Top 10 tips to surviving self-isolation from a NASA spacesuit tester

‘Some people suffer from uncontrollable giggling. Others become selfish, with their worse personality traits emerging,’ NASA spacesuit tester Benjamin Pothier says on the subject of self-isolation.

The 46-year-old from France has travelled all over the world to remote locations to study isolation and investigate how astronauts adapt to living in confined environments for months at a time.

He once spent six weeks living on a research station in the high Arctic during the winter months when it stays dark 24/7. ‘I’m not mad,’ he jokes, ‘I was there to find out how one adapts to coping in such extreme conditions.’

From his extensive investigations, here Pothier offers his top ten tips around living in self-isolation as millions around the world get to grips with being confined to their homes during the coronavirus lockdown…

1. Make two types of schedules

Try as much as you can to plan your activities for the next day every evening. Before doing that take two minutes to sit down, breathe slowly and make a mental list of the positive things you have accomplished today, even very simple things. You’ve cleaned your windows? Fixed the sink? Wrote an email to a friend? Congratulations, you are an achiever!

Then try to envision larger plans for the longer period you might be self-isolating. Maybe some home renovations, maybe learning origami at an expert level, who knows? Basically, look for any types of activities that can’t be done in a day. Break down those larger plans in smaller goals that you can achieve in a month, in a week, in few days, etc.

2. Write to-do lists

Probably the most critical piece of advice in my opinion. Once you have set your goals for the next day and for the week or month to come, write down proper to-do lists. And enjoy every time you fill the box in front of the task you have accomplished. It’s a very efficient way to stay busy and keep the spirits up.

3. Do your inventory

Next to your to-do list is your inventory, to help you stock up on medicine, food, household products etc. Take some time to remove expired products and clean your shelves. Be aware of your resources and plan accordingly.

Right now in France, all of the hardware stores are closed, so it wouldn’t have made any sense for me to set unrealistic goals.

I built up my plans two weeks ago, after doing my inventory, based on what kind of products I have at home and what is available around.

Re-adjust your goals and to-do list once you’ve done your inventory. If you face in your country what we face in France right now, you will have only very limited access to stores and supermarkets, so it is good to have your list ready and buy what is critical for you.

4. Take care of your living space

This is your habitat, be it your small apartment, or a house with a garden. Keep your living space tidy every day, do some extras on the weekend, improve your interior. Don’t experience the self-isolation as a constraint, on the contrary, try to do your best to make your home a better place to live for you and/or your family.

Unless you are experienced, don’t engage in hazardous home renovations. It’s not the proper time to pop-up at the emergency department because you hammered your fingers!

5. Train physically

Stay busy and active, both mentally and physically. Most studies conducted by NASA and other space agencies indicate the importance of daily physical activities in order to manage the stress of the confinement. And it’s good for your health as well.

6. Don’t aim for impossible goals and don’t forget to relax

Even though it is very important to stay active, do physical exercises and clean your living space, don’t set unrealistic goals. Maintain a balance. Don’t push yourself too hard, acclimate first to the new situation.

You don’t need to switch from no physical exercise to 500 push-ups in the first week. Take some time to relax, breathe and clear your mind every day.

7. Communicate with people

If you are reading this you obviously have an internet connection. Take some time to connect with friends, family and colleagues, as the astronauts do in the International Space Station (ISS) with their loved ones and their colleagues on Earth.

If you are self-isolating with a group of people, give them enough mental space but make sure that no one is becoming isolated within the group itself. Support each other. Communicate within the group and with the ‘outside world’.

8. Find some time for yourself

You don’t need to suddenly become a meditation master, but remember to take a few minutes every day just for yourself, without any screens. Just stop to focus on breathing slowly and calmly.

If you live with a group of people in a rather small space, use earphones and listen to some calm music, just to isolate from the group for a moment. Close your eyes or look at something you like – it could be a painting on a wall or a house plant – and just focus on your deep breath. This enables you to get back to activities with a clear mind.

9. Have a hobby

Maybe you already have a passion that you can fulfil indoors, and increase your skills during that period. If not, it’s a great time to try new creative things. You can find free tutorials on the internet for most of the creative activities you could dream of.

10. Don’t count the days

This is self-isolation, not a life sentence. Keep active, busy and relaxed but don’t count the days. Just consider the situation as the new normal you need to adapt to. Find your personal mental space inside it. And remember that you are currently on Earth, our planet is our gigantic spaceship. And we are all space cadets!

Benjamin Pothier is a PhD candidate at the University of Plymouth’s Planetary Collegium. You can follow his out-of-this-world adventures via Instagram @mistaben4

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