We’ve all been pretty much in lock down over the past few weeks and at this point in time, it’s still unclear just how long this situation is going to take.
This can be a scary thought for some, especially if you’re not used to being home (alone) a lot and are thrown off your daily routines and regular social interactions.
You probably know that NASA astronauts routinely live and work for longer periods in confined spaces, alone or with very few people. There have been many studies by national space agencies and others on the psychological, interpersonal and sociological effects of long-duration expeditionary missions, and this is something we can make use of right now!
Let’s dive into the topic a little further and show you practical things you can do at home to make things better for yourself and the people around you.
- DEALING WITH SOCIAL ISOLATION IN SPACE & ON EARTH
- The Effects of Long Duration Space Flight on the Human Psyche
- Human Exploration Research
- Using Astronaut Skills During Isolation
- More Astronaut Interviews About Isolation
DEALING WITH SOCIAL ISOLATION IN SPACE & ON EARTH
The Effects of Long Duration Space Flight on the Human Psyche
At the fantastic Moving to Mars exhibition that I saw at the Design Museum in London recently, there was an interesting short film by artist Lucy McRae (click to see it on her website) called “The Institute of Isolation” that contemplated whether isolation might be used as a gateway to training human resilience.
The impact on the psychological well-being of astronauts during their long journeys to places like Mars and the additional isolation from family, friends, and the familiarity of Earth is not something that can be taken lightly, that is for sure!
Any psychological or behavioral issues for crew members could affect not just their own well-being, but also their performance in the mission as a whole.
Human Exploration Research
NASA is currently using environmental factors, crew selection requirements, training, workload scheduling, medicine, and communication with support networks to counter risks of mental and physiological issues in their current missions.
For example, the International Space Station (ISS) has private crew quarters and Earth-viewing windows to help astronauts cope with being confined to a small space and isolation from Earth.
The website of NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) tells you more about Social Isolation and Space. They are dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel, by using ground research facilities, the International Space Station, and analog facilities such as the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), the NEK facility in Moscow, and field locations in Antarctica.
If you’re interested, you can read a full report that was published in 2015 by the Office of Inspector General at NASA and read more about NASA’s efforts to manage health and human performance risk for space exploration.
Also interesting is “Houston We Have a Podcast”, the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, stationed in Houston, Texas. Episode 58 is all about isolation. Visit their website to find out more >
Using Astronaut Skills During Isolation
If you’ve browsed a few pages on my website, you would know that I’m all about training and using astronaut skills in your own daily life.
We all have the power to take the first steps towards leading a better life and especially in times of crisis, these skills will prove to be very important as you can see below.
Over the past days, several astronauts from around the world did interviews and took to Twitter to share their own tips on dealing with isolation from their own experience.
I’ve curated them and compiled the best tips below, to show you how you can get through this lock down without too many problems:
1. Realize That We’re All In This Together
To start off, even though we’re all pretty much locked up in our own houses, often apart from family and friends, keep in mind that we really are all in this together. More than ever!
Staying home already helps the people around you (especially the elder and immunocompromised), but what else can you do to let others know you thinking about them?
Some countries are currently applauding their health care workers each day, people are creating the funniest memes to share to each other and lift the mood (I’m sharing the best ones on my Instagram account, come check them out @thetraveltester!), you can make nice signs for delivery people or simply wave to neighbours from behind your window.
All the little bits help in making this a bit better for everyone and remember: hard times shared can be a truly bonding experience!
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING >
One year ago, launching into space reinforced to me that the most important thing on Earth is the people you love. Today, as we all stay close to home, I’m struck how that still couldn’t be more true. pic.twitter.com/WXEQx2oAOd— Christina H Koch (@Astro_Christina) March 16, 2020
2. See Your Loved Ones As Crew
Good communication is vital in times like these and you really need the people around you to get through this difficult time. Don’t try to do this alone!
Besides talking on a video call with others, you could also think about finding a common goal or project you can work on together, even if you’re separated physically.
For example, both find photos that you can add to a digital photo album to print. Create a virtual pub quiz that you play with friends, or have a weekly digital happy hour. Participate in a book club. Record songs for people in hospitals or nursing homes. Write personal letters (or emails) to people you’ve always wanted to support or thank…
We’re more connected in life than ever and everyone plays a part in making this a successful, not stressful time, so use this situation as an opportunity to be creative and connect with the people around you, even if they aren’t in the same space as you.
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: SOCIAL SKILLS >
Enjoyed kicking off Bedtime Storytime w my brother @CaptMarkKelly last night.— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) April 2, 2020
He compared isolation w family at home to a space crew. We’re all on a mission. Everyone has a key role. Family is crew.
What book did we read? https://t.co/NXRklPIaQY#InternationalChildrensBookDay pic.twitter.com/OZ7TwDar5h
Social distancing 5 yrs ago. Saying goodbye in an emotional series of farewells to @StationCDRKelly separated by glass before being separated by our atmosphere for 340 days.— Amiko Kelly (@amikokauderer) March 27, 2020
Thoughts are w all supporting loved ones at a distance today. Everyone’s role is key to mission success. pic.twitter.com/dq3jCFZic3
3. Check in on Yourself
Share your feelings.
Without overwhelm, but be open and vulnerable, so you don’t internalize your emotions and start suffering from that.
If you cannot talk to somebody else, consider journalling. This is a great way to literally write off your feelings. You’ll feel much better afterwards and in a few month’s time, read back on your words and see how you grew as a person.
Another thing you can do for yourself is taking control of little things in your life. Even though you might be told to stay home, you can still chose what you read, what you watch on TV or the internet and how you feel your soul (and body) in general.
You can also do Yale’s popular course “The Science of Well-Being” for free now! Find out more >
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: MENTAL WELL-BEING >
4. Do a Risk Assessment
If you’re feeling emotions of fear or anxiety, a good way to deal with this is doing a risk assessment, just like the astronauts do up in space.
What ACTUAL risk are you currently in? Take a good inventory and realistically assess your own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t panic, just simply note it and think of the next logical step.
To do that, set a clear objective. What is your next mission? Are there any constraints for you do execute that goal? Make sure to also think beyond yourself as if you were on a real expedition. Then take action, whatever it is.
The faster you can get comfortable with the fact that you need to accept that the next weeks, months and perhaps even years will be different to what you’re probably used to, the better off you will be.
Simple things you can do in times like these to take control of the situation are:
washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, using paper tissues you can throw away, clean surfaces you regularly touch more often, keep distance to other people, stay at home as much as you can, sneeze or cough in your elbow, creating a good list of emergency contacts, keeping track of your temperature and other symptoms, finding educational resources for your kids, creating blog content that people can use in current times (such as the blog you’re reading now, or recipes, work from home tips, etc.), and much, much more!
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: ADAPTABILITY >
Reminder that stress happens when expectations aren’t in line with reality. When we can’t change reality, it’s best to focus on our expectations.— Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) March 17, 2020
Expect to do things differently.
Expect to need to adapt.
Expect to be out of your comfort zone.
Expect to put others first. pic.twitter.com/mR0xl40fBs
5. Stay Fit and Healthy
It’s very important to always, especially in these rocky times, to stick to a routine, get enough exercise and have healthy habits.
What makes you feeling useful? Add it to your daily schedule, even if your daily life and/or work situation has changed completely.
But don’t overdo it.
When working from home, for example, it’s easy to get consumed with work now that there is no boundary between your work space and living space. So make sure that you take enough breaks, ‘leave the office’ at night and make time for fun activities as well.
Exercise is something that’s important not only for our physical fitness but also for our mental well-being. It that separates you from work or something else you were doing and gives your mind time to relax at the same time.
Luckily, there are many resources on the internet today that are free to access, for example through YouTube. You can find yoga lessons, indoor walking classes and many more exercise videos that don’t require much or any equipment.
Finally, don’t forget to include a consistent bedtime in your schedule. NASA scientists have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: PHYSICAL WELL-BEING >
How can we stay engaged and healthy indoors? Can’t think of anyone better to give advice than NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. Also check out the #NASAatHome website with all sorts of @NASA fun activities related to their mission. https://t.co/pb8GAu7hO9 pic.twitter.com/XiJa2GfDod— USEmbassyJerusalem (@usembassyjlm) April 2, 2020
7. Keep Morale Up
If you suffer a bit from being in a confined space, or isolated from others, realize that this is purely a psychological issue and that things will pass eventually.
Start by accepting that this is the reality of life right now, then look at opportunities that weren’t there before. What is one thing you always wanted to do, but never ‘got around’ to actually do? Choose that as your next project!
The key is to do the things that fascinate you, not what others expect of you to do, so you really come out of this situation a different person. Find something that’s uniquely YOU.
What project would you love to have tackled or what skill would you like to have gained when you look back on this time in your life in a few month’s time?
Also take time to appreciate nature (but be smart about it), spend more time in your garden and watch the clouds go by, do stargazing from your balcony, go for a walk in the park (keep your distance!!), listen to the birds you can hear, catch some sunlight. Simply opening your window and catching a bit of fresh air can do wonders to the soul!
Can’t go out at all? HeadSpace, my favourite meditation app, has a section with nature sounds. Bliss! If you sign up through this link, you get 14 days HeadSpace Plus for free!
Read more about this Astronaut Skill: MENTAL WELL-BEING >
More Astronaut Interviews About Isolation
I hope this article helped you learn about some quick and easy ways to cope with your own isolation while we all ‘flatten the curve’!
If you’re interested to hear more from astronauts from around the planet, here are some of the best interviews on the topic of quarantine and dealing with isolation that I could find:
WATCH: @AstroPeggy, one of the most successful astronauts in American history, shares her advice for staying in during the #coronavirus pandemic: “You have to be able to communicate effectively… that is the most important thing you have to be able to do.” pic.twitter.com/m3mzy0BOsE— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 23, 2020
Space to Ground: Embracing Self Isolation. Weekly update on what’s happening aboard the International Space Station:
Astronaut Anne McClain’s Tips for Living in Close Quarters: