5 tips from astronauts for thriving in isolation
NASA Astronaut and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anne McClain took to Twitter to share the official training astronauts use for living in confined spaces for long periods of time. Afterall, the International Space Station has been operating for nearly 20 years, giving NASA astronauts and psychologists time to examine human behavior and needs when living and working remotely.
They narrowed the behavior skills down to five general skills called "Expeditionary Behavior," or "EB" because the military just loves a good acronym.
Built from 1998 to 2001, the International Space Station usually holds crews of between three and six people who will spend about six months there at a time, though mission lengths can vary. During that time, the astronauts perform experiments and spacewalks, maintain the space station, conduct media and education events and test out technology.
Also during this time, they are allocated at least two hours a day for exercise and personal care.
According to NASA, the living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house (and has six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms, a gym and a 360-degree view bay window). Still, six months in a space bucket with two to five other people can give some perspective to anyone feeling confined.
This is the "GoodEB" that helps astronauts:
"Share info/feelings freely. Talk about intentions before taking action. Use good terminology. Discuss when your or others' actions were not as expected. Debrief after success or conflict. Listen, then restate message to ensure it's understood. Admit when you're wrong," McClain tweeted.
It's common for humans to have strong emotional responses and act on them before they fully understand them. Honest communication is critical in a confined space or during heightened stress.
"Accept responsibility. Adjust style to environment. Assign tasks, set goals. Lead by example. Give direction, info, feedback, coaching + encouragement. Ensure teammates have resources. Talk when something isn't right. Ask questions. Offer solutions, not just problems," urged McClain.
For anyone confined with family or roommates, it can be an adjustment to share personal space and limited supplies for a prolonged period of time. Shifting to a team dynamic can bring a new perspective to everyone's roles within the home. If you weren't already doing this, now is the time to share the household chores, the cooking, the supply runs, and, for many families, the education responsibilities.
"Realistically assess own strengths and weaknesses, and their influence on the group. Learn from mistakes. Take action to mitigate stress or negativity (don't pass on to the group). Be social. Seek feedback. Balance work, rest, and personal time. Be organized," suggested McClain.
There's a quote I've always liked that says, "Please accept responsibility for the energy you are bringing into this space," and it feels especially relevant now. We must each stay in touch with ourselves so we can identify rising stress and mitigate it with self-care.
Self-care can be anything from calling a friend to a work-out session from YouTube to releasing expectations of perfection and taking the time to enjoy some relaxation with a book or movie.
4. Team Care
"Demonstrate patience and respect. Encourage others. Monitor team for signs of stress or fatigue. Encourage participation in team activities. Develop positive relationships. Volunteer for the unpleasant tasks. Offer and accept help. Share the credit; take the blame," said McClain.I'll really highlight one of these tips from McClain: Monitor team for signs of stress or fatigue. Teaching ourselves this skill will intrinsically build compassion and problem-solving into relationship skills, not just now, but going forward. It's about looking out for each other and anticipating the needs of others. This is a critical skill for any member of the team.
5. Group Living
"Cooperate rather than compete. Actively cultivate group culture (use each individual's culture to build the whole). Respect roles, responsibilities, and workload. Take accountability, give praise freely. Work to ensure positive team attitude. Keep calm in conflict," suggests McClain.
Parents are learning how to homeschool. Partners are sharing household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning. More people are sick and being cared for by their roommates.
All the while, we are each learning how to restrict our movements while maintaining our health and vitality. The key points throughout NASA's Expeditionary Behaviors are to take care of each other and ourselves by working together.
And just remember, Scott Kelly set the record for most consecutive days in space by an American by living for 340 days during a one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, proving that humans are pretty remarkable when it comes to adapting to our environment!
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