Jonah Lehrer has an interesting piece in the Boston Globe titled How the city hurts your brain…and what you can do about it.
He cites research that says "just being in an urban environment… impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control." Constant stimuli — signs, noises, sights — leave us depleted. What to do? One psychologist says that immersion in nature can have a restorative effect. Walking through a quiet forest area can replenish the focus and attention that city life drained. Even spending time in nature within an urban area — say, a city park — can achieve a similar effect.
Thanks to growing up in the West, I've been lucky to spend a significant amount of time in nature and my personal experience matches this article all the way. I love the hustle-bustle of big cities but crave regular doses of open space, forests, and fresh mountain air. When I'm there — when I'm gaping at the spectacular red canyons of Utah, or on the peak of a mountain in Colorado, or hiking around the Sequoias of California, or simply letting the desert heart swirl around me in New Mexico, heat that comes out of the ground for miles on end, those open plains — when I'm there I enjoy myself, but I really feel the benefit when I've returned to the big city, recharged.
Day-to-day in the city, I think it's important to find those getaway nooks to relax for an hour. Golden Gate Park in SF or Central Park in NY are the obvious options, and they are wonderful. But sometimes, in San Francisco, finding a cement bench facing the water on a deserted road, and letting the foggy odor envelope the scene, can be just the thing.