Astronaut Tip for Life: Thriving in Isolation

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Have you considered how isolated an astronaut is on the space station with only their work to keep them company? Some of the saddest research in social psychology must be the Harlow Monkey experiments. Harlow took newborn monkeys and isolated them from other monkeys for months at a time. When the monkeys were taken out of isolation, Harlow found them to be fearful, awkward and even hyper-aggressive. We may not be baby macaque monkeys but have you ever wondered how an astronaut can handle the isolation of space?

Human beings have a similar reaction to isolation. Social isolation is a health risk in older adults akin to smoking and obesity. People who report the most loneliness tend to have higher mortality rates. It is a fact that human beings are social animals. We thrive in community!

There are two ways of looking at isolation. The first is called social disconnectedness. This is characterized as limited social contact and tends to be situational in that there is a lack of social participation or networking as there would be for our brave astronauts. Perceived isolation is where the individual sees themselves as unable to make the contact with others due to lack of resources, such as lack of friendships or opportunities. Thriving in isolation, then, is truly based on how we perceive this lack of social connection!

So, how do we avoid having negative reactions to isolation?

Count the days

Like the astronauts, isolation is usually a temporary thing. When we know that we will be isolated, it is best to focus our attention on the future. Few astronauts go into space without a concept of how long they will be there. They schedule out there days knowing that they will return to their community at some point. In fact, planning and focusing on the future is also known to make you happy.

Choose your feelings

Human beings tend to believe that emotions are outside of our control when we are the ones who choose how we feel. Emotional appraisal is the split second where our brain reacts to something and we decide what that reaction is. For example, we are about to go on a roller coaster. We feel our heart race and our stomach does a flip. Are we afraid or are we excited? You choose! We can choose to feel temporarily disconnected or lonely.

Be your own best company

Why do some people enjoy being alone while others do not? Astronauts are put through many psychological assessments to make sure they have the temperament and ability to handle the stress and isolation of space travel. One of the characteristics of astronauts is that they don?t mind being alone. Self-talk is a means by which we can simulate conversation. Entertain yourself while helping your feelings of connection.

While isolation is not an ideal situation for human beings and can be harmful to our mental and physical health, we all might have seasons of life that require it for a short time. Ultimately, thriving in isolation is about finding the ability to trust that, when given the opportunity, you can and will connect with others.

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