IN THE water, says wild swimmer Caroline O’Donnell, everything feels calm.

“It helps me relax, forget my worries, and just decompress,” she explains.

It has been a challenging 12 months for the 43-year-old from Giffnock, who has had to juggle full-time working from home, home-schooling her three young children and caring responsibilities for her elderly father.

“As time went on the pressure was overwhelming,” she says.

Caroline ODonnell

Caroline O'Donnell

“A number of my colleagues who were doing the same job as me were put on furlough – they had no kids and no caring responsibilities, so I asked if could I have my hours reduced or for a rotational furlough, but I was told no to both requests.”

She adds: “In June, I was furloughed – a month later, I was made redundant.”

While recruitment consultant Caroline has always enjoyed outdoor sports, wild swimming is something she discovered only recently. Since losing her job, it has been her saving grace.

“Being out in the open water and experiencing nature in such an all-encompassing way really helps me to feel calm and feel really present in the moment,” she explains. “It has also made me feel stronger and braver, giving me the confidence to set up my own business. I felt like I could breathe again.”

Caroline is sharing her story for Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday.

Caroline swims in local lochs.

Caroline swims in local lochs.

The theme this year is ‘nature’. According to research by the Mental Health Foundation, nearly two thirds of adults in Scotland (65 per cent) say that being close to nature improves their mood but one in ten (11 per cent) find it difficult to access nature when they want to.

The Foundation is calling on the Scottish Government to introduce a Green Spaces Strategy which will guarantee safe and accessible green spaces for all, transforming Scotland’s relationship with the outdoors, and improving mental and physical health.

Lee Knifton, National Director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, explains: “Connecting with nature is good for our mental health as it helps reduce feelings of worry, anxiety and stress. In turn, it boosts positive emotions such as joy and calmness.

READ MORE: Glasgow student's mission to help others after 'being pushed aside' at school

“Many people may assume that because we live in Scotland with a wealth of beautiful natural spaces to enjoy, that we can all get into nature when we need to. However, this is not the case, and we need the Scottish Government to produce a national Green Spaces Strategy and for each local authority to produce its own local strategy to ensure that everyone can avail of the mental health benefits of connecting with nature.

“This includes protecting and enhancing green spaces in urban areas, ensuring all new housing developments include high quality green space, and expanding outdoor learning opportunities for children.”

Lee added: “We encourage everyone to get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week and experience the mental health benefits of connecting with nature.”

Find out more at