Health: Nature could be the tonic to the stress of city life

Hayley Doswell, right, founder of Wild Goose, leads the adult forest school session in Otley. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Hayley Doswell, right, founder of Wild Goose, leads the adult forest school session in Otley. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Spending a day cooped up in an office, shut away from the natural world is an unhealthy yet common occurance.

Staring at computers, TVs and tablets was never part of the plan either but in the digital world we live, it’s easy to forget just how great the outdoors is.

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For many, simply breathing in the fresh air and venturing into some green space can be the perfect tonic to the stressful day-to-day of city life.

Hayley Doswell, from Otley, is one of those people. Having experienced the breakdown of a relationship, losing friends and moving areas, the 28-year-old was struggling with anxiety.

Keen to avoid medication and seek natural solace, she decided to spend more time outdoors and underwent forest school training to learn more.

“I started to consider what makes me happy and relax and I thought ‘it’s walking and going out in the park and reading a book’,” she said.

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The experience was life-changing and prompted her to set up the Wild Goose social enterprise, which runs ‘adult forest schools’ at Otley Chevin Country Park to help people who are stressed or anxious find an escape.

She said: “It’s all about confidence and coming out of your comfort zone. My aim is to encourage more and more adults to get outside, play more and destress. I set it up to help people in the situation I was in.”

In search of a bit of outdoor relaxation I popped along, met new, noticeably free-spirited people and gave everything from leaf printing artwork to fire starting a go.

Though my fire starting skills left much to be desired, just being outside in a gorgeous park on a sunny day was enough to take my mind out of its regular routine.

The benefits of activities like forest schools, which are inspired by the educational traditions in Scandinavia, are also backed up by science. Mental health charity Mind’s ‘Feel Better Outside, Feel Better Inside’ report was backed up by research from the University of Essex, which found ‘ecotherapy’ can improve mental health, boost self esteem and reduce isolation.

Everyone from the recently retired to stressed single parents are seeking solace outdoors, and it seems to work.

Bradford teacher Gurinder Sandhu, 34, came to the Wild Goose sessions with his partner Vanessa. He said: “It makes a lot of sense, I’m not very good at recognising stress. It transforms the weekend.”

Huddersfield working mum Laura Smith, 40, sought out the classes to get both her and her 15-year-old daughter Olivia out the house. She added: “It really helps you to chill out and feel better about yourself.”

The thought that the key to reducing stress and anxiety might, quite literally, be on your doorstep is a sobering thought. It’s about time that we, as a nation, made more of it.

GREAT OUTDOORS CAN HELP YOU RELAX

Wild Goose is a social enterprise, founded by Hayley Doswell in 2014, to help use the outdoors to promote positive mental health in adults.

It runs adult forest school courses, which run in blocks of six weekly two-hour sessions, that are open to all for £40.

Profits pay for ‘campfire conversations’, which are outdoor cooking sessions where people with mental health issues cook, share stories and support each other.

For further information visit www.facebook.com/wildgoosecic.

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