Rest and Refuel — Prioritize self-care. I believe in prioritizing me first so I can be the best for me and everyone else that depends on me. Relaxing, Refueling, Renewing allows us to operate at our best and be less stressed.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDawn K. Brown, M.D.
Dawn Kamilah Brown, M.D., also known as “The MD with ADHD™,” is a double-boarded Child & Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatrist and Serial Entrepreneur.
She is the owner and CEO and sole practitioner at ADHD Wellness Center PLLC with two private practice locations in Texas with a growing virtual presence and is also the owner & CEO of Mental Healthletics PLLC and serves as the company’s Sports Psychiatrist for elite (and retired) athletes of college and national sports organizations.
She enjoys traveling all over the word and spending quality time with her family, close friends and three toy yorkies: Django, Gucci and DJ.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born and raised in a small community in Flint, Michigan by my parents who were college sweethearts. I have one brother who is nine years younger than me, yet we have a close relationship. My family is “everything.” I am blessed to come from a loving and nurturing family where being open about who you are or what you share is welcomed and respected. The African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” exemplified exactly how I was raised. I would visit my grandparents during the summer months of my primitive years; “Mama Burks” who my family met through my church, was known as a “caregiver” for our community and opened her home to children before and after school care; my best friend was my Pastor’s daughter and I would spend many days at their home; many of my school teachers of the fine arts and music industries opened the door for me to explore my dance, violin and singing skills. My village helped cultivate who I am and how I treat others. Because of my village, I had a loving, nurturing and fulfilling childhood.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Two people inspired my career of becoming a Physician and specifically, a Child, Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatrist: My Mother, Dr. Sandra U. Brown, Ph.D. and Dr. Robin S. Parks, M.D.
My Mother inspired my belief for having a choice: I can make excuses for why I don’t accomplish a task, or I can find a way to take it head on; it’s my choice. My mother obtained her PhD in education during the time she was pregnant with my brother and during his first few years of life. I still don’t see how she accomplished this feat in four years while working full time and maintaining her role as the Minister of Music at our church. During a time when I had struggled in medical school, she was a daily force of inspiration, and would often provide words of encouragement and prayer. Being the first to obtain her Doctorate in our family (with these challenges) was very inspiring. My mother could have made a number of excuses for not obtaining her Doctorate; but instead, she took on all of her roles and found a way to do it. My mother’s tenacity helped me to persevere through obtaining my Doctorate.
Dr. Robin S. Parks, M.D. specifically inspired my decision to become a child and adolescent Psychiatrist. Initially, I’d dreamed of becoming a child neurosurgeon. After Dr. Parks, that changed. During my third year of medical school, I scheduled my psychiatry clinical rotation first. I had thoughts of first completing the rotations I had little interest in. Surprisingly, I found psychiatry the most interesting and it felt natural to be in the role of a mental health provider. Dr. Parks helped to nurture my love for psychiatry by showing me different elements of how I could serve my patients. She was also a Christian and would ask to pray for/with every patient we encountered if they accepted. My school did not have an established rotation where I could directly work with children mental health, so Dr. Parks created a rotation for me. I worked with a developmental pediatrician and shadowed psychiatrists who were in private practice. Dr. Parks was committed to ensuring that I received a realistic idea of what a child psychiatrist does and the benefit that they bring to our patents. I am thankful to have had Dr. Parks a part of my life. Who knows if I would be a child psychiatrist today, had I not had her influence and support?
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parents encouraged and supported me and my brother to be whoever we wanted. Once I told my parents at age six that I wanted to be a doctor, they structured the academic and community paths that they felt would be most supportive to achieve this goal. My brother is also a forensic psychiatrist, and we laugh about not having any summers off due to spending them at a STEM-focused program, which helped prepare me for the long road of eventually becoming a double-boarded child & adolescent and adult psychiatrist. I failed my medical boards five times over the course of five years during medical school and it was my parents’ prayers, encouragement, and commitment to seeing my dream fulfilled that helped me through a rough time in my life. Resultantly, my Faith is stronger, I’m more resilient and my perspectives about failing is viewed as lessons rather than moments of self-defeat. I am a better person for having parents to support me during some difficult life moments.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting moment that I’ve encountered in my career occurred two months before my child psychiatry fellowship graduation. Due to my history of failing multiple medical boards and performing subpar on course exams, I was surprised when one of my professors recommended me to get evaluated for ADHD. In my disbelief (and denial), I went to three different medical professionals who all reported the same conclusion: Moderate ADHD. I had been living with a condition that I helped others manage. I couldn’t believe I missed my own diagnosis!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Throughout the years, The Holy Bible has made the most impact on my life. It’s a resource for God’s instructions, God’s deliverance, His teachings and our purpose. The Bible provides me with encouragement, hope and peace about life’s journey, especially when my thoughts, emotions, and actions go in the opposite direction. It resonates with me because it is ALWAYS applicable to any given situation or time. It has also been the ‘constant’ when life can be unpredictable and painful. The Bible continues to serve the beliefs of billions over a period of years.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My Favorite “Life Lesson Quote” comes from my father, Donald Ray Brown. Since a child, he has always supported my passions and decisions and reminded me about his definition for “Success,” to encourage my approach on how to pursue them: “Success is the point where opportunity meets preparation. The opportunity arises, and one is prepared, thus realizing ‘success.’ Many miss out on success because oftentimes it comes disguised as ‘hard work.’ Dawn, you will be successful because you are not a stranger to hard work.” My Dad recited this quote at my high school, university, and medical school graduation celebrations. He also mentioned the same quote after the completion of my adult psychiatry residency and child psychiatry fellowships. On December 31, 2020, he spoke these words over the phone right after I closed on my new home. My father (and mother) has always planted words and scripture of success and hope into my spirit. I have accomplished many of my dreams because of their beliefs and words of affirmation.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on a few projects that I am not able to fully disclose yet, but I can share that both will significantly, improve access and provide greater support for ADHD communities to receive ADHD evaluations, treatment, and coaching/ behavior management services for ADHD symptom control that hopefully, individuals, families and communities will find helpful.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Proper sleep/ rest — Did you know we should spend at least 1/3 of our lives in bed to have optimal mental wellness? A good night’s rest has a healthy impact on our overall mental health (emotions, thoughts, memory.) Therefore, having a consistent sleep routine is important: If you nap during the day, do not sleep for more than 30 minutes to avoid throwing your night’s sleep schedule off; try to go to bed around the same time to ensure you get the right amount of sleep; only go to bed for purposes of sleeping; keep distractions out of your room (phones, laptops, TV’s); and try to have your room dark and at a cool temperature for comfort. Try these tips, they work!
2. Healthy eating — The mind and body do connect! Having a healthy body means starting with a healthy mind. What we eat is important for this goal. Protein is the best fuel source for the brain, but we also need to make sure our plates are colorful and are filled with adequate nutrients, vitamins, minerals and food groups that allow our mind and body to function optimally. If we eat too much of the wrong type of fuel (carbs, sugar, salt and junk food), then our bodies are likely to suffer in regard to the inability to efficiently, metabolize food, increasing the risks of storing excessive fat, increase the risk for chronic illness and disease (mental and physical) and have a negative impact on our immune system. Think of our gut as our “second brain,” so we also must take good care of it!
3. Routine exercise — Proper exercise of the body and mind also leads to good mental wellness. Getting out and being active stimulates the mind and body and increases drive, energy and motivation. Getting outside and being active if only for 30 minutes can have a positive impact on our mental health.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
My mediation routine consists of me hearing from God after I pray. I try to incorporate this practice during the mornings after awakening from sleep and before going to bed; on occasions, I may have a mid-day meditation moment. During times of stress or times when I am preparing for a big event, I may sit in a quiet space for five minutes, without distractions, closing my eyes, relaxing my body and focus on thinking positive thoughts and affirm them by speaking to them out loud. This has helped me manage my anxieties better and has been a confidence booster on numerous occasions.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Drink plenty of water every day. I am currently working on increasing my water intake to the goal of 1 gallon a day. Of course, this appears to be A LOT of water, I am starting with a realistic attitude of drinking half of my body weight in ounces. I have already lost 5 pounds in a week by drinking a glass of water before each meal to avoid over-eating and allow better food metabolism, and also by replacing juice (I love sugar) with a glass of water, saving juice and other sweet drinks and foods for an occasional dessert. There are health benefits of staying hydrated: drinking water helps prevent headaches, fatigue and can increase energy, allowing us to be better focused and more productive.
Routine exercise is healthy and keeps our mind in shape. Proper exercise of the body and mind leads to good mental wellness. It gets our heart pumping so that oxygen can get to our brain and vital organs. Studies have shown that being active for at least 30 minutes can reduce stress and allow us to cope better with the day’s workload.
Practicing good posture can also benefit us by improving mobility and reducing joint pain and stress on our ligaments. Our body also correlates to our state of mind. The next time you are sitting in a chair, pay close attention of how you are sitting and how you are feeling. People who slouch may feel sluggish. Others who are motivated, usually sit upright, and close to what they are working on. Interesting, right?! It’s helpful to start practicing good posture by setting alarms to remind yourself to sit up straight until it becomes routine.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating?
We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives? Food is connected to everything we do. I think of our stomach as our second brain. What we eat effects our emotions/ moods, energy, thoughts, immune system, body image and brain health. Therefore, the type of foods that can be created fast and provide us temporary excitement like sugars and carbs, can easily be overly consumed and cause problems. Eating too much of these foods can be devastating and unhealthy. I believe that how we prepare our food matters to avoid missing out on essential minerals and vitamins.
Food is connected with socialization; it is strongly promoted by advertisements, and it is engrained in our minds that it should be eaten fast “fast foods.” All of these can play a role on how realistic it is for us to put healthy eating in our daily practice while eliminating unhealthy eating behaviors. It also takes effort to cook healthy foods, money to buy healthy foods and many of the healthy foods do not have “msg’s” that allow healthy foods to taste good or better than junk foods. If we practice a realistic approach to eating healthy and finding support systems to maintain heathy eating, then we have accomplished a task the majority of people the US are still battling.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Rest and Refuel — Prioritize self-care. I believe in prioritizing me first so I can be the best for me and everyone else that depends on me. Relaxing, Refueling, Renewing allows us to operate at our best and be less stressed. Decompressing after transitioning through your day can make huge differences with how you manage your emotions. Balancing your schedule and maintaining healthy routines can help create a balanced lifestyle which keeps stress at bay. Emotional imbalance can often result from a tired mind. We cannot function or “go” on an empty tank, so taking the time to rest and refuel are important.
2. Maintain good self-esteem — I find that a healthy self esteem produces healthy emotional regulation and wellness. What we feed our mind, matters: Reading self-help books and saying positive affirmations builds confidence, increases creativity and fuels motivation. Celebrating small victories along the journey to bigger goals increase our drive to accomplish them. Accepting our failures and shortcomings allows opportunities for learning and improvement. All of these can contribute to building a positive and strong self-esteem which has a direct impact on our emotional regulation.
3. Keep your social circle healthy — Having positive, uplifting and supportive people who want to see you WIN in life, matters and contributes to good emotional health. When you are surrounded by individuals who have pessimistic views and negative attitudes, it can be difficult to avoid accepting these views that can easily, project unto your emotions causing you to feel the same. Be selective of who you spend time with. Your emotional health depends on it.
4. Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it. YES! Smiling is powerful! It’s infectious! When you smile, people are likely to smile back. It’s one of the first reflexes we do as babies. It can be a healthy distractor from a negative thought and is often an inner reflection of joy and happiness. Smiling can also be a sign of confidence which is a healthy contributor to our emotional wellness. A genuine smile shows that your comfortable with who you are and confident in your abilities. Smiling also can be a sign of nervousness but can also symbolize a personality that is trustworthy and friendly. There is nothing more attractive than a beautiful smile; it can represent many things, including emotional wellness.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Prayer & Meditation — I start and end every day with prayer and meditation. Prayer is talking to God and meditation is hearing from God. I live every day with intention and on purpose. What I want in life is aligned with what God has purposed for my life. I want to make sure that everything I do is within the Will of God and that’s what I pray for. When I think about mental wellness, scripture reflects that God wants me to have a “sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). God has seen and knows every thought and image that goes through my mind. I am God’s Masterpiece, His prized possession. His priceless creation. God does not make any mistakes!
2. Attending public worship service — Attending church worship services and religious events has contributed positively to my spiritual wellness. It allows me to worship with others of the same faith increasing social connections and social experiences which provides hope about my life’s challenges. Communal prayer and scripture readings reinforce my Faith and Belief that God hears and will answer my prayers. Hearing the testimonies and bearing witness to how people’s faith and religious practices helped them overcome overwhelming stressful moments that they could not see their way out of, provides me with hope and reassurance that God can and will do the same for me. Listening to gospel music and singing the lyrics feed my spirit and routinely causes a positive shift in my thoughts, emotions and actions when the challenges of life can be difficult to work through, whereas spiritual illness can be a burden and lead to poor emotional and physical health that can negatively impact our overall functioning. Having a healthy spiritual lifestyle as shown to improve happiness and increase longevity (less likely to die a prematurely.)
3. Connecting to and helping others — God instructs us to give. There are a number of scripture/verses in the Bible that speaks of giving and its benefits. “It is better to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) is a path to happiness. Giving to others (i.e., charity) creates joy in your spirit because of the positive impact you make in others’ lives. Volunteering your time in others lives is an investment to your happiness as well as the person you are spending time with. 2 Corinthians 9:7 is one of my favorite verses that guides my heart and actions on giving: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Here, God teaches us to give with a cheerful heart; not out of necessity or based on a grudge. God gives to us so we can give to others and this further leads to building our spiritual wellness, which is a vital part of our overall wellbeing.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Humans are connected with the earth, and both were created by God. As God breathed life into us, God breathed life into nature. Scripture teaches us that we are made from the dust of the earth, and when we die, our bodies are reduced to dust again. This intertwined connection helps define spiritual wellness; when our spirit connects with nature, a powerful force forms, regardless of one’s religion or beliefs.
Being connected with nature can provide clarity and remind us we are a small part of a larger story. When our spirits connect, it gives us a sense of belonging. Some may view nature as “spirits;” the seas calm us; the trees help us to breathe; the animals and plants give us nourishment. So, not only do we depend on nature, but it also defines us; it’s in nature we find our purpose. It’s where we can be healed, feel renewed and defines our spiritual wellness.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
You never know what your idea can trigger. I would love to lead a movement where everyone would have free access to therapy services after having conversations of how it works, what to expect and its benefits for managing life’s challenges. I routinely encounter patients of whom I have referred to therapy, resist the recommendation. I have found that most have varied understandings what therapy is and how it can impact one’s life. After explaining the purpose and basics of what to expect from therapy, the resistance lessens, and people engage. After 4–5 sessions, the number of “Thank you” and the “you saved my marriage/life” statements I have received have been overwhelming.
Having a safe place to talk, matters. Being able to speak out about what makes you feel anxious or depressed, so that it doesn’t become a ruminating thought, helps. Therapy is healing for the soul. We would live in a better world if people engaged in therapy. One profound reason is because life happens, and it often happens outside of our control. So, how we respond or react to that, matters.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
There are a number of people I would love to meet- Lebron James, President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey. But at the top of my list would be our former first lady, my forever first lady, Michelle Obama, Esq.
I am inspired (and encouraged) by her passion to encourage young girls and women to celebrate who they are and help them realize the power that lives within them to be a positive force in our world.
I would like to personally share with her my admiration of her grace and beauty as a strong Black woman who represents many of our journeys — from childhood to “Becoming.” She is a perfect imperfect model of how acknowledging who we are, understanding what we want in life and how bad we want it can lead to a path of right decisions, purposed with supportive people and divine interventions that result in living a fulfilling life.
I am a fan of her vulnerability and her advocacy for mental health. I would love to work with her on a mental health project that would create greater access for others to receive the help they need and deserve. Her approach of humanizing mental illness by sharing her own experiences with depression has resulted in a greater connection with others and gives people hope. It furthers the point that regardless of who you are, or what you have (or don’t have), mental health is a “human issue” that is non-discriminatory and can affect us all.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I can be found on all social media platforms as @drdawnpsychmd. I would love to connect with others and see how I can provide help and bring value to whatever they are doing. Connect with me on any of my brands’ websites:
ADHD Wellness Center PLLC (medical private practice) www.adhdwellnesscenter.com
Dr. Dawn Psych MD (educational mental health advocate and speaker’s platform for all topics related to mental health and awareness- includes my speaking schedule, media projects, podcast, ADHD products) www.drdawnpsychmd.com
Mental Healthletics PLLC™ (dedicated to servicing the mental health needs and wellness of elite collegiate, professional, Olympians and retired athletes. www.mentalhealthletics.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!