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An astronaut’s guide to taking care of yourself during lockdown

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to lose my mind. Social distancing prevents you from having a normal life, doing the things you like, and being with the ones you love. I feel like I’m living in one of those films in which the character relives the same day over and over. Luckily, I’m with my family, my dog, I have a home, food, and I’m working. Isolation is even more difficult for people without this type of support. Add fear to all of this — Fear of the pandemic, fear of what will happen in the next few days, fear of losing someone. It’s a plate full of anxiety, isn’t it?

What many of us are living through now is not that different from what astronauts experience. They also fear for their lives, for their future. And for months at a time, they can’t go out or be with their families. That’s why they must keep their minds as healthy as possible.

How astronauts keep their minds healthy during the missions

Astronauts are well-trained to face a great number of adversities, including long-term confinement. But let’s not forget, they’re human beings. NASA considers the mental health of astronauts one of the most important issues to ensure the integrity of the mission.

Do you think being stuck alone at home is bad? Now, THIS is isolation! Image credit: NASA

“Isolation and confinement are like being alone in a cramped space, and that feeling worsens over time. The longer and longer a person spends in that kind of environment, there is a potential for bigger and bigger problems,” Bill Paloski, Director of NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP), explains. This has become even more important, like missions to the International Space Station (ISS) can last for months. “Expedition crews selected for a stay aboard the space station are carefully chosen, trained, and supported to make sure they can work effectively as a team for six months. Crews for a Mars mission will undergo even more scrutiny and preparation since they will travel farther and longer than any previous human, being more isolated and confined than we can imagine. The types of problems you may encounter are a decline in mood, cognition, morale, or interpersonal interaction,” NASA officials report.

Here are some tips from space about living in isolation:

Communication and teamwork is key

One important factor is that the crew must work effectively as a team. Imagine being confined to someone you hate. Would you kill each other? In space there’s no room for that — a murder would certainly ruin the entire mission. When locked together with other people, you can apply the same technique. Try to improve your communication skills and emotional intelligence. Remember everyone is experiencing the same fears, so try to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

The importance of regular activities

Astronauts may suffer from sleep and circadian rhythm disorders, which can contribute to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue. To overcome this problem, they must follow a strict schedule for sleep, eat, and exercise. You can do the same to survive the quarantine. Try to maintain a regular routine. This will help you sleep better and feel better.

Having fun is necessary

Scott Kelly is a retired astronaut who spent 520 days in space throughout his NASA career. For him, it’s important to spend time doing something entertaining, such as listening to music, taking care of your house, spending time with your family. That helps to keep your mind occupied.

In the video above, astronaut Scott Kelly gives tips on living in isolation. Another tip is: stay connected. Stay in touch with your loved ones. Fortunately, technology allows us to do that. So you don’t need to isolate yourself the way people in the past were forced to do.

Healthy body, healthy mind

Astronauts use to spend several hours each day exercising. This helps maintain their physical and mental well being. Exercising is one of the best ways to fight depression. It has the power to activate your brain and to make your body produce hormones that´ll make you feel good and motivated. The good news is nowadays it’s possible to exercise at home — there are plenty of free workouts available on YouTube.

Be aware it will pass

No one knows more about isolation than astronauts. They know just how you’re feeling. Try to apply their tips and you’ll (hopefully) feel much better. Take this opportunity to learn something new and to reconnect with your spirit. Stay safe and healthy.

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