Carmen used walking therapy in Richmond Park to escape her corporate life, regain her freedom of choice, and find her home in the outdoors. This is one of those escape the city tales that plenty of us can relate to...
What is nature therapy?
Nature based therapy, also referred to as ecotherapy, is the practice of being in nature to boost mental health. Talking and walking with a therapist whilst immersed in nature is a powerful way to reduce stress, and to identify and change troubling thoughts.
The more we understand why we are the way we are, then the more at peace we can be, the more joyful we can be, the better relationships we can have with others, and the better relationship we can have with ourselves.
Being in natural environments is a powerful part of the process. The fresh air, space and contact with nature helps to clarify thoughts and find solutions.
How do we connect with nature in urban areas?
One of the main principles of ecopsychology is that human beings have a deep psychological need to connect with nature, and that when this connection is severed, it can lead to a variety of mental health problems. People who live in urban areas with less access to green spaces have higher rates of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety compared to those who live in more rural areas.
Community gardens are one way to guarantee contact with nature and boost mental health for those of us living in urban areas. Gardening can be a solitary activity, but community gardens provide opportunities for people to connect with others who share their interest in gardening. Working together on a shared project can also help to build a sense of belonging.
There are also trees along our roads - take a moment to just stare at one. I know it sounds silly, but it will slow down thoughts and quieten the mind. I remember hearing that one of the best meditations is to just sit and watch water coming out of your tap, you know it's still nature and watching the beauty of it falling down can be quite mesmerising. There are many ways that we can connect, it's just a case of opening our eyes and giving ourselves that opportunity.
Many of our Wigwam Holidays sites are within close proximity to the UK’s most densely populated cities. Allow yourself time to reconnect with nature:
What did you struggle with working in a corporate environment?
I don't think human beings are designed to live in boxes. I think it's like a new modern phenomena or and actually, we're meant to be outside in nature.
Carmen spent 20 years working for a number of different corporations but always felt like a square peg in a round hole. She knew there was something else for her but just didn't know how to get there or what that was.
The significant moment of change:
I went to buy my ticket to go to Canary Wharf one day and I felt so sick at the station that I took my ticket back. I stood there and felt this wall of tears coming to my eyes and it was almost like a really visceral, physical reaction where I just thought, I need to turn around and go.
My boss was amazing at the time and just said, just go and take some time. I came walking in Richmond Park and really from that moment, started to change my life.
Spending time in natural environments can be very relaxing. The fresh air, sunshine, and natural beauty can help to reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. One study found that participants who walked for just under an hour in a nature reserve had lower levels of depression, and higher levels of self-esteem and wellbeing, compared to those who walked in an urban area.
Walking is always an amazing reminder for me that I have freedom of choice.
To walk with somebody and see their world change or to hold them in grief for their sadness or to laugh with them and actually be connected to that human being is a world away from sitting in a bank selling savings and mortgages.
My sense is that we're part of nature and that actually we should be much more connected than going into these sterile environments that disconnect us from the outside.
Being outdoors for me is something that feels really deep in my soul and I get a real craving to be outside. I feel much more myself when I'm out in nature.
What is special about walking at night?
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are both characterized by difficulty with attention and impulsivity. People with these conditions often find it challenging to sit still for long periods of time and may have difficulty focusing on a task.
Stillness and mindfulness practices, such as walking at night, can help to improve attention and concentration, as well as reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity.
As soon as you step out into the night, it's like the whole world has suddenly gone quiet. The stillness has calming effects and allows the brain to slow down and find answers.
Often, when I walk and look up at the stars and see the expansiveness of the universe, it forces me to reflect on the insignificance of my concerns, worries and insecurities - it's amazing for perspective.
What is Soulhub?
Carmen wanted to change the perception of therapy being something that is done in the portacabin in the back of a school, so she founded a community focused on wellbeing in natural settings.
There are 25 contributors in the collective with a range of different skills and modalities who create podcasts, events and nature based retreats. There is also a wellbeing app which provides mental health tools for businesses and individuals.
Feel like giving up?
Get out into nature. Sit in the stillness.
There's a lot of pain and suffering in this world, but on the other side of that is a lot of beauty and reconnection.
Feel the feeling and the feeling will pass.
We have wars and a lot of what appears to be darkness in the world, but maybe we are transitioning through this period in the hope of becoming more connected human beings. What we're coming back to is our roots in nature and our connections with the natural world and people around us.
Embrace the positive effects of nature. Turn the TV off, turn the media off. If we're able to view the world from a different perspective, we're able to lift ourselves up and just observe feelings rather than become attached to them.
Find people that are nourishing, kind and compassionate and find that kindness and compassion for yourself.
Feel At Home, Outdoors in the UK's most stunning and remote locations: