Feeling a little drained at work? Conventional wisdom says a walk through a quiet park or a stroll alongside the beach might be all you need to recharge. But, according to a new study, if you’re generally anxious, worried, or moody, being in nature might take even more out of you. In fact, a walk in a busy city, rather than a calm, natural environment, might actually do the trick.
For the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers completed three separate experiments to learn about how personality and environment can affect an individual’s ability to restore themselves mentally after feeling depleted. They gave more than 500 participants mentally draining tasks, such as not thinking about a certain animal or writing sentences without the letter “A” or “N.” All of the participants were also given personality questionnaires to measure neuroticism levels. They were shown words or pictures associated with a natural, urban, or neutral environment. Finally, they were given tasks to test mental ability after being mentally depleted and recharged.
In all three studies, researchers found those who were more neurotic restored their cognitive abilities better after being exposed to more urban environments. Likewise, those who were less neurotic became restored after exposure to natural environments.
However, this effect doesn’t necessarily mean that neurotic people will only feel mentally recharged in the city—the key is finding a stimulating natural environment. For example, researchers found neurotic people were able to mentally restore themselves after being exposed to words like “bear,” “cliff” and “thunder” or looking at pictures of ferocious lions.
Not so neurotic? You don't need to quit your job and stay out of the city. Researchers found a bookstore or a calm café could have the same restorative effects for those as walking in nature.
“People tended to do better in environments that fit with their personality,” study author Kevin Newman said in a statement. “Imagine someone with a neurotic personality like Woody Allen. If you put him in a forest it could be very off-putting rather than rejuvenating.”
Want to know more about how your personality affects you? Here, six common personality quirks—and the surprising meanings behind them.