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Observing is good for your mental health


RobertI
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I recently resurrected my daily mindfulness activities and am really feeling the benefits. If you've never tried it, give it a go, especially if you're stressed or anxious. But it occured to me that visual observing also provides many of the same benefits as mindfulness and meditation. Here are some of the mental health benefits I get from my observing sessions:

  • A chance for some true peace and quiet (as long as the neighbours have gone to bed!)
  • Being 'in the moment', free from distractions and interruptions
  • A close connection with nature, giving a sense of perspective on everyday problems
  • Observing requires concetration and focus, very much like meditation, calming the mind
  • Observing also encourages a relaxed body and slow breathing
  • A sense of achievement from having found something challenging
  • A sense of satisfaction from having appreciated something unusual or beautiful

I also find the simplicity of manual altaz setup without any electronics really helps, reducing distractions and increasing the feeling of being in control.

Perhaps I'm overselling the benefits, but it certainly explains why I feel so good after I've had a good observing session, and why I feel so good the next day too. If only I could do it more often! :)

 

Edited by RobertI
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I think you could be right, Rob! There's something very special about observing the night sky that is quite fulfilling and wholesome!

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The only thing observing is teaching me is a tolerance for ultimate frustration.

Three weather fraudcasts said I was in for a good night except for an hour or so of cloud around 11 pm. I can live with that.

At 9 pm the cloud has moved in and shows no sign of leaving.

Now it looks like I'll be up til 3 am for a clearance. I can live with that too. Still will get another 3 hours of astro dark. But if it doesn't,  expect a storm of tossed scopes and eyepieces in the neighborhood.

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The previous post does highlight the frustration of dodgy forecasts and I certainly understand that. I arrange visits to one of my local club’s dark sites and it’s myself who’s usually responsible to confirm or cancel the scheduled event. Often it’s a tough call.  But when it all comes together it’s great to be together under a good sky and makes up for all the hassle.

Observing on my own is far different, it’s then I can relax without the further frustration of all the hi-tech equipment that just gets in the way of enjoying the night sky.

I echo 100% previous comments.

Ed.

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When everything comes together, a clear night with good transparency and good seeing, there's nothing like an evening of good observing. Even if conditions aren't perfect, it's still very therapeutic to get out under the stars. The fewer electronics to fiddle with the better imo. After all, we are made from the stuff of stars. We connect with our cosmic origins when we observe.

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Totally agree @RobertI

Particularly the aspects around concentration and slow, controlled breathing which I find happens specifically when observing the sun and planets. This actually slows my heart rate and makes me forget all my worries. It’s one of the only things I do that manages that.

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Couldn't agree more Rob! Like many I have chronic anxiety and panic attacks but always feel great when I get out under the stars! 

My other hobbies of running, cycling and fish keeping all seem to be designed to help with anxiety too, either relaxing or producing endorphins.  

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I recently (accidently) missed a local Zoom/Youtube talk: "Mindful Astronomy".
I'll allow YOU to search it out. I have no issues with investigation OR advocacy.
As with all such things, the real test is whether a particular thing works for you. 🤔

Many people derive "peace" from self-reflection etc. But, having (largely) freed
myself from a lifetime of "anxiety" (social, work meetings, big presentations etc.)
ONCE I had achieved some "relaxation", I needed to "get OUT of myself" too! 🥳

There were a LOT of (unfortunate?) labels in the past... Introvert... Extravert etc.
I am (another) of that curious MIX of these? I need time for SELF... and others. 😉
That said, It's good if you can find supportive (rather than critical/angry?) folk!

Ever a PRACTICAL person, I have recently been FIXING some of the many minor
"challenges" around here... Notably re. my "hobbies"? lol. Who knows, I may yet
get around to fixing the long-time and ever-frustrating backlash in my HEQ5? 😅

Edited by Macavity
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Yes, have to agree with all of that. I think the bottom line is that you are immersed in something you love doing. I have been doing it for over 50 years and hope to do it for as long as I can. How many things in life can you make that statement about? And now think that it's all without monetary reward, again when can you apply that statement to anything other than the sheer pleasure of finding the right hobby. 

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I'd agree with all that when you're talking about observing - but imaging is another story.  

When I've finally got the first clear night for weeks and spent ages setting up - something like hardware/software issues with guiding/acquisition has sent me to a very dark place in the past.

When it works though, it suddenly seems worth the occasional anguish and financial cost.

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Great post. I can't imagine giving up this hobby. Being outside with the mount silently tracking an amazing object really does help to put the cranky sods I work with in a mentally sealed box!

Astronomy has also given me something extra to look forward to on retirement. If the body holds out for many more years, I'll be happy to be found frozen solid & slumped over the eyepiece when my time comes... 😆

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Great to hear that so many people feel the same way as me. I certainly agree that there are plenty of things that can mess up a nice peaceful session - the weather, equipment problems and other people being the main culprits. Those ‘perfect nights’ are pretty special though. 🤗

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7 hours ago, ScouseSpaceCadet said:

If the body holds out for many more years, I'll be happy to be found frozen solid & slumped over the eyepiece when my time comes... 😆

I couldn’t agree more! 😆

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Astronomy is my "happy place"...outside in the garden, on holiday looking up at "new" skies and even tinkering with my Astro gear in my office (spare room)...bliss 😊

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Yes, keep those eyepieces in if you are after a relaxing, therapeutic experience. Imaging is laced with stress from start to finish, but in a good way.  When you get some good subs on the drive in spite of everything, that’s entertainment.

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The bigger benefit for me in terms of mental health is realising how vast the skies are. Along with peace & quiet (like many of us, once the neighbours are quiet and the many dogs stop yapping - please let them in folks, they bark for good reason!), fresh air and observing something quite phenomenal I also get this feeling of vastness and how tiny I am compared to this vastness, a magnitude of difference. And while it's easy to say that my problems are trivial - sometimes they aren't - it can put some perspective on things, be it just in that moment or actually can allow your mind to rest. When the mind rests it can solve problems, it can get creative and it can heal.

I like to listen to calming drone / ambient music sometimes under the stars too. They suit each other like spuds & gravy, or strawberries & cream, or tea & cake :)

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The differences between imaging and observing really are quite the opposite when it comes to your overall feelings and mental health.

When I observed I enjoyed the complete process of driving to a dark site, getting set up in the peace and quiet and then concentrating for long periods of time trying to pick out fine details in DSO's or planets. I think its a very mindful way to enjoy astronomy.

With imaging for me at least its just a great feeling when your making progress on an image. Its hard to explain but when I observed I couldn't for the life of me see the point of imaging but all I can say is that when things are going right it just puts a smile on your face (which is pretty important for mental health I reckon) 🙂.

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This has clearly struck a chord with many members. 

I have high blood pressure, and took to measuring it after various activities to see what effect they had. Nothing lowers it as effectively as a good observing session. For me, that objectively validates everything you said. It is a wonderful hobby. 

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Apart from the inherent scientific interest (I’m a scientist by background)  one of the main reasons for getting into the hobby for me was the zen like mindfulness of observing - nothing more relaxing than the immersive quietness of peering into deep space. I’ve recently started to dabble with planetary photography but I wonder if sketching would be the perfect antidote to the gadgetry and electronics … despite being a life long gadgeteer I think I’m probably now an old school analogue visual astronomer by choice - perhaps a dying breed! (Discuss). 

 

 

 

 

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10 minutes ago, Astro_Dad said:

Apart from the inherent scientific interest (I’m a scientist by background)  one of the main reasons for getting into the hobby for me was the zen like mindfulness of observing - nothing more relaxing than the immersive quietness of peering into deep space. I’ve recently started to dabble with planetary photography but I wonder if sketching would be the perfect antidote to the gadgetry and electronics … despite being a life long gadgeteer I think I’m probably now an old school analogue visual astronomer by choice - perhaps a dying breed! (Discuss). 

 

 

 

 

Me too...I have dabbled in the above but have went back to visual only...deep breath in and slow breath out...very calming 📴

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7 hours ago, Astro_Dad said:despite being a life long gadgeteer I think I’m probably now an old school analogue visual astronomer by choice - perhaps a dying breed! (Discuss). 

 

7 hours ago, Astro_Dad said:despite being a life long gadgeteer I think I’m probably now an old school analogue visual astronomer by choice - perhaps a dying breed! (Discuss). 

 

 

…I too am an old school visual only deliberately low-tech observer.  I’ve absolutely nothing against the opposite point of view.  The many folk who are into imaging with all the gadgets and gizmos are the ones that keep the astronomy retailers in business. Those same retailers also sell low-tech kit.  It’s a win-win situation👍
 

Ed.

 

 

 

 

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