In these wildly unexpected times, we’re all experiencing loneliness in a way we’ve never done before. Social isolation and loneliness are brand new to most of us and even the most introverted amongst us aren’t having much fun anymore.

As humans, we’re social creatures, we love to be around others. Unless you’re lucky enough to live with everyone who means something to you, you’re probably craving some more contact. The days feel long, and the loneliness keeps growing. But, if you think social isolation in your home is hard, try doing it in space, thousands of miles from Earth and normal human interaction.

Social Isolation and Loneliness in Space: an Astronaut’s View

Dr. D. Marshall Porterfield was a professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. He is currently the Director of Space Life and Physical Science at NASA, which took him all the way to the International Space Station (ISS). Dr. Porterfield is now an expert on coping with loneliness and social isolation. In his interview with Lifehacker, he gave a helpful piece of advice for getting through these difficult times.

What Can an Astronaut Teach Us?

As difficult as we think we have it now, I think it’s fair to say that being in outer space must be harder. The available room for an astronaut is much smaller than most of our homes, so it’s easy to feel claustrophobic and cramped.

You might also be sharing that space with a few strangers, and sometimes they might all speak different languages. While some company could help us feel less loneliness, but we all know that it’s easy to feel lonely even in a crowded room.

While we might get to wave at a neighbor or pass by others when we stretch our legs outside, astronauts don’t get those luxuries. They’re in completely unfamiliar environments while we’re in our own homes. We’re alone together in our social isolation, they’re alone in the universe.

It’s not a competition though, we’re all struggling down here on Earth too. Fortunately for us, astronauts have seen it all. They’re the leading experts in coping with social isolation and loneliness, and they’ve finally shared their secrets.

An Astronaut’s Secret Tips for Coping with Social Isolation and Loneliness

Keep a Routine

Dr. Porterfield says that all astronauts have strict schedules filled with activities, sometimes they’re even organized as far as every 5 minutes. Structure is important to avoid feeling lost and hopeless. Instead of dwelling on the loneliness, it’s recommended that you have plans in place to keep you busy.

When you’re not able to get out and about, each day can feel scary and uncertain. Our astronaut suggests that you have a time to wake up, a time to get moving, and always have a time for things that make you feel happy every day. That’s not to say that every day should look the same, but try to have a sort of plan before you go to bed the day before.

Nothing needs to be organized as strictly as the astronaut’s schedule but having a plan will help to reduce the daunting nature of the days and ease your time in social isolation.

Stay Active

Astronauts get 2 hours of exercise a day, Dr. D. Marshall Porterfield says. Fortunately, exercising here on Earth is much easier than on the International Space Station.

Depending on where you are, you might even be allowed a little time to exercise outside. If you can, this is the best bet and not something to be taken for granted. Follow your government’s guidelines and stay away from others, but if you can get those endorphins flowing and get some fresh air at the same time, do it. If outdoors isn’t what you want or isn’t allowed, then there are endless possibilities online! From gym-style workouts to yoga and dance, there are so many at-home versions of your favorite exercises right at your fingertips.

Exercising regularly reduces your risk of developing a whole host of life-threatening conditions and illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Possibly more importantly given our social isolation situation, exercising is incredibly beneficial for your psychological health. Stave off loneliness, depression, and anxiety whilst boosting your mood and improving your sleep.

Dr. Porterfield says that even if you have never been much of an exerciser, now is a great time to start. This time could be life-changing for the better!

Keep in Contact with Your Loved Ones

You’re probably missing some people quite a bit right now. You might even be missing people you never thought you would. Loneliness can come on quickly when you’re separated from the people you love, even if you’re not living alone.

Even on the International Space Station, astronauts keep in close contact with their friends and family back home. These kinds of interactions should be a priority for your mental health. You don’t need to be in physical contact with people to fight loneliness. A simple phone call can keep your mood high.

Small interactions with the people you miss and just letting them know you’re thinking of them is important, Porterfield says. It’s easy to feel alone in social isolation, but it’s even easier to learn that you aren’t. While you’re physically distant from others, you can always ensure you’re never emotionally distant.

Find Your Purpose

Dr. Porterfield says that in order to fight the hopelessness and stay motivated amid the social distancing loneliness, you should find your purpose for doing it. Astronauts might suffer out in space, but they know why they’re doing it and are motivated to keep going.

It might be harder to see our purpose when you’re just stuck at home, but there is one. By preventing further spread, we’re stopping our health services from getting overwhelmed and helping to save lives. If you need a purpose to motivate you to stick it out through the discomfort of social isolation, what better one than saving lives? Maybe it’s your grandparents, vulnerable friends or family, or maybe you just love your community and want to help it survive.

Whatever your purpose is, remember it and hold it close. This is what will help you stay strong on the hardest days.

Loneliness is getting to us all; you aren’t alone in your struggle. Reach out to loved ones, keep the people you care about close. Social isolation and loneliness are hard, but we will get back to normal eventually. Until then we keep moving, and we keep remembering why we’re doing this. Stay home, save lives.

Becky Storey

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