Study after study has shown that nature can be restorative to your mental and physical health. However, a new study has found that this may not be the case for everyone. If you're the kind of person who thinks a quiet walk in the woods sounds like the basis for a horror movie, don't worry — you are not alone. For some people, time spent in nature is stressful and anxiety-producing. If you don't love nature, you're not crazy. But you may be neurotic.
The study published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Psychology — and written about by Olivia Goldhill on Quartz — found that some people are more stressed out in environments that many of us find calm and relaxing — like a quiet patch of forest or a bubbling brook. On the flip side, those same folks are likely to find their zen in the exact place where the rest of us lose it: on bustling city streets or otherwise enveloped in the bump and grind of an urban setting.
Through a series of three experiments involving a total of 455 participants, researchers discovered that the more neurotic a person was, the more likely she was to be stressed by nature and calmed by a more urban setting. These folks felt more relaxed by say, the word "traffic," rather than the word "forest." Interestingly, they found that words that might typically be categorized as anxiety-inducing even though they were nature-based, such as “spider,” were also restorative for those who tested high for neuroticism.
Similarly, people who scored low on the neuroticism test were more restored by nature-based words or calm, urban environment words such as "bookstore."
The researchers suggest that the environments we feel most relaxed in are those that match our personality. Someone who is normally calm will feel restored when immersed in a calm environment. While someone who is more anxious will feel relaxed by a more chaotic environment.
"These results are interesting as they contradict the one-size fits all understanding of natural environments at the expense of urban environments," they noted.
As Goldhill points out, it's important to remember this was a small study, and the participants were only rated based on their reactions to certain words. One might feel anxious about the idea of going into the forest but then quite relaxed once they got there.
Either way, it gives food-for-thought to those who feel stressed out by nature. If that's you, you might want to skip the nature walks and seek out chaotic environments when you need to unwind and relax.