what do we need to do? So you talked a little bit about the hippocampus and so that’s where, you know, memories are stored and coded, right? So we know that chronic stress actually shrinks the hippocampus, right? Talk a little bit about that. What’s the mechanism there?

ROMIE: Well, I think what’s more important that for busy brain and not really talking about memory, that’ll come later, is when we talked about the limbic system before the pandemic and acute stress, you would be given advice that I used to give in my lectures about meditation and mindfulness and exercise going to the dance class. And it would reset the brain back to calm and, you know, stop the, you know, sympathetic overdrive and the chronic stress. But what’s happened and we see in not only my research, but the research that’s been out there, is since the pandemic, we’re living in this chronic stress world at psychological capacity. So one little thing like your child knocking over something that is glass and shatters, will absolutely push you over the edge. When normally you’re like, what’s wrong with me? I would have been calm about that six months ago. And what’s happening there is, we know at a chronic stress level, there’s now chronic neural inflammation and BDNF, brain deprived neurotropic factors, no longer being released to stimulate kind of the garden of your hippocampus.

DR. AMY: Miracle Grow.

ROMIE: Yes. You know, and that it is like growing and now it’s shrinking because it hasn’t been fertilized or given love or given water or given sunshine. But what’s even more critical in the busy brain or in chronic stress and burnout is the connection now to the hypothalamus and the SCN nucleus, which drives our circadian rhythm. And I think this is where scientists are going next year. You’ll see a lot of things trending on longevity and people talking about circadian rhythm. I’m back 10 steps saying, wait, we need to reset our circadian rhythm from chronic stress and burnout. [GU2] And the chronic … the hippocampus, for people that don’t geek out on brain science like the three of us on this podcast right now, I call it, you’ll read in chapter one, your “airport traffic control tower of your brain.” And you read the story of Delta airlines, one of my corporate clients, giving me a tour behind the scenes of operations at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. I was like, this is just like the brain. And that, you know, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, if there is a storm that comes through there, it’s not only planes that are now delayed or can’t land or take off in Atlanta, but they’re tied to the global airspace and flights as far as London and Hong Kong and in Brazil start getting delayed or cancelled almost immediately. The body and the brain work the same way. Our busy brain center, that hippocampus through the hypothalamus and the back, the loop feeds an entire global network in our brain to your question, Amy, that feeds memory. It feeds cognition, our ability to process things. It feeds our mood and sleep cycles. But also our entire body through a hormone system.

So your digestion, your breathing, your lungs, your immune system. So you hit this point of chronic stress and burnout, it’s why maybe if the three of us all have a busy brain and we take the busy brain test and we have high scores, all three of our symptoms may show up a little differently. 

DR. AMY: Well, Teri and I were just talking about that before you signed on. So I took it first. I scored a 58 and I was like, “Whoa, that’s really high!” Then Teri took it and she scored like a 78 and I went, Whoa, that’s—

TERI: 71.

DR. AMY: 71. Sorry. 71.

ROMIE: 71. Yeah, ok. We’ll give you those seven points.

DR. AMY: 71. But she even said, Teri even said, “But the manifestations of that chronic stress show up differently for us. They show up differently in my body.” And so, you know, I have chronic pain and neuropathy and digestion issues, right? Like it shows up physiologically for me and it’s showing up mental-health wise for her emotionally for her.

ROMIE: Thank you both for sharing it. And for me, it’s my digestion, right? So in the TedTalk, you hear, I had achalasia and I was very young in the most severe case they had seen and had precancerous lesions, Barrett’s esophagus, that needed to be resected. And I was like, you know, for me, it’s digestion. So, you know, now when I’m stressed, my team knows because I’m having difficulty swallowing or choking on my saliva, the symptoms come back up. So for me, it’s also digestion and sleep will show up. Right? And so, yeah, the patterns can show up differently, but if you backtrack a few steps, it’s that triad that people tend to push through thinking, “I’m just stressed” – of difficulty focusing to add anxiety and difficulty sleeping. We see that pattern. And then as your score gets higher, so the busy brain test—we’ll put a link for free in the show notes, people can take it—is a validated neuropsychology test that we had to rename the Busy Brain Test to go into corporate America. And I did research for two years, almost 17, 000 people took this test while we were doing virtual events, talking about stress management. So it gave me clear insight as to higher your score was the more likely you were to have certain symptoms. [GU3] And then how do we backtrack in this eight-week program and help you drop your score by the end of the eight weeks. But more importantly, feel better that you’re focusing again, that you’re sleeping through the night, that everything’s that’s happening to you as a working mom, whether you’re in the home, out of the home or both, you can now feel like you’re back in control.

TERI: So, we’re talking about, yeah, this, the busyness in our brains and the onslaught of all this information and all that’s happening in our world and how that’s impacting our brains and our bodies, not just neurological, our physical bodies too, I love that you brought that up, so that if we’ve got a mom out there, a listener out there, a young woman, my daughter’s 23 years old and she has all these gut issues and she really struggles with anxiety that it manifests in many different ways. So that busy brain that we’re talking about, give us just a little hint for our listeners with like practical—

ROMIE: Oh, let’s talk about it!

TERI: Not neuroscience talk.

ROMIE: No, let’s go. Yeah. So it’s called the “Brain Shift Protocol” and the idea was I wanted to make it easy and hear the listeners are going to be so happy. Can I tell you the best news of all? “Diet’ is a four-letter curse word in my world. We are not putting you on a diet on a calorie-limiting tasteless cleanse. In fact, comfort good is allowed on this and it sounds counterintuitive. So that’s the first thing I want to get out right now. We give you biohacks later in the protocol for your nutrition to calm down a busy brain. But I want you to be able to eat your favorite comfort food or celebrate a religious holiday or a child’s birthday without this like evil voice of busy brain judgment. In my case, it’s the aunties going, “There’s not a single anti-inflammatory ingredient in that biryani you just cooked,” you know? So, I want to make that clear that this is not about a diet. This is about getting control of the airport traffic control tower in your brain. So step one is to take the busy brain test and get your score. And kind of like you just heard, you know, Amy, Teri, and I just go through our symptoms of what happens emotionally and physically in our bodies, kind of get a control of that and become aware is step one to say, by the end of the eight weeks, I, Romie want to have better digestion and sleep, right? And that’s the example. And Amy wants her pain to be better. Step two is in chapter 11, we have you download the seven-day sleep challenge. This is based on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia and integrative medicine. And we give supplement recommendations. The whole idea is no matter what’s going on in your world, I want you to reset your sleep-wake cycle, your circadian rhythm, to the best of your ability. Now, if you are nursing a child and a baby and getting up in the middle of the night, we have an alternative plan on our website for you. You know, for new moms, because you have to get up in the middle of the night. And I understand that. Right? For most people, if your children are past that age, we want to have you do that. And that’s literally at the seven-day sleep challenge. And that’s as simple as setting a regular time to go to sleep and wake up in the morning is key. And chapter 12 goes into digital detox. And really the best thing I can see is even if you’re waking up in the middle of the night and nursing a baby is not to pick up your phone or iPad or turn on the smart TV and the blue lights. That will disrupt the airport traffic control tower in your brain. Those blue lights are saying, “Wake up” and it’s dropping your feel-good melatonin. So that is a first critical step is the micro habits to restore sleep. And we know from our executive clients, by week two or three, people are feeling euphoric. And they were like, “Really, it was as simple as that sleep thing? What? Like, no.” And then they keep going because now psychologically you have a win and CEOs and CHROs would be like, “What happened? Like people are happy. Like, did everyone get a raise? Did everyone hit their sales quarter?” They’re like, “No, this brain shift thing is going on and people have been sleeping better,” you know? It was as simple as that. So the first step, unless you’re a new mom or new dad of a newborn baby, is to get sleep. So that’s one step. Ask me questions about that.

DR. AMY: Yeah. So in your book, you have a pyramid and sleep is the base of the pyramid and it’s not a, it’s not a narrow base. It is huge. I mean, it takes up about a third of the size of the pyramid. So you’re making that a very important foundation for this cure.

ROMIE: You know, I don’t know about you all, but I think women especially, but both men and women, and in this success-driven world where you want to succeed as a parent, you want to succeed in your career, somehow we sacrifice sleep. And I really want to create this narrative that sleep is the new status symbol of successful parents and professionals.

TERI: That you’re sleeping well.

ROMIE: That you’re sleeping well, getting restorative sleep and just even psychologically prioritizing sleep. 

DR. AMY: All right. Well, let me ask you a question as a neurologist. So, Teri and I have a great friend who’s a functional medicine physician and he puts every one of his patients through a sleep study. And I fight him on this because I think I sleep well. And he says, but there could be something happening that you don’t realize. You’d you still wake up tired. Right, so there could be something in your breathing pattern or whatever it is. So talk a little bit about that for those of us who think that we sleep okay, but don’t have restorative sleep.

ROMIE: Well, so this is, you know, I don’t want to go against a colleague. I won’t put everyone through a sleep study. I don’t believe there’s a one size fits all, just kind of like a couture dress. One size isn’t going to fit Amy, Romie and Teri on here, right? What we know from the busy brain is most people need to start with the sleep protocol and kind of calming down anxiety.

So that’s weeks one through four of the protocol. If you’re saying, “Romie, I trust you. I trust you as the person. You know your brain, you know your body, you know your spirit.” If you tell me, “Listen, I sleep and I feel good. It’s just, my energy is drained.” It’s actually telling me the back half of the protocol—weeks five through eight—are for you. That somehow from a busy brain, your circadian rhythm, your energy systems are off during the day. So in chapter 16, we have the entire lab list that we want you to download and take to your primary care doctor. And you already heard me harp on it, but for most women, I start with a thyroid gland. Yes.

Cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, that’s on the labs. Testosterone for men and women. But most of the time we find when you have an elevated busy brain score, has thyroid been missed? It’s been one in eight women. So that’s really where I start. Now, if you’re blessed with a partner and they’re saying, “I know, Romeo ain’t gonna admit it, but she snores.” Right?

Oh my God. The thumb emoji just went up on.

DR. AMY: I know. That’s so cute.

ROMIE: I don’t even know why that’s happening. Like, oh gosh. Or, you know, I hear the partner pausing in their sleep with breathing. Then of course you want to sleep steady. But what we, I find as an integrative medicine doctor, having studied the functional medicine is when someone is not waking up energized and I know they’re telling me their sleep is okay. I’m more concerned about looking at energy mechanisms of their circadian rhythm during the day. So we look for the, you know, S is sleep in the protocol. H is hormones. I is markers of inflammation. Example is cortisol, like you mentioned at the top of the podcast, or methylation disorders, homocysteine, and then looking for vitamin D3 levels is the other big tip. And then we look at your food and fuel. And if, if you’re on the sugar-addiction cycle, that’s causing that. And that’s what we break down and brain shift. And for most people, we find the answer there, but absolutely. In lay person’s term, listen, nobody wants to hear from a loved one, “Girl, you snore.” But if somebody said that to you, sure, get a sleep study. But that isn’t a part of my protocol because my job, Amy and Teri, was to cut through all the noise that’s out there on social media and podcasts and say, “What are the eight most simple micro habits or brain shifts we can tell people to do to feel better?” And I just wanted to cut through the chase, give you these steps. And bonus if you go get your lab so you can really get down to the root cause and work with a doctor to find the answers.

DR. AMY: Yes, I’m going to geek out here on MTHFR. And so talk to us a little bit about your view on whether everyone should be tested for a double mutation. 

TERI: Okay. Wait, you’re just, I’m going to take it back. I’m going to take it back. I’m going to take it back. I mean, we can get to that, but like, I’m going to take it back to the simple so that we don’t, don’t get too far ahead of sleep. I want to get back to sleep for our listeners. And first of all, Amy, I’m going to say—

DR. AMY: I’ve moved on to inflammation markers.

TERI: But you don’t, you don’t snore, Amy. We’ve had, we’ve had slumber parties. She doesn’t snore. 

ROMIE: The world now knows. Yes. Yes. I might make a kerfuffle or two in my sleep, especially if I’ve had a glass of champagne, which I tend to avoid these days. Yes. Yeah.

DR. AMY: Well, and I’ve been married 25 years and my husband has never, not once said I snore.

TERI: But so back to sleep for moms. I just wanna insert, so we’re talking about, you and you didn’t give details on the sleep challenge. People can get your book. I mean I want them to go grab it. I wanna get it in my hands and not just the online copy. I like it paper. But for practicalities, I just want to say for moms, getting that good sleep, you barely touched on it, Romie, that as women and as moms, we tend to sacrifice sleep. And this is what I see that, you know, my kids’ dad, he’s like, “I’m going to sleep.” And there are funny memes out there about this. He’s like, “I’m going to bed. I’m going to sleep.” Two minutes later, he’s in bed. Right. Mom says, “I’m going to bed.” And then she stops to get the clothes out of the dryer. And then she starts the dishwasher and then, “Oh, darn—”

ROMIE: She gets lunch ready for the next day.

TERI: Yeah. Everything. So there’s all these things that we do. So I would say listener, you have to say “no” to some things to say “yes” to sleep. And I am speaking to myself. What are you—and that’s the first decision. What are you going to say “no” to in the evening so that you can say “yes” to sleep? And I would say, just try it. A seven-day challenge, turn it into a month challenge, however long, try to keep going, but say “no,” so you can say “yes “to sleep.[GU4] 

ROMIE: I want to say this is the, as a chief wellness officer, that we do a 21-day digital detox challenge, you know, which is partly restoring sleep and getting off digital devices. And then when I started to lecture corporate America, people were like, “We love this. This is going to be our next team challenge.” And we do this as a wellness challenge. There are a lot of parents that are involved in this and you said it so well, Teri. It’s that I am making a conscious decision, just like, you know, whatever you’re binge watching. So like, you know, I’ve been obsessed with “The Crown” and I’m like, “Oh, I can’t wait until all, you know, the final season dropped” and it has now, and I want to watch it. I’m just so focused on it. We need to have that same passion about sleep and that same intentionality because then all of a sudden you’re like, “You know, the house ain’t going to fall apart if I leave the clothes in the dryer.”

TERI: Yep.

ROMIE: “I’m going to, I’m going to ask my partner, I’m going to ask, you know, the father of my children, if you have him in the house to help with preparing school lunches.” The next day you figure out a system. But what we find in our clinical studies and the clinical medical studies, I mean, these are parents involved, is most people are spending their evenings sacrificing sleep for digital distractions, whether it’s catching up on work emails or watching social media or the next bingeworthy, you know, series that’s on. That’s literally what most people are doing to try to forget their days.

TERI: Wow. Okay.

DR. AMY: Yeah. And I’m, I mean, I’m guilty of that, right? Because I work and work and work and work. And so I’ll go, okay, now I’m going to relax. With a show, right? Because that I justify it by saying, this is how I shut my brain down. What I’m hearing you say is that it’s still impacting my brain.

ROMIE: Yeah. Like even if you’re watching something that makes you laugh, it’s still waking you up. So if you’re watching something that garners a positive experience, which is typically pure comedy, which is very rare to find—most of them are still laced with darker themes and this that can raise stress hormone levels. Even if you’re watching a comedy, you’re laughing and it’s boosting dopamine and adrenaline. Wonderful during the day, but at night, all of a sudden you got energy now, like you just went to Teri’s dance class. I mean, if I went to Teri’s dance class, it’d be stressful. So my stress hormones would be up and I’d have a sprained ankle in the back of the room. Ain’t going to lie.

DR. AMY: Me too, Romie. Me too.

ROMIE: Right? But so like, that’s the issue. But you know, most people are watching like CSI crime shows. And here’s something amazing that mindfulness literature teaches us is whatever you’re watching. So even if it’s a horse race, let’s say, your subconscious mind is immersed in that thinking you’re in the middle of the crime scene, that you’re in the middle of the horse race. So your brain is reacting. So while you think I’m distracting myself, not relaxing, watching this, you’re actually creating a busier brain for yourself. So in the seven-day sleep challenge, we walk you through picking activities and we have a list on the website of our “evolutionaries,” we call them, some of their favorite activities, things. What feeds into the airport traffic control tower of our brains that all of us can control is what we see, what we smell, what we taste, what we hear, and what we touch. So we actually ask you to make a ritual to calm the senses down. 

TERI: Oh, interesting. Again, it’s the making that intentional choice. Like we’ve got to decide ahead of time. It can’t be an accidental thing at the last minute. Making a decision ahead of time to make that better brain choice, that better health choice.

ROMIE: I’ve had many parents go through this and what they tell me is their relationship with the loved one, so a partner, if you have a partner in the house transforms and the energy shifts down to children, even small children. Because you know, energy is contagious, just like a virus. And, you know, if we, as the parent, as the leader of the household, have a calm energy, it just, it’s into the house. If I have a busy brain, then everybody around me is going to feel that, that hyper-acute busy state.

DR. AMY: Yeah. It’s the difference between co-regulation and co-dysregulation. Right? I mean, we talk all the time about helping our children with their emotions by co-regulating, but if we’re dysregulated, then they’re dysregulated as well. Right?

ROMIE: And, and younger children can’t perceive what’s going on. Right? They self-blame and say, did I do something wrong to, you know, mom or dad anxious? And that. And so, yeah, but when we are intentional, we’re also modeling it for our children to say, “Hey, mom has a busy brain and I’m going to try this. And we’re going to try sleep and we’re going to do this together.” It’s sending a strong signal, isn’t it? That we’re prioritizing our brain and mental health.[GU5] 

TERI: Absolutely.

DR. AMY: All right. We need to take a break. Let Teri read a word from our sponsor. When we come back, I want to talk a little bit more. Um, about how we can prevent the busy brain in the first place, um, with our kids and even teens. When we come back.

TERI: Are you concerned about your child’s reading or spelling performance? Are you worried your child’s reading curriculum isn’t thorough enough? Well, most learning struggles aren’t the results of poor curriculum or instruction. They’re typically caused by having cognitive skills that need to be strengthened. Skills like auditory processing memory and processing speed. LearningRX one-on-one brain training programs are designed to target and strengthen the skills that we rely on for reading, spelling, writing, and learning. LearningRx can help you identify which skills may be keeping your child from performing their best. In fact, they’ve worked with more than 100, 000 children and adults who wanted to think and perform better. They’d like to help get your child on the path to a brighter and more competent future. Give LearningRx a call at 866 -BRAIN-01 or visit That’s 

DR. AMY: And we’re back talking with Dr. Romie Mushtaq about the busy brain. So Dr. Romie, share a little bit of advice for parents on how they can help prevent the busy brain in their kids, right? Like what should they do? 

ROMIE: So this is a little tricky. I want to be really be clear. The busy brain cure was written for adult brains. And I would even say age 25 and above. We know, even in college age, their neuroplasticity of the brain is still developing. There’s challenges in college in today’s world with, you know, excessive amounts of alcohol and maybe other drugs for some, so I want to make that clear. What I would say, and this is going to sound counterintuitive, is I need you to focus on your brain and your mental health first and foremost. I know this is a podcast. If you’re taking the time in your full schedule to listen to this podcast, it it’s important to you for your child, but I can’t stress this enough. It has got to start with your brain. It’s the same thing in corporate America. I tell it to the C suite and I tell it to any leader or anybody that’s a manager.

If you don’t take care of your brain and your body, it will negatively impact the rest of the team. There are studies on that. It’s the same with parents and it can, it can destroy the culture of a family or destroy the culture of a workplace. You can, you can tell your child, “Hey, let’s do digital detox or let’s go play outside, or, you know, let’s get more fruits and vegetables.” But if you’re not doing it, that energy is transferring. So I think my advice is going to be focus on your own brain shift first. 

DR. AMY: It’s an investment, not only in your brain health and your full body health, but it’s an investment that’s going to have a positive impact on your kids.

ROMIE: Yeah, absolutely. The, you know, the anxiety and ADD, ADHD crisis in children, because I get asked every time I lecture, is an entirely different process and system and different root cause that pediatrician, pediatric psychologists, integrative functional medicines and pediatrics function on. And it’s a different pathology than what’s in the busy brain cure and everything we’ve just covered. It’s like the difference between talking about apples and slaying dragons, two completely different things.

DR. AMY: I want to back up just a little bit. You talk about the importance of omega three fatty acids, and the difference between omega -6 and omega-3, and a lot of people get confused about that. Can you clear that up for us?

ROMIE: It is. So thank you so much. The brain shift for week six is adding one to two servings of healthy fats to every meal. So you’re like, “Girl, how can I start eating my comfort food?” Well, because we biohack the system for you. And we know one of the reasons that there’s been not only a deterioration in the brain and mental health in adults in the U S, but also we haven’t really stopped heart attacks. It’s still the number one cause of death for men and women, it is because we became a low-fat society, dating back to when Teri, Amy and I were, you know, in school and growing up. And even now fats are not the enemy. We actually need more fats for brain and mental health and the busy brain. And so then it can become confusing, healthy fats, bad fats. One week egg yolk is trending. The next week it’s evil. Like shrimp, all of that. No. So there are different types of fats, the healthy and the unhealthy, and that is unsaturated or no saturation. That is a healthy fat. And poly saturated fats is bad for you. So that’s the difference. And so we have an index in the appendix in the back of the book of examples of healthy fats, but let’s all go through a few of them. I will tell you is I could eat avocados three times a day. They’re my soulmate. I’m like looking for my second husband and love, but avocados and Delta airlines come first, you know? So that’s an example.

DR. AMY: Teri just eats them out of her hand. She just cuts them open and eats them. 

ROMIE: I’ve turned into my Indian aunties. I cut them open, but I got to put a little garlic and some spices. I do the Indian auntie version. You and I are the same. Just bite into it. Yeah.

TERI: Yeah. With a spoon. I cut it in half. Take, you know, take the seed out, salt, and then with a spoon. And do that.

ROMIE: But here are other examples is. Olive oil. In the morning, if you’re having steel-cut oats, try coconut oil because olive oil, I’ve done that accidentally once or twice when I had a busy brain, I wasn’t paying attention. That’s nasty in your breakfast, you know? But that, those are other examples, of course, and people know eating low-mercury fish and nuts is, be conscious about it, no matter how busy, you know, any of the listeners may be as parents, like you can keep the little snack bags of, you know, nuts by you or make avocados trendy in the house.

Listen, if you’re taking avocados and you make guacamole and you’re dumping, you know, a good corn tortilla chip in it, go for it. Like you’re getting your healthy fat. Please go ahead. I co-sign on that as a doctor. 

TERI: So what about butter? 

ROMIE: Yes. Tell us all about butter, good or bad, for our brain. 

ROMIE: There is no answer that straight. Butter is better than things that have preservatives in them or that are chemicals. So I can’t pronounce the 17-syllable ingredients in most margarine or butter substitutes. It is, so pure butter .. So, you know, I’m of South Asian descent and ghee is pure clarified butter. I grew up in Illinois, born and raised in Illinois, and you could get farm-fresh butter, Honey. There ain’t nothing better in the world than some farm-fresh butter. I mean, I’m hungry just thinking of it. Right? That absolutely is fine in moderation, right? Compared to chemicals. So it’s kind of like bad, okay, best-case scenario. So absolutely. If you’re cooking something healthy in butter … now, if you’re frying bread or bacon and butter, now we’re getting up into the saturated fats and doubling up on too much fat. Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all because there are going to be some of your listeners that are thriving on a ketogenic diet or Atkins diet where they’re getting more fats. But what I can tell you from the brain research is those nutrition programs for most people are really hard to sustain. When you’re a busy parent, if you travel for work and then if you start having a day or two here and there where carbohydrates are coming in and you lose ketosis, it’s actually not good for your brain or your pancreas to do that. So, I try not to be a purist and say any food is all good or all bad. So, how about I just leave it with, it depends what you’re having the butter with?

TERI: Okay.

DR. AMY: I like that. Yeah.

TERI: So I can melt some butter on my really good grilled fish.

ROMIE: Oh my God. Yes. Yes. So there’s a good use of butter or, or vegetables, but I’ll tell you coconut oil and vegetables make it really tasty. So, so yeah, absolutely. Like, I’m not going to say, especially whole, pure food that isn’t processed is really great for us and that. And so, you know, remember, I’m a chief wellness officer and I, in a company, we’re a global company and, and with a lot of diversity, I want the vegans and the people who eat paleo, and the carb-lovers and the chocoholics—I want everybody to be able to sit at one table and feel like they belong. So this is why we created the biohacks that you can read about. And week five is either choose one: sugar or caffeine, not both at the same time. And by sugar, we mean—and the balloons, I don’t know what’s going on.

DR. AMY: Romie has the funniest images that just pop up on her screen.

ROMIE: Subconsciously, they’re celebrating. “Yay! I don’t have to give up sugar!” So sugar means high-glycemic carbs. It’s white flour, white potatoes, white rice, white bread, or white sugar. You choose that or caffeine within an hour of each other, not both, to protect your busy brain and improve your focus. We find most people choose caffeine and naturally start cutting down the sugar and that helps that dopamine surge. And then the next week we got a healthy fats to every meal. And that also cuts the sugar craving and it really helps focus. So, yeah. 

DR. AMY: Okay. So is there anything Dr. Romie, that you have not gotten to talk about that you want to leave our listeners with today? 

ROMIE: We have covered almost the entire brain shift jump back and forward and back through it again. I think if it’s okay, I just want to repeat this one thing: You may have a busy brain score above 40. That can mean you’re under chronic stress and on the path to burnout, and I just want you to know you’re not alone. And repeat that again from the bottom of my heart that your brain is not broken and your mind is not a mess and your spirit did not depart your soul. There is always hope and I had people holding hope for me when I was journeying through my mess and know that we are here to hold hope for you, the listeners. 

TERI: That’s beautiful. Thank you.

DR. AMY: Thank you so much, Dr. Romie Mushtaq. Listeners, if you would like to get more from Dr. Romie, you can get her book, “The Busy Brain Cure, The Eight-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety, and Sleep Again.” We’ll put that link in the show notes. You can also find her at That’s R O M I E. If you Google her and you find the musical artist picture of her, please note that that is an AI failure. That is not this Dr. Romie Mushtaq. You can find her on social media at Dr. Romie and on YouTube at Dr. Romie Mushtaq. So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, I would love it if you would leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple podcasts. If you would rather watch us, we are on YouTube. You can find us on social media at The Brainy Moms. Look, that is all the smart stuff that we have time to share with you today. So we’ll catch you next time.

TERI: See ya.