Astronauts Share Tips on How to Reduce Stress in an Isolated Environment
Wed, April 21, 2021

Astronauts Share Tips on How to Reduce Stress in an Isolated Environment

 

The restrictions are still in force in the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido. / Photo by Fiers via Shutterstock

 

As most people know by now, being forced to stay at home has not been an easy concept to grasp. There’s monotony, loneliness, and boredom. But although it is an unprecedented situation for many people in the world today, it is not for the heroic explorers of the stars: the astronauts.  

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Principal Medical officer of the Human Spaceflight Technology Atsuhiro Mitsumaru said in a video interview that quarantine measures amid the pandemic and life on the International Space Station can be compared. “We can say that both are stressful,” he told the Japan Times.

 

Comparing life on the ISS and Covid-19 lockdown

The common thing about the two situations, he said, is that people have to stay in a confined space for a long period with limited interactions with other people. In April, Japan imposed a nationwide state of emergency due to the country’s worsening Covid-19 outbreak but it has already been lifted in most of Japan. The restrictions are still in force in the Tokyo metropolitan area and Hokkaido. Tokyo residents have been asked to avoid nonessential outings.

Mitsumaru admitted that spending time in a confined space is stressful regardless of how close an individual is to other people he or she is staying with. The doctor explained that what tends to be the most challenging thing to manage while staying in an enclosed space is having diverse backgrounds instead of personality differences.

A different attitude towards gender relations as well as language problems were the factors that had a big impact on people’s relationships while in the space station.

 

 

Communication: the key to a harmonious crew

He said that applying their lessons onboard the spacecraft is that communication is the key to having a harmonious relationship and this can be applied to stressed families today. Furthermore, it is not just communication but the way they communicate with each other that show their teamwork. Outside contact is also important for astronauts.

To reduce their stress onboard the spacecraft, Japan’s space agency sends JAXA astronauts their favorite movies and music, and sets up video calls so they can speak with psychological experts and their families. In the same way, it is important to reach out to those who suddenly feel isolated from all contact since the coronavirus outbreaks, especially the elderly living alone. Instead of using video calls and messaging apps, it is also a good idea to write letters to stay in touch with your loved ones.

 

 

Combatting isolation

JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, the first-ever Japanese to become an ISS commander, told the daily that special occasions can help boost the mental well-being of people. While in the space station, the crew dines together with special meals from the countries of each member. They also receive care packages from their family and friends through cargo spaceships. Another thing that Wakata emphasizes is to exercise.

Exercising is important not just to stay physically fit but also to decrease psychological stress. Another JAXA astronaut, Kimiya Yui, likewise emphasized the value of sharing meals with the crew members to develop teamwork while in the space station. Yet, he warned of the dangers of sharing an expectation that is too high. It would also cause stress and impact the teamwork not to have special meals on an expected special occasion. Applying this to a family under quarantine, it might mean setting realistic goals for every occasion. This will help avoid a buildup of interpersonal tensions for the time being.

 

Exercising is important not just to stay physically fit but also to decrease psychological stress. / Photo by sirtravelalot via Shutterstock

 

A rule that requires trust

Yui said that people staying in a confined space are feeling differently about things, such as smell, noise, and tidiness. To help decrease everyone’s stress and maintain a lifestyle that will not make anyone uncomfortable, they at ISS point out what makes them feel uncomfortable, such as others' behavior. But this rule needs a certain level of trust towards others.

Humor is also important to keep the lines of communication open, said astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. He is currently training for his third mission on the ISS. He said in an email to Japan Times that being able to enjoy chitchats and laugh among the crew as well as the personnel on the ground creates a good psychological effect.

Nevertheless, Mitsumaru advised not to apply everything into practice for people enduring stay-at-home life. Setting such a goal could also create more space. He added that astronauts may be rigorously screened but they participate in missions voluntarily. This is unlike people in self-isolation dealing with the pandemic as they are left with little choice.

 

 

Having an active mindset

One important lesson from the astronauts’ story is the significance of having a proactive approach to self-isolation. When avoidable, astronauts try to enjoy the stress while on a mission. Having an active mindset is a good idea, Mitsumaru added. It is that perspective wherein you choose not to go out because you are protecting the lives of your loved ones or you think of ways to enjoy the time that you have. Copying “all” of astronauts’ stories will not work because “solutions are inside of you,” he continued. He believes it is important to see and experience things and then think them through to find those answers.

 

 

Feelings experienced during Covid-19 outbreak

In Peru, over two thirds (64%) of respondents said they felt worried about the outbreak of Covid-19. When asked about which feeling they experience the most, 32% said they are bored, 31% are stressed, 17% are busy, 14% are entertained, 10% are happy, and 9% are tired. This was based on a survey conducted by database company Statista in March 2020.

The World Economic Forum has also warned that lockdown is the “world’s biggest psychological experiment.” The coronavirus pandemic may even lead to a secondary epidemic of stress-related absenteeism and burnouts in the latter half of 2020. Currently, 2.6 billion people are living in some form of lockdown. A study from Eurofound found that long-term absenteeism from work due to burnout causes loss of productivity of 35% even if they stay at work. Google has also shared a Covid-19 mobility report that shows that 39% fewer people were at their workplaces.

Psychological care after this major incident should be in place to address the needs of large affected populations.