Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
I am not a very outdoorsy person, yet I can use nature to calm my cancer worry brain.
I like and appreciate the outdoors more since becoming a cancer survivor. Even when it is too cold or hot or humid or buggy, looking outside or being outside helps calm me and give me perspective. Some days, I basically force myself (or a kinder way to say it is "remind" myself) to either look or to get outside. I guess that sounds a little harsh. Still, I make myself stick with it for at least five minutes, preferably 10. I take a few calming breaths while looking at the outside. Truly, this helps with the cancer worry brain.
Being a cancer survivor is all about actively figuring out what helps you cope on a daily basis after diagnosis, through treatment and then beyond. Getting outdoors is a mindfulness meditation that helps me. My therapist taught me this. It is the "pick a sense and focus on it in the outdoors" for a few minutes meditation. Being a very literal person, I make a mental list of what I am seeing or hearing outside. When my mind wanders, I bring it back to working on my list. I am always amazed at how long the list gets when I really observe and focus!
When I am done, I am calmer and less stressed about cancer. It is worth the time and effort for me for the relief this exercise provides to my cancer worry brain. As I have gotten further out from diagnosis, years rather than weeks or months, I still sometimes go to this simple meditation, and I still get relief from using it.
I have even shifted my opinion of our cold Minnesota winters - a little bit. Instead of grumbling, I remind myself that I am fortunate to be alive to feel the cold! This may sound a bit silly, but it changes a negative approach into a grateful one. I am here to feel the cold! In general, it is good to work to see the positives in negative situations. Cold, heat, humidity, bring them on!
The outdoors also gives me much needed perspective. After observing for a while outside, I can't help but marvel at all the amazing things going on that have nothing to do with me. That is good. Sometimes it is clouds or birds, or the details of trees. What it is doesn't matter. Intent observation and appreciation helps me. Try it a few times before you knock it. Even on a gray day, there are still subtle color variations worthy of observation.
Are you really an indoor person? Consider using your sense of touch to calm cancer fears. Have you treated yourself to a truly soft blanket? Have you thoroughly petted the family dog or cat? Can you give yourself a task or project to keep your hands busy and distract your mind? Try the adult coloring books or knitting or whatever you think might slightly interest you. It is not about the completed project. It is about the process itself being beneficial for you. In the months following my cancer diagnosis, I poorly crocheted some stuff I later just donated. I found active participation could provide more comfort than television or reading, though I also used those activities for distraction at times.
The outdoors still trumps indoors for me, but any port in a storm, yes. A cancer diagnosis is a tough thing to mentally manage. Take it moment by moment when you need to and do try to get outside!