5 ways to boost your mental health with help from the great outdoors

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

Seeing red for feeling blue? Just step outside!

Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, designed to raise awareness of mental health challenges around the world and mobilize efforts to support mental health. During these challenging times, those who are feeling stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and other complicated emotions are not alone. According to Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population is experiencing symptoms of depression amid the pandemic.

Connecting to nature and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is beneficial to both your body and mind. Getting a daily dose of nature is an easy, free way to boost your mood and can be as simple as heading to your favorite park, greenspace — or even your back yard.

Introduce a few of the activities below into your weekly routine to help relieve some stress.

Take a walk, run or bike ride

Mental and physical health are closely related. Moving your body has many benefits and exercising outdoors provides benefits traditional indoor workouts do not. Exercising releases endorphins, which help boost your mood. Additionally, spending time outdoors helps you stock up on Vitamin D – the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D is critical for your body and mind to function well, and a lack of it contributes to seasonal affective disorder.

MetroParks Pro Tip: Getting exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run a weekly 5K. Just 30 to 40 minutes of exercise a few times a week will improve your heart health, according to the American Heart Association. A great place to start a wellness journey is by walking MetroParks' new Heart Healthy Trails on the Wolf Creek Trail and in Island and Germantown MetroParks.

Forest bathing

A concept started in Japan called “shinrin-yoku,” forest bathing is simply spending a peaceful moment in nature with your senses engaged. Spending mindful time in nature is thought to boost both physical and mental well-being.

For those who need a little guidance, focus on your feet, hands, ears, eyes and nose for two minutes each. Note what you’re experiencing during these sensory moments, be present and relax during your time immersed in greenspaces.

MetroParks Pro Tip: Between working, studying and schooling from home, people may find it hard to get outside for a dose of nature when they’re stressed. While getting outside offers maximum benefits, bringing nature indoors is a great option for a calming effect. Additionally, MetroParks posts a weekly nature break so those at home can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature from their devices. Follow Five Rivers MetroParks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for MetroParks' moments in nature.

Use your senses

When feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it’s always a good idea to take a break from your stressors if possible. Take a walk outdoors and practice being present and grounding yourself. Every 100 feet — or less if you are in a smaller space — take two minutes to stop, breathe deeply and find the following things using your senses:

  • First stop: What are five things you can see?
  • Second stop: What are four things you can touch?
  • Third stop: What are three things you can hear?
  • Fourth stop: What are two things you can smell?
  • Fifth stop: What is one thing you can taste?

MetroParks Pro Tip: If you are stressed or anxious and can’t make it outside, breathing work can still help alleviate your “fight or flight” instincts. Breathe in deeply and count to five, then exhale completely and count to five. This video provides you a visual aid to keep your breath steady.

Sit or walk by the water

Tap into your “blue mind.” The term refers to the mildly meditative state people fall into when near, in, on or under water, according to marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols. Research has proven that spending time near the water helps elevate happiness.

MetroParks is home to expansive lakes, ponds, streams and rivers, all of which can help provide a calming, blue mind effect. Here are just a few places to visit in MetroParks:

MetroParks Pro Tip: Download MetroParks' mobile app, powered by OuterSpatial, to locate points of interest in the parks, including bodies of water. Download the app.

Take a breath

Meditation is a powerful tool people use to manage stress since breathing and clearing the mind are scientifically proven to help control anxiety and reduce stress. Head outdoors to sit and spend 10 minutes focusing on your breathing.

Those who are new to meditating may need some guidance. Here are some useful tools:

Additional calming activities and hobbies

There are numerous hobbies that promote health and wellness that also allow you to engage in the great outdoors. Try some – or all – of the following:

  • Start a nature journal: Journaling is an effective way to note what is coming up in your mind. Mix journaling with fun and interesting things you find in nature. Draw pictures, describe sounds, record your favorite spots and return to those that make you the happiest.
  • Look up: Looking at something as expansive as the sky can help us get out of our own heads and remind us there’s so much to explore in the universe. Make a habit of taking a break and watching the sun rise or set. Look at the moon in its many phases during the month. Mark your calendar for spectacular astronomical displays, such as meteor showers and super moons.

MetroParks Pro Tip: The next meteor shower, the Orionids, will peak Oct. 20 to Oct. 21. Additionally, a penumbral lunar eclipse will begin on Monday, Nov. 30, at 2:32 a.m., so be sure to set your alarm clock.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Make a date with your pet

According to the CDC, there are many benefits to owning a pet. Pet owners are more likely to go outside and get exercise. Plus, being around animals you love helps manage loneliness and depression through companionship. Spend some quality time with your furry friend once a week in a MetroPark.

MetroParks Pro Tip: Looking for a favorite trail for you and your pooch? MetroParks has a roundup of dog-friendly trails to visit on your next adventure. Dogs must always be on a leash no longer than 8 feet in MetroParks.

Five Rivers MetroParks visitors should always follow the CDC’s recommendations, particularly for social distancing and wearing face coverings, while spending time outdoors. For the most current information on MetroParks' COVID-19 response and related closures, visit metroparks.org/covid-19 and follow Five Rivers MetroParks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


While nature is a valuable tool to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, it is not a replacement for speaking with a mental health professional. If you need to talk, call:

· The Miami Valley Warmline: 937-528-7777

· The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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