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Building Resiliency

Dr. Christina Bowen discusses how to build resilience during the pandemic including diet, mental health, practicing social distancing but staying connected to loved ones, mindfulness and sleep.
Building Resiliency
Christina Bowen, MD
Christina Bowen, MD is the Medical Director, The Center for Healthy Living; Medical Director, Vidant Health Office of Experience; Medical Director, Vidant Health Integrative Oncology. 

Learn more about Christina Bowen, MD

Michael Carrese: There's no doubt about it, the Coronavirus has created a stressful situation requiring everyone to confront unknowns and deal with major changes to their way of life, from providers to the general public. We could all use some advice on how to cope and build resilience in these trying times. And that's just what we have for you on today's program from Dr. Christina Bowen, Medical Director at the Outer Banks Hospital Center for Healthy Living and the Vidant Health Office of Experience. This is Outer Banks Health. I'm your host, Michael Carrese. And Dr. Bowen. Why don't you start by explaining to our listeners what you mean by building resilience?

Dr. Bowen: So usually what I mean by building resilience is you can deal with stress, but you're minimizing the impact on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. So it doesn't mean that your impervious distress, you're going to feel your stress, but it's how do you adapt to that stress and develop coping strategies within those stressful situations.

Host: So obviously one of the biggest stressors right now for people with social distancing. It's something we all have to do to slow the spread of the virus and give our healthcare system a chance to keep up with everything. But obviously that can lead to folks feeling lonely and disconnected. So what's your advice about that?

Dr. Bowen: Yes, I agree. Yeah, we do need to practice social distancing and we also need to stay connected. And so what I'm telling patients is social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation. It's the blessing for the social media actually that we have right now. We're able to FaceTime our loved ones. We're able to use zoom to have Bible study, still have book clubs and connect with those people that we love. Some other things that you might find helpful would be walking out onto your porch and having a certain time every day that you go and greet your neighbor from a safe social distance, so you're able to connect and see a friend. Walking outside in the neighborhood. Being able to wave to your neighbors as you walk by. Those are all things and connecting with friends on a regular basis. Maybe even finding a positivity partner that you connect with.

So if you're having times where you're feeling that the social distance is getting to you, that that's somebody that you can call and you could have a key word and they could just build you up and you can focus on things that you're grateful for during this difficult time. Here at the Outer Banks Hospital and also with Vidant Health, we are lucky to have an employee assistance program that's also available for patients and team members specifically if they're having a difficult time with social isolation. Sometimes social distancing can feel socially isolating and we do sometimes see increased feelings of anxiety and sometimes feelings of depression. And so we're lucky that we have tele-health, that we're able to connect our team members with an employee assistance program should they feel that they needed a little bit more counseling and help during this.

Host: So let's talk about food. That's obviously a big, big category. What guidance can you provide and how nutrition can help folks contribute to building their resilience?

Dr. Bowen: So one of the things that we know is food is medicine, and what we put in our body either helps us or hurts us. And we definitely during this time want to be eating a diet that's going to promote resilience in our body and help with our immune system. So how do we do that? We do that by eating a diet that is centered around plants, so that looks like around five to seven servings of fruits and veggies per day, beans, seeds, grains, nuts, and then also foods that are called fermented foods. And so those are foods that have really good bacteria in them, that actually helps promote our immune system. And so we're trying to keep this good bacteria in our body in a healthy place because that also helps our immune system. So by feeding it a plant centered diet and eating those foods like yogurt and kimchi. And one of my favorites is kombucha, a fermented tea drink. We really help to foster a healthy bacteria in our stomach and we help to foster a really healthy immune system. Also, I must say we're focusing on positivity, but one of the things we want to try and avoid would be sugary foods and processed foods and sugary drinks. Try to really think about everything I put in my body during this time, I really want it to nourish my body and to serve my body, to help it be as strong as it can be.

Host: So it strikes me that really this is maybe a chance for people to think more carefully about what does make them feel strong and healthy, what kind of food they can need to boost their immune system, other kinds of things can they do to be as healthy as possible.

Dr. Bowen: You know, I think that's an amazing point. One of the things that I think during this time a lot of us are really having more space in our day. So it's something that I call margin in our day, and oftentimes we have very little margin or white space in our day. And I know that many people are finding that they have a little bit more time to think on their health habits or just think on the day. Which really brings me back to, to me one of the most important things while we're dealing with this pandemic with COVID-19 is the practice of mindfulness. And Jon Kabat Zinn, who's the founder of mindfulness based stress reduction says that mindfulness is really the presence of the heart. And so a lot of this starts with self compassion and loving our self and nurturing ourselves, and being in the present moment. During this time, we are going to have fear, we're going to have some anxiety and that's okay. It's okay. We're grieving the loss of normal and we're probably having some anticipatory on what's going to happen next. And all of those feelings are normal and they're okay. And mindfulness allows us to sit in those for a little bit without any judgment. And then to move forward in a positive way and think about what are some things that I can do right now to either take care of myself, improve my environment, try to stay connected. And so I really think mindfulness and being mindful of our activities that we might be able to improve some health habits is a great way to positively think about this time that we have during this pandemic.

Host: I wanted to ask you about something I've heard elsewhere and that is that it could be a good idea for folks to actually make a schedule, be very intentional about how they're going to spend their day. Think of some projects they want to get done or something fun that they want to do. So you're just not sitting around and letting your stress and your worries occupy your mind the whole time.

Dr. Bowen: Yes, that's a wonderful idea. So a lot of, you know, I'm a mother of three children and so I talked to varying age groups and one of the things that most people that I've talked to have said, they've made a schedule and that's one of the things that they're focusing on, is trying to have a schedule where they exercise and they get outside every day if they can, or even if they need to exercise inside their home. There are many wonderful virtual free apps on social media now that are actually being offered free due to the pandemic. And I think it's a great idea to have yourself on a schedule and make a list. There might be those projects that you've said for the last five or maybe even 10 years, you know, one day I'm going to get to those. This is an invitation to perhaps get some of those projects accomplished. So make yourself a list of things that you'd like to get done with this space that you now have unexpectedly and then also have a routine that you have for your day. You might have space now finally to do meal prepping. Think about what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Be very intentional and mindful of what you're putting in your body. Be intentional about your physical activity during the day. Maybe this is a time you want to start watching your steps. How many steps are you getting in the day? It's a wonderful time to really start making some very intentional and mindful choices with taking care of yourself.

Host: I also wanted to be sure to ask you about sleep because obviously it's such an important thing and I think there's probably a lot of folks who might be having trouble with sleep for the first time because this is a level of stress that they've never encountered before. So what tips do you have for folks about developing good sleep habits and you know, overcoming trouble maybe getting to sleep?

Dr. Bowen: That's a great question. So sleep, I'll just say out of the gate is one of the number one things we know that really helps to keep our immune system in a really great place and is one way we're going to fight off infection during this time. So things I tell patients are try and watch TV two to three hours before you go to bed if you're going to watch it at all. We don't want to watch TV two to three hours before bedtime. Definitely try to not have any screen time about an hour before bed, that really does help you to have that hour before you get asleep to unwind. Maybe that's a time that you'll listen to a sleep story or you'll listened to an app that will help with a meditation such as Calm or Headspace or Buddha-fi. All of those are wonderful. Maybe you practice gratitude journaling where you write down three things each night that you're grateful for, and your part in bringing those into fruition that day.

So all of those things, center you and calm your mind. And especially during this time, one thing that I've been telling my patients is really try and not watch the news before you go to bed. It's a very, it's a fearful time watching the news and we do need to be in an informed place. And so I would just really encourage team members and community members to watch the news, watch it earlier in the day, not before you go to bed. Let your bedtime be a sacred time where you really take care of yourself and you get into a routine that's very healing and relaxing. Your bedroom needs to be, you know, cool. And you need to walk in and be able to exhale when you walk into your bedroom, right? So this might be one of those projects that we were talking about. You get your bedroom to be a sacred space where you walk in and it's clean and crisp, and there's not stacks of books or magazines.

You just walk in and you feel very refreshed and like you're ready to go to bed. Another helpful nutrition tip actually is pistachios actually increase your melatonin. So maybe that can start being your nighttime snack, as to just have a handful of pistachios before you go to bed because melatonin is your hormone that helps you to feel sleepy when you go to bed at night. Another thing is to darken your room. So try and turn your lights off a few hours, a couple hours before you go to bed and just have dim lighting. That'll make a big difference. And then in the morning when you wake up, open those curtains and really take a breath of fresh air and look at that sunshine. All of those things really help to foster good sleep habits.

Host: You know, and it strikes me that a lot of the things you're talking about are pretty simple to do.

Dr. Bowen: They are. They're pretty simple and you know what? Now you have space to do them, so and take care of yourself.

Host: Well, I've been taking notes and I tell you I've got a lot of things I got to do. There's been a lot of great advice that you've been sharing with our listeners and I want to thank my guest, Dr. Christina Bowen, who is medical director at the Outer Banks Hospital Center for Healthy Living and the Vidant Health Office of Experience for being our guest today. Thanks very much for being here.

Dr. Bowen: Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.

Host: For more information or to make an appointment, contact the center at (252) 449-5978, that's (252) 449-5978. If you enjoyed this episode, you can find more like it in our podcast library at the And be sure to share this episode on all your social channels. This is Outer Banks Health. I'm Michael Carrese. Thanks for joining.