Urban living gives you brain fatigue. It flat out makes your brain tired of constantly being alert and aware. And a walk in the park can go a long way to clear up the resulting fuzziness.
I like how Fast Company explains it: "Pedestrians get drained because they have to remain vigilant of all the madness that's around them, being forced to use directed mental attention--a limited resource--to get from one block to another without being run over by something with two legs or four wheels. In contrast, the environs of a park, unless there's a stroller festival afoot, can put you into a state of soft fascination,the aaaaah-inducing feeling of taking in the space around you. By being in a green space, that ever-so-scarce resource of directed attention is able to renew itself."
A new study from Scotland helps to prove this. New York Times writes that researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh used portable EEGs to monitor the brain activity of 12 healthy young adults. Different participants walked through different areas of Edinburgh -- one was an historic shopping district, one was a park-like setting, and one was a busy commercial district.
You can guess which walkers were the least stressed and frustrated -- those in the park. While this is a small study, it still helps to underscore what we already intuitively know. We relax in quiet, natural settings much more than we do (or ever could) in urban settings.
Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment, who oversaw the study, told the New York Times that while natural setting still engage our brain, the engagement is effortless: "It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection."
From the New York Times:
The study suggests that, right about now, you should consider “taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”
It's certainly worth taking a walk in a quiet park yourself to test out this theory and see if you're calmer and more clear-headed when you return home.