French philosopher Blaise Pascal foresaw modern society’s core trouble back in the 17th century. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” he said. And, thanks to the coronavirus, that’s exactly the position we are suddenly, collectively stuck in at the moment.
But perhaps one man struggles with being socially isolated a little less than the rest of us. Between March 2015 and March 2016, now retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year. It was the longest a human had lived away from Earth. And “it wasn’t easy,” Kelly recalled in an essay for The New York Times published on Saturday.
“But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share,” he wrote, “because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.”
So, here are seven tips from Kelly to those who find it difficult to sit quietly by themselves.
Follow a schedule
“On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep,” Kelly wrote. His normal tasks range from simple five-minute tasks to a spacewalk that could last hours. But it’s important that you have something planned. “Maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment,” he said.
(Also, as remote working experts advised to Observer previously, establish some sort of a routine, such as getting dressed in the morning, will help boost productivity.)
“When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it,” Kelly warned. [Writing this article at 9 p.m. on a Monday, I can totally attest to that statement.] “Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today.”
To maintain a healthy pace, Kelly recommends carving out time for non-work activities, whether binge-watching your favorite TV shows or setting a strict time to go to bed.
This may soon be hard to do as authorities tighten self-quarantine rules. But until then, Kelly recommends going outside at least once a day, as long as you abide by social distancing and stay at least six feet from other people.
Get a hobby
If you really can’t sit still, find something to do or somewhere else (figuratively) to be. Kelly recommends reading. “The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book—one that doesn’t ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab—is priceless,” he wrote.
Learning a musical instrument is another good idea. So are making some art or trying a handcraft.
Keep a journal
Based on studies on humans living in prolonged isolation, NASA has found that keeping a journal is one of the most effective activities that keep people sane, Kelly said.
“Even if you don’t wind up writing a book based on your journal like I did, writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant,” the astronaut wrote.
Take time to connect
This one is self-evident. “Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems,” Kelly warned. “Technology makes it easier than ever to keep in touch, so it’s worth making time to connect with someone every day—it might actually help you fight off viruses.”
Listen to experts
“Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects,” Kelly wrote. This doesn’t mean that you have to follow his advice during self-quarantine. But when it comes to news and updates about the coronavirus, you should make an effort to go to reputable sources and avoid suspicious content on social media.