The last few months have been challenging for people all over the world, wondering what to do in isolation and how to live life beyond it. From a change in day-to-day living to great uncertainty about the future, everyone struggled in their own way with the global pandemic.
The lock down in many countries or “intelligent lock down”, as the government called it here in The Netherlands, urging people to stay home as much as possible has not been easy to deal with for quite a lot of people as well.
Not only were they thrown off their daily routines and regular social interactions, people suddenly lived a lot closer and spend more time together with their partners, children, pets, other family members and/or housemates. Or they suddenly had to live without anyone at all!
NASA astronauts routinely live and work for longer periods in confined spaces, alone or with very few people, and there have been many studies by national space agencies and others on the psychological, interpersonal and sociological effects of long-duration expeditionary missions.
The good news is that right now is a perfect time to use the results from these studies in our own lives!
In this article, we’ll have a further look into the topic of social isolation and experienced astronauts share their practical tips how best to deal with the current situation.
WHAT TO DO IN ISOLATION?
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 called “The Institute of Isolation” contemplating 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.
You can read a full report that was published in 2015 by the Office of Inspector General at NASA. In it, you can 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 >
USE YOUR OWN ASTRONAUT SKILLS DURING ISOLATION
Here at The Space Tester, we’re all about training and using astronaut skills in your own daily life.
I strongly believe that we all have the power to take the first steps towards leading a better life. Especially in times of crisis, these skills will prove to be very important as you can see below.
Several astronauts did interviews and took to Twitter to share their own tips on dealing with isolation. Of course all from their own experience in space.
I’ve compiled the best tips below. They hopefully help you get through this lock down without too many problems:
1. REALIZE THAT WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
With people pretty much confined to their own houses, neighbourhoods, cities or countries, often apart from family and friends, it’s important to keep in mind that we really are all in this together. More than ever!
Staying home as much as possible already helps the people around you (especially the elder and immunocompromised), but what can you do to let others know you thinking about them?
Some countries have been applauding their health care workers, people created funny memes to lift the mood, others have been making nice signs for delivery people or simply wave to neighbours from behind their windows.
Even though we can’t have physical contact with our loved ones and other people around us, every little human interaction helps in making the situation a bit better for everyone. Hard times shared can be a truly bonding experience!
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 – 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.
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 journaling. 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.
You can also do Yale’s popular course “The Science of Well-Being” for free now! Find out more >
Take control of little things in your life. Even though you might be told to stay home or can’t go to work or events as usual, 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.
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.
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.
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.
There are many resources on the internet 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.
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.
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. These are all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.
6. KEEP MORALE UP
If you don’t like being in a confined space, or feel 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?
Take time to appreciate nature, spend more time in your garden and watch the clouds go by. Go 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!
MORE ASTRONAUT INTERVIEWS ABOUT ISOLATION
I hope this article helped you learn about some quick and easy ways to cope with your own isolation. Thank you for helping to ‘flatten the curve’!
If you’re interested, here are some great interviews with astronauts on the topic of quarantine and dealing with isolation:
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:
Asteroid Day and the European Space Agency connected Europe and the world with astronauts, scientists and performers. They brought a message of hope and support for those facing the global crisis.
This online program was broadcast sequentially in Dutch, German, Italian, French and English. Find out more via: #SpaceConnectsUs
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