Self-care is important for all humans, including those floating in space.
Think about it. If it’s challenging enough to incorporate self-improvement and wellness-boosting techniques into our daily routines, with the benefits of social connection, the pull of gravity, and fresh air at our disposal, how hard must it be for astronauts?
Self-care in a space context is anything that contributes to astronauts’ mental and physical well-being while floating among the stars. Astronauts are tasked with adjusting to a new environment with reduced living quarters and limited hygiene facilities, while establishing working relationships with crew mates, keeping in touch with friends and family back home, balancing work and rest, and keeping up with their physical and mental fitness.
So, nice long soaks in a bubble bath are out considering how one showers in space. But unlike the branded version the wellness industry is glad to sell us, self-care is about more than fancy bath bombs anyway.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re not going to be able to be the team member that you need to be.”
NASA astronaut , who has logged thousands of hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, says that self-care is an integral part of being an astronaut, whether you’re training for space missions in an underwater facility or maintaining the ISS.
“Self-care is actually an everyday subject for astronauts and for the team that sends people to space, in that the mission is so compelling and important and it’s easy to sort of throw everything else aside and be all in for the mission,” Coleman told Mashable.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re not going to be able to be the team member that you need to be.”
The importance of self-care is even embedded into training, before you take even one small step into a space station.
“At NASA, and within all those space agencies, we really acknowledge this, and in fact as much as we can, we send people out on exercises where they are going to be challenged in that way,” said Coleman, noting that astronauts are sent on hiking, rappelling, and kayaking trips together to develop these self-care habits in addition to teamwork.
“It’s completely emphasised in training and it’s actually something that you’re evaluated on — whether you’ve found some mechanisms to take care of yourself,” she said.
Regular exercise is key in space
One of the most common forms of self-care on Earth is regular exercise, which helps boost one’s overall health. But astronauts in space can’t exactly go for a jog in the fresh air to clear their minds, increase fitness, and gain strength.
Astronauts, according to NASA, exercise two hours per day on average to prevent bone and muscle loss during long-duration spaceflight. Exercise can also prevent some nasty side-effects of microgravity.
NASA astronaut and former ISS resident Karen Nyberg recorded a demonstration of how astronauts run on what’s known as the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) — yes, .
Just jump into the backpack-like harness and clip into the bungee cord hooks to stop you from floating away, select a pre-programmed setting from the computer, and off you run.
Eating well without a Whole Foods
Eating well can be relatively easy when you can hit up a supermarket and whip up a salad, but astronauts can spend hundreds of days in space with only designated space-friendly supplies.
Astronauts eat three meals a day like most of us on Earth, with nutritionists creating custom plans for a balanced diet for each person, with all the vitamins and minerals they individually need. Supplies are regularly sent to the ISS, and yes, you can cook in space.
Comfort food, however, is actually not out of the question for astronauts — and that’s where the self-motivated nosh fests arise. Although it might not be amazing for your physical health, your emotional health sometimes requires a treat. And astronauts can bring some of their favorite foods on board for special occasions.
So, it might not be the healthiest option, but a simple way to boost team morale, even on a space station? Pizza night.
Communication changes everything
It seems like a given, but one of the most important forms of self-care for astronauts in space is communication. Sure, talking to each other about what’s going on is critical to team success, but talking to people outside the crew is key to maintaining one’s emotional health.
Coleman explained that communication was one of her primary ways to cope in space. Thanks to the station’s space-to-ground communication systems and yes, onboard WiFi, astronauts on the ISS are able to stay in touch with their loved ones back home.
“Self-care for the mind is also maintaining close contacts with family and friends on Earth.”
“We are lucky enough on the ISS to be able to call our families, friends, or anyone on the planet. That was one of my coping mechanisms — [to stay] in touch with people on the ground and hear about their days and express things that were frustrating to me [and] go out and enjoy another day,” Coleman said.
The ISS is often referred to as the same size as a five-bedroom house, but along one long hallway, so anyone who’s spent time with housemates or family members in a space like this will know that self-care is everything to get through your day. Sometimes you just need someone to vent to.
“For me — surviving the space station, surviving the training, all those things — I’m a pretty verbal person and I figure out what I want to do about things sometimes by talking it through with someone, whether that’s a husband or a girlfriend or a friend,” Colman told Mashable.
“For a lot of people, you come home from work and talk to your spouse and you say, ‘Oh, this guy at work, it makes me crazy when he does that, he does it every day!’ Just actually saying that, then you’re all done and you feel better,” she added. “I realised I needed to make sure I had a mechanism for doing that.”
If the phone’s not available, there’s also always social media. In fact, platforms like Twitter have become incredibly important to the astronauts’ feeling of connectedness to the Earth.
Being so far from Earth, albeit with quite the privileged perspective of our planet, astronauts might experience feelings of disconnectedness from current events. However, WiFi access has helped, with many astronauts regularly tweeting and engaging with the public conversation.
But all this online time needs to be monitored, lest it impact one of the main techniques of self-care: sleep.
“Being in touch with your family, keeping a journal and things … I found I was leaving all of them for the end of the day. That meant I was staying up too late and not getting enough sleep,” said Coleman.
“I really learned that lesson for the International Space Station. Really, I needed to make sure that I did the things that were really a part of my day and I wasn’t going to bed until they were done. I had to find a way to work them in the day earlier. I couldn’t afford to not get enough sleep.”
Sleeping on top of the world
Getting a good night’s sleep is a key part of a good daily self-care routine — a rested body and mind are important. , astronauts are scheduled for eight hours of sleep at the end of each mission day. How do astronauts get that precious rest? They don’t actually have beds, but sleeping pods in which they’re strapped to the wall.
In a video for the Canadian Space Agency, CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield takes us through exactly how astronauts sleep in space, and even debuts his special “space jammies.”
“We keep busy on board the space station. Long days, lots of work, physical exercise — at the end of it you’re tired,” he said. “You might think it’s uncomfortable not having a mattress and a pillow, but without gravity, of course, you don’t need anything to hold you up. You can just completely relax. You don’t even need a pillow. In space, you don’t need to hold your head up, so you relax every muscle in your body.”
Sounds pretty ideal — although studies have shown that sleeping in space is not always that easy.
Reading loud and clear
Living in your workspace can feel like you’re constantly on the clock, so, according to NASA, flight planners on Earth schedule daily time for astronauts to relax.
Reading as a way of unwinding is a big part of self-care in space. Astronauts can use their own pods to read and chill out, or they might find a special spot. NASA astronaut, engineer, and current ISS resident Christina Koch gave some insight into self-care on Labor Day, with a photo of herself enjoying a good book by her favourite window.
“Even astronauts need to chill,” she tweeted. “After a long week packed with science, a spacewalk, and a re-docking, it’s important to recharge your batteries to keep focused on bringing your best.”
And Koch should know what it means to take care of yourself in a cramped, unconventional environment for lengthy periods — she’s on a to achieve the longest single spaceflight by a woman. Hope she brought plenty to read.
Watching what you’re watching at home
Watching a bunch of TV as self-care is a pretty polarising strategy — although there’s a lot to be said for the undeniable comfort that comes with a Fleabag binge. Sure, it can be fun, but binge-watching can have on your mental health. However, taking a break and watching things that are popular on Earth could be considered self-care for astronauts since it’s a potential way to treat feelings of homesickness or loneliness.
American/Canadian NASA astronaut and geophysicist Drew Feustel watched seven seasons of Game of Thrones while he was on the ISS.
“We see the same walls every day unless we go outside for a spacewalk, which is pretty rare. When you’re six people separated from 7 billion people, you like to have things in space that keep you connected to Earth,” Feustel told The Atlantic. “Astronauts watch all kinds of entertainment on the ISS, from TV shows and films to sporting events and cable news, usually on their laptops.”
ISS residents regularly post images of themselves watching the game.
The value of a killer window seat
Interestingly, some physical features of the ISS have contributed to maintaining resident astronauts’ mental health, including the cupola, the small, panoramic, ESA-built observatory module of the station. It’s meant to allow for observation of activities like spacewalks and shuttle approaches, but also provides pretty incredible views of the Earth below.
”I use it every day to look out and get that different perspective that we get up here, to fully appreciate the place that we’re at, the unique perspective that we get from the laboratory up here. But it also is a way to connect with the ground, you know, we spend six-plus months up here, upwards of a year, and it’s important to stay connected with the ground and that’s one way we can do it.”
Spending hundreds of hours floating above the Earth or beyond, away from your loved ones, cramped in tiny quarters, but getting a look at what’s beyond our own atmosphere, it seems taking care of oneself is paramount to both mission success and the overall wellness of astronauts.
Turns out, self-care is important with or without gravity.
Sources: • Mashable
Featured Image: NASA
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