This astronaut spent a year in space. Here are his tips on isolation

By Shannon Sweeney — / Death Wish Coffee Blog

Retired NASA astronaut shares tips on isolation in the New York Times 

There's no doubt that what our society is experiencing right now is a challenge — and there's only so much coffee you can drink to feel better. As we're forced to say goodbye to our coffee shop meet-ups and hello to weeks of staying at home, how do we handle that transition? 

Astronaut Scott Kelly is pictured on the International Space Station with Earth shown out the window

Even if you're a natural introvert, suddenly having to shift your entire routine is a lot to process. But there are experts out there who are here to help — one of those experts? A retired NASA astronaut who spent a year on the International Space Station — I'd say he knows a thing or two about isolation. 

Scott Kelly took his thoughts to paper and penned a New York Times opinion piece on tips for handling social isolation. Here's what he said. 

Follow a schedule

Kelly writes that on the Space Station, his schedule was booked from the moment he woke up until he went to sleep. On some days, this included multi-hour spacewalks, whereas others, it was a lot of small tasks that added up to a full day. 

His takeaway is this: Keep a schedule for yourself. Write down what you want to accomplish for the day and when — including work meetings, exercising, showering, calling family, meal prepping, and more. 

...But pace yourself

As you set a schedule for yourself, Kelly writes, he says to take it slow. Make time for fun activities, like watching a movie, jamming out to your favorite Quarantunes playlist, or binge-watching Game of Thrones. (He notes that he binged-watched the series twice while on the Space Station. Color me impressed.)

Go outside

"One of the things I missed most while living in space was being able to go outside and experience nature," Kelly writes. "After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature — the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face."

Get fresh air, but do it safely. More government officials are enacting stricter restrictions of what we can do outside, but they're not saying to not go outside at all — just do it alone. Take solo walks around the neighborhood, keep your distance from others, or make it part of your schedule to run outside a few times a week. 

Get a hobby

Need a hobby? Now is the time to get one. Kelly writes of the importance of having a hobby that isn't work-related or cleaning related. Read a book, do a puzzle, paint, make crafts, bake — whatever you enjoy that can help you relax and escape for a little while. 

Keep a journal

Kelly writes that NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one of the biggest surprises they've discovered is the importance of keeping a journal. 

"Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day," Kelly wrote. "If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories."

Take time to connect

Call or video chat your loved ones. Because isolation affects both our mental and physical health (especially our immune systems), it's extremely important to have some sort of interaction with others — even if it's a short phone call to say hi. 

"Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day — it might actually help you fight off viruses," Kelly writes.

He also notes how lucky we are to be able to connect with others through the internet — and to take advantage of things like FaceTiming your nieces and nephews to read them a bedtime story, donating online to a charity or organization on the frontlines, or running errands for immuno-compromised neighbors.

Listen to experts

Kelly sums this up perfectly: "I’ve found that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist."

He advises that we seek information from those who have the most knowledge — be wary of social media posts, check sources, and seek out reputable places of fact (Like the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.) 

Together (while still apart) we can get through this — so brew another pot of coffee, put on some fresh pajamas, and raise a mug to your neighbors who don't have the option to. Thank you to the doctors, the nurses, the truck drivers, the warehouse workers, the first responders, the grocery store clerks, the restaurant workers, and so many more who are putting others before themselves. 

Read the entire New York Times piece here. 

Related: Learn about the science of the International Space Station


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