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What astronauts can teach us about coping with isolation during coronavirus pandemic

Some advice from former astronauts: Know your mission, take care of your own spaceship and go outside when you can.
Credit: NASA/AP


Take this advice from the dozens of astronauts who spent months isolated in space: Go outside when you can.

That’s just one of the tips space travelers from around the world have offered in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The coronavirus has infected more than 334,000 worldwide and killed 14,788 people. To fight the spread of the disease, leaders around the world have been pushing social distancing, isolation and self-quarantines. These concepts have been ingrained in our brains quickly, but have also caused anxiety among naturally social humans.

But, there is a small group of people who have firsthand experience with isolation and picked a career that requires it: astronauts.

At least three astronauts in recent weeks have shared their insight and advice on being isolated from friends and loved ones and being stuck in one place for weeks because of quarantine.

Scott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who spent a year in space, wrote a column for the New York Times: “I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share.”

“Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit,” Kelly wrote.

His first time -- one that pops up in every guide to working from home: Follow a schedule. But, Kelly also advises to pace yourself and “take time for fun activities.”

One of his tips that he couldn’t do while in space: going outside. 

While Kelly would have died if he stepped foot outside the International Space Station without a spacesuit, we Earthlings are still able to go outside, get some fresh air and enjoy a little sun and nature.

“I’ve seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team,” Kelly wrote.

His final tip: “wash your hands -- often.”

RELATED: Astronaut Scott Kelly shares tips on how to handle self isolation

Peggy Whitson, one of the most successful astronauts in history, went on CBS This Morning (virtually) to share her advice for self-isolating during a pandemic.

She said isolation is “actually very doable, but it’s very important to be able to interact well with the people you’re staying with, living with.”

Talking about the struggles parents and families are facing having most of their routines and lives spent inside their homes, Whitson compared it to her “family” aboard the ISS.

“We had to not only work with them all throughout the day, but we couldn’t go home at night,” she said. “Our lives depend on each other, so it’s important.”

For those who are getting stir-crazy being stuck at home, Whitson said to ask yourself, “What are the things that you would do if you had more time? What is it that has been the thing that has been in the back of your head?”

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield famously made a series of videos in 2013 chronicling what it’s like to live in space. He showed Earth how hand-washing, teeth-brushing and cooking is done in space and even wrote a book of his experiences and how to be “prepared for anything.”

Hadfield made a new video on March 21 with four tips on managing the stress of self-isolation: understanding the actual risk, determining your “mission” or what you’re trying to accomplish, understanding your constraints and obligations and taking action.

“It’s an extremely dangerous environment up on board the space station and yet, we find a way to thrive and be productive that far away from our normal lives,” he said.

Hadfield also said “there’s never been a better time to self-isolate, noting that the entire written work and body of knowledge is at your fingertips thanks to the internet.

“Take care of yourself, your family, your friends,” Hadfield said. “Take care of your spaceship. I wish everybody happy landings.”

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