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  • Writer's pictureDonna McMillan

The Power of the Outdoors - by Donna McMillan

Donna McMillan is an ovarian cancer survivor. In her blog, she talks about her experience with managing bad days by getting outdoors.

Donna McMillan is a former Hospice Social Worker, a former Elder Law Attorney, and an ovarian cancer survivor. Check out her website.

We've all had those days

We have all had those days when things just don’t seem to be going right. As a cancer survivor, for me it’s often a day when the side effects of my maintenance medication are a little more pronounced, a little more in the forefront, a little too hard to ignore. Other times, it could be my anxiety creeping in, like if in and I haven’t been feeling well. We all know that that anxiety that surrounds scans and the worries of a recurrence are real. We can try as hard as we can to dismiss them or ignore them, but sometimes they just won’t go away. So, what do you do?

How to boost your mood

For me, a surefire way to boost my mood is to get outside and take a walk. I get an extra boost when it’s a sunny day, but the reality is, it doesn’t really matter. A cloudy day has its own form of beauty. I just need to get outside. Adding a walk to it is an easy way to boost your mood (i.e., reduce stress) and do another thing that’s good for the body (move).

Part of living an anticancer lifestyle includes exercise. Now exercise can be hard as a cancer survivor. You may be at a point in your journey where you just barely have the energy to get through the day to day, or take care of your personal needs, and exercise seems truly monumental. Or your life is filled and busy with work, family, to-do lists, and you don’t think you can fit it in the time for exercise. But what about a simple walk? Walking is exercise right?

It's being outside that counts

Here's the thing, I’m not talking about a long meandering walk in the forest. Now don’t get me wrong, those long meandering walks and connecting to nature in that way can be wonderful gift and inspiring. But a mood lifting walk can be as simple as walking to the mailbox to get your mail. Walking out of your apartment to the corner and back. Taking it slow. Relishing in the sun or gazing at the cloud formations. Feeling the breeze, hot or cold on your face. Noticing if the air is moist and humid or dry. Listening for the birds. And if you’re truly not able to walk, then just stand outside and take it all in. Breathe. And right there you have a second element to an anticancer lifestyle, a little bit of mindfulness and stress reduction.

What about a night walk?

Want to try something different? Go outside at night, stare up at the stars and watch and listen. There are different sounds at night, or maybe no sounds at all. Everything looks different in the dark. Sometimes scarier, sometimes more magical. Can you hear the owls, the cars, the dogs barking? People laughing? What does your nighttime scape include? Is it different tonight from last night? A weekend versus a weekday? We can fill our minds with so many other things when we are outside and being present in the moment instead of in living in our head thinking about what scares us and what doesn’t feel right. Getting outside and maybe even adding a little walk helps boost our mood and gives us a moment of mindfulness and stress reduction without really trying. A win for us and our bodies.

Sometimes we just need a reminder...

Being outside helps me remember that I am part of this great big universe. Awe in the expansiveness and beauty. A reminder that there is value in just being. No matter what you can’t do, you can go outside, whatever that outside looks like for you, and let your body and mind remember the connectedness we all share. Even when we are alone, we are not alone. We are part of the greater whole of just being. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that. Being outside helps me remember.


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