Mindful Leadership

Mindful Leadership: Choose Calm and Manage Your Busy Brain

“You are responsible for the energy you bring into the room. Choose calm.” 

Dr. Romie Mushtaq, MD on Mindful Leadership

How do you feel at this moment? Pause. Did your brain start running through your to-do list or replaying a point of conflict from your day? You are not alone; as a brain doctor and Chief Wellness Officer, I work with high-achieving professionals who can’t shut down their Busy Brains daily. Mindfulness and mindful leadership exercises can feel unattainable beyond a morning meditation practice or a quiet few minutes in nature.

I spent the last five years studying the impact of chronic stress, burnout, and Busy Brains on professionals. I wanted to help find answers to improve workplace cultures. The answer is not in a wellness app or another health perk; it starts with a leader’s state of mind.

You are responsible for the energy you bring into the room

When our daily tasks and overfilled calendars control our day, we can quickly lose sight of our mood. Losing sight of processing our emotions depletes our energy and can send a subtle or overt negative signal to others through our speech, tone of voice, and body language.  

You are in control of your mind. When we control our minds, we can then control our energy and our schedules. When we reach a point when our day feels out of control, it is not abnormal to think that a controlled breathing exercise is of little utility. Furthermore, after years of teaching mindfulness and mindful leadership in workplaces, I would keep hearing, “Dr. Romie, I feel like something is still wrong with my brain; I can’t shut down my worrying and racing thoughts.”  

Busy Brain in a Busy World

Do you also feel like the usual stress-relief techniques have failed you? Have difficulty shutting down your racing thoughts at bedtime? You wake up needing a venti latte to connect with your personality, only to feel depleted in your energy by mid-morning. You have multiple browser windows open all day on your computer, and in your brain, enter additional caffeine or stimulant medications. By the end of your workday, if there is one, you need alcohol or an anti-anxiety pill to take the edge off. Hence we get stuck on the stimulant-sedative cycle. We work all day with faux energy dependent on stimulants and arrive at home in need of a soothing drink or medication to remain calm with our loved ones.  

In researching over 17,000 individuals, a pattern emerged showing that chronic stress causes a particular pattern of inflammation in the brain. The end result is a myriad of symptoms that include difficulty focusing and reduced attention span (adult onset ADHD), ruminating anxiety with intrusive worrying thoughts occupying your mind, and difficulty falling and staying asleep (insomnia). I call this triad of symptoms anxiety, adult-onset attention deficit disorder, and insomnia Busy Brain. 

Living under chronic stress with a Busy Brain can lead to burnout, and the result is not only your loss of productivity but also physical illness. We can no longer afford to wear stress as a badge of honor or live at the edge of burnout to maximize business profits.

In my national best-selling book, The Busy Brain Cure, I break down the eight-week process for reducing inflammation in the brain, healing burnout, finding focus, taming anxiety, and finally sleeping again. Each week introduces simple microhabits I call brainSHIFTs.  

In weeks one to four, we practice simple microhabits that reset our circadian rhythm in the brain, thus restoring our sleep-wake cycle. In weeks five to eight, we introduce the brainSHIFTs to boost daytime energy- without going on a diet.  

Key elements that surprise most professionals are:

  1. Use magnesium glycinate 125mg to 250mg at bedtime to regulate your sleep-wake cycle and reduce anxiety.
  2. Combining sugar (or any high-glycemic food) with caffeine can reduce our ability to focus. Instead, pick one or the other- caffeine or a high glycemic carbohydrate at each meal.
  3. We recommend each individual check labs that can reflect chronic burnout and a Busy Brain. A low vitamin D3 level is a consistent problem. Vitamin D3 is crucial for brain and hormonal health, promoting sleep, focus, and memory.

If you are wondering what your brain score is, you can take The Busy Brain Test for free at https://drromie.com/busy-brain-test. A score above 30 indicates neuroinflammation and a pattern of a Busy Brain.

Giving a Brain Break to Your Team

Once we restore our energy by healing a Busy Brain, it is imperative for us as leaders to help our teams. In addition to sharing the brainSHIFTs above, the one key practice I recommend to teams is a regular brainBREAK.  

Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab has the largest body of research assessing productivity and attention span in the workplace. Sitting down at a computer for more than one hour for back-to-back meetings reduces productivity by raising stress hormones in our brains. Taking a five-minute break every hour significantly lowers stress levels in the brain and allows us to arrive at our next meeting or home life more relaxed.

In place of another virtual workplace wellness activity, rethink operations to shorten meetings and create meeting-free days at least once a month. End each day by checking in again; how am I feeling? And then ask yourself, what can you do to reset your energy and change the channel of your brain to calm?


Dr. Romie Mushtaq, MD, ABIHM, is a board-certified physician and USA Today National Best-Selling Author of The Busy Brain Cure: The 8-Week Plan to Find Focus, Tame Anxiety, & Sleep Again (Harper Collins 2024).She has over 20 years of thought leadership and research in neurology, integrative medicine, and mindfulness. She uses her unique expertise to bring together Western Medicine and Eastern Wisdom in transforming mental health and workplace cultures. In the last 10 years, she has been the go-to authority on stress management and workplace wellness as a speaker and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, professional athletes, and global organizations. Her expertise is routinely featured in the national media, such as TED talks, NPR, Forbes, and NBC. She currently serves as Chief Wellness Officer for Great Wolf Resorts, overseeing the mental and physical well-being of over 10,000 employees. Take the Busy Brain Test at drromie.com or connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.

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