progress — By astrophotographer jack fusco
When was the last time you heard nothing? How about the last time you weren’t in arms reach of a way to check your email? It’s probably harder to remember than most of us would like to admit. Being constantly connected and having the unspoken expectations of replying to a message within minutes adds up over time. Add in the longer hours we put in while working from home and it makes separating from work and resetting increasingly difficult.
As a full-time astrophotographer, you’d be right to assume that I spend a lot of my time outside exploring and taking photos. The reality is though as I get busier, my time spent inside and in front of a computer increases more and more. Whether I’m working on a project pitch, editing a shoot, replying to emails, or managing the ever-increasing number of social media apps, the balance of my time often shifts greatly. While being busy is a problem I’m very thankful to deal with, I can always tell when I need to make time to spend outdoors.
The photos I take often require being out the whole night as I’m set up with my camera waiting for celestial objects to align. Over the years, the most common response I’ll receive when telling someone how long I waited to take an image is that I must be incredibly patient. While I do like to think I’m a patient person, that is far from the trait I rely on in these situations.
Surrounding myself in nature is one of the most relaxing and peaceful environments I can be in. Although I've always enjoyed these moments, it took me a while to realize how much of a positive impact they had on me. I started realizing it after long runs of desk work prevented me from being out exploring. After a while, I would find myself feeling a bit anxious without really being able to determine what was causing it. When the time would come to be out on a shoot, that weight I was feeling would be lifted.
I feel like I had always heard “being outside is good for you” while growing up, but it always seemed anecdotal. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been drawn to being out in nature, so I never felt the need to look beyond just knowing that I enjoyed it.
While we do our best to avoid stressful moments, they can often be the catalyst for important decisions. In an effort to make sure I was taking care of myself, I spent time trying to prioritize the things I thought I needed against what I actually needed. This was when I first came across research about the benefits of spending time outdoors.
Studies have shown that being in nature can be an effective way to help relieve stress and ease anxiety. As long as we are in situations where we feel safe, our time outdoors can lead to lower levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress as well as many other processes throughout the body. (research ref: White Plains Hospital)
These studies echoed exactly how I was feeling while outside under the stars. It also helped me make the decision to be a bit more protective of my time in nature.
Despite the social media obligations that come with my career path, I make sure that I’m not constantly worried about capturing the moment instead of being in it. As much as I enjoy connecting and sharing these experiences, I want to make sure that they continue to be the stress relief that they always have been and not a wide-open extension of my office.
While I’ve spent more and more time venturing out on solo trips, I try to invite friends or even bring our boxer, Kona whenever possible. Anyone who has been invited has almost definitely heard me describe the experience as “so peaceful” in an attempt to convince them to come along.
What I’ve learned from all of these outings is that it’s important to find what provides that same peace for you. You don’t necessarily have to venture miles from the nearest road or cell tower to benefit from being outside. It can come in short spurts as well. Researchers have found that being outdoors for just 120 minutes per week is linked with better health and mental well-being. Think about it, that’s just 17.5 minutes per day to help. It can be as simple as a short daily walk close to home. (research ref: Healthline)
For me, being in nature provides an opportunity to remove the stress-causing distractions we deal with on a daily basis. I know they won’t magically go away, but I do feel better and more prepared to deal with them when I know I’m taking care of myself. It allows me to turn off my notifications, breathe in fresh air, find a moment of peace and reset. I hope you’re able to find what works best for you and to find the same peace that I do.