IAPS-OAD Mental Health Workshop on “Planetary Self-Care Activities”

On November 4, 2023, the OAD’s Astronomy for Mental Health group, in partnership with the International Association of Physics Students (IAPS), conducted a pair of virtual workshops tailored for physics students. These sessions were dedicated to exploring the potential of astronomy as a tool for enhancing mental well-being.

The workshops commenced with introductions to the two hosting organizations, the OAD and IAPS. It was followed by a discussion on the pivotal role of astronomy in advancing global sustainable development. To initiate engaging dialogue and acclimate participants, an icebreaker activity in the form of a poll was employed to assess audience perceptions regarding the use of astronomy for mental well-being.

The icebreaker paved the way for a session that delved into the untapped potential of astronomy in the realm of mental health. This segment encompassed an elucidation of the central theme, “Astronomy for Mental Health,” coupled with a presentation of supporting evidence and theories highlighting astronomy’s role in promoting mental well-being. The following session addressed the transformative power of astronomy in shifting perspectives. It engendered a discussion on how astronomy can reshape one’s outlook on life and alleviate the burdens of daily stressors. This discussion was further linked to the well-established psychotherapeutic technique, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), while also exploring the concept of the “cosmic perspective” and its potential benefits for mental health.

To put the discussed concepts into practical use, the OAD developed a workbook replete with a variety of activities that incorporate the ACT technique. The choice of ACT integration was informed by its ease of application, focus on helping individuals identify their core values, and practices that encourage self-reflection and exploration. ACT, true to its name, emphasizes acceptance, be it self-acceptance, acceptance of challenges, situations, or environments. The activities in the workbook were themed around planets and titled “Planetary Self-Care Activities”.

Participants were guided through one of the workbook activities, specifically the “Jupiter Joyful Journaling” activity, designed to foster reflection, goal setting, and exploration of aspirations and dreams. This activity led to an in-depth discussion of various interventions and concepts, including those from the field of astronomy, as well as the notion of mental health retreats that blend astrotourism and well-being practices.

Both workshops were conducted with great success and saw the active participation of 35 individuals. You can find recordings of the two sessions on our YouTube channel, and the workbook can be accessed below. Further resources can be found on the project webpage.