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As someone who lives with mental illnesses, I know some days are better than others. Despite my medications, support systems, and meetings with my psychiatrist, sometimes I have a difficult time staying afloat and maintaining my routines. Because of this, I’ve learned several coping techniques, including ways to help boost my mood. One key way I’ve been able to give myself some much-needed happiness is through simply going outside and enjoying nature. I’m fortunate to live in a state with lots of forests, parks, and open outdoor space, and taking advantage of these areas can actually help me out a lot. Below are some of my favorite things to do outside to boost my mood and make me feel better–maybe some of them can help you, too!

First, sometimes it’s just enough for me to be outside, even if I’m not doing anything “special.” The fresh air and grass feel great even when I’m not moving. So, I’ll take something I could enjoy inside and just bring it outdoors, whether it’s a book to read or my phone to scroll social media. If I really just want to be outside without doing anything, I’ll close my eyes and just listen to the birds and other wildlife around me. Even though this seems simple, the change in scenery and fresh air can sometimes work wonders on my mood.

When I’m up for a little more movement, I LOVE going to my local parks. Where I live, there are sprawling park systems that are available to everyone, and they’re filled with walking and biking trails. I enjoy winding my way around the trails, taking pictures of cool trees, listening to the rushing river, or talking to my brother, who I usually get to go on walks with me. It’s a great way to get some exercise that doesn’t really feel like exercise, while also enjoying the amazing parks I’m lucky to see supported around me. Every time I leave a park, I instantly feel better about my day.

At one of the parks by me, there is a large white-tailed deer habitat, where people can see and feed the deer. Since deer are one of my favorite animals, I love to go to the habitat to watch the deer roam around and interact with one another. The fawns are especially fun to see, as they’re just discovering the world around them. If you love animals and have any free habitats around you, visiting them can be an amazing way to get yourself outdoors and around something that will hopefully make you happy. If you bring any food for the animals, just be sure to double check what is safe for them to eat.

Reading, walking, and visiting the deer are some of my favorite things to do outside, but there is so much more you can do–hiking, biking, swimming, camping, sports, and more. If there are activities you enjoy doing outside, getting out there can be a mood boost when you need it–even if initially getting yourself out there seems difficult.

And if moving outdoors when you’re feeling down feels like an especially hard obstacle some days, see if anyone in your support group likes joining you outside. For example, my mom encourages me to read outside and will come with me when I don’t want to move out there, and my brother will go on walks with me when I need a little push.

Just going outside isn’t a catchall substitute for medications or therapists when you’re dealing with mental illnesses. However, when you need a little extra boost of happiness, getting outdoors can be helpful; sometimes, it’s exactly what I need.