We have been inundated with questions about staying safe and sane while in self-imposed exile during the coronavirus pandemic, so we're opening up and featuring this hot topic in: Ask ARSE.
My name is Karl and I am now in day 17 of one man self-isolation and its getting pretty hairy. I've pretty much studied a bunch of free online resources in space and science and now I'm just binging Netflix shows.
My motivation to learn is shot and watching them dangle a carrot on tv series season after season isn't fulfilling.
I ask you, ARSE: how do I stop myself going insane?
Thanks for reaching out Kevin.
We aren't terribly versed in the ways of extreme quarantine and you've got almost a week on us, so we're branching out and asking an expert.
And by "expert" we mean Fyodor Yurchikhin, a 61-year-old Russian cosmonaut with 5 trips to the International Space Station (ISS) under his belt for a combined stint of 671 days isolation.
Something we'll add, that Yurchikhin will attest to, is that psychological resistance or mental toughness will only get you so far. Everyone can break in isolation, it is just a matter of when.
So without further ado...
Fresh Air and Sunlight.
A major part of making isolation bearable, especially at home, is knowing that you can leave at any moment. Albeit not very far or in the presence of the general public.
NASA actually has a regime to ease the stressors on astronauts aboard the ISS, and it prioritises basic freedoms and bodily necessities.
Aboard the ISS, Yurchikhin worked in an "alien environment, surrounded by metal and plastic. There are no trees and no plants - except for the ones used for experiments, but we treat it as if it were our home. But you guys, you're really home! Remember that in space it's really impossible to get out".
Spoken like a man who truly has spent a combined 671 days in an artificial environment.
Astronauts are required to perform breathing exercises and practice mindfulness - a form of meditation - in direct sunlight aboard the ISS when applicable. It gives passengers small breaks from the feeling of containment and lets them feel two basic necessities: air and sunlight.
Unfiltered sunlight is enough to help your skin produce
Remember the basic things that make us feel free: fresh air, direct sunlight, and the ability to leave our environment at a whim.
Stay Connected With Loved Ones.
This includes friends as well as family.
If they're also following best-practice and isolating, they might be feeling the drawbacks of no social interaction too.
Reach out with a message if nothing else, but a phone call is better and video call better again. (Also, we touch our phones around 2000 times per day on average. Clean your screen please.)
Even playing online games with a friend can allow a sense of togetherness.
Aboard the ISS, Yurchikhin would continually be connected with Earth and his family & friends. They can video chat with loved ones, mission controllers, and even health specialists in real-time. Resupply missions to the ISS often brought love letters, fresh fruit and dinners from important holidays such as Christmas.
Perhaps a video chat dinner party is on the menu?
Yurchikhin highly recommends people in quarantine to "establish a completely different style of communication within the family" and to pay more attention to children."
Check off those 'To-Do List' Items.
Sounds like young Kevin here is a practical type, opting to go the route of learning before Netflix and we applaud that.
In that same vein of productivity is ticking off items you've been neglecting around the house It could be something as simple as completing that 1000 piece jigsaw you never started, or painting the spare room.
What we're going for here is the sense of accomplishment. Something that you're not getting from learning online anymore and definitely not getting by binge-watching Tiger King.
Firstly, prioritise what you want/need to do around the house and then move onto step number 2: actually start!
Studies show that people who start sooner rather than later get the task done far faster than folks who put it off and then dillydally.
Astronauts aboard the ISS don't get much of a feeling of accomplishment, perhaps from running experiments, but even they are long and drawn-out processes.
Something all astronauts feel when gone for long periods of time is a type of depressing over time they didn't spend performing productive activities or putting things off.
"Take care of this today, because when the quarantine is over, you won't get round to it again!" says Yurchikhin
Use this time wisely and stay productive, for your mental health's sake.
"Don't forget your health!" laughs Yurchikhin.
Spending all day in an enclosed space can negatively affect your cardiovascular health and your muscle & bone density. Plus, hormones attributed to general mental wellbeing and satisfaction are released after vigorous bouts of exercise.
"That's why you should do sport at least twice a day for 30 minutes. You can do it at home," says Yurchikhin.
Astronauts aboard the ISS are subjected to the effects of zero gravity and are required to work out more to compensate. Their regime consists of 6 days of training a week for 2.5 hours a day.
If you're stuck for a plan or lacking motivation there are thousands of beginner workout videos on YouTube and most fitness stores are available to deliver equipment to your door.
"If you only see the bad side of quarantine, it will feel like prison, so approach this situation with humour. Humour should prolong life and shorten quarantine."
We like the sound of that!
Laughing releases endorphins much like exercise and will also suppress stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.
If you don't have a great sense of humour, connect with someone like step 2 who does. We are psychologically attuned to deal with bad news/situations when it is funny.
The feeling of uncertainty and stress resulting from the current coronavirus pandemic has been likened to a type of grief.
In summary, look after yourself inside and out.
Try and move when possible and do it outside while maintaining social distancing.
This will feed your brain powerful wellbeing hormones and staying productive with to-do tasks will help you with feeling a sense of purpose and motivation.
We all need accomplishment, social interactions and basic biological needs, so make them a priority.
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