Three ways astronauts combat isolation and how you can too.
Life far beyond the planet's surface, floating in the vast expanse of space—it sounds thrilling and adventurous, doesn't it? But in reality, it can be a story of isolation and loneliness, as astronauts have reported.
So how do these space pioneers combat the loneliness that often accompanies their groundbreaking missions? And how can you bring the lessons down to Earth and apply them for yourself?
Here on Earth in communities and workplaces everywhere, we are experiencing a connection recession. In the United States alone, 61 percent of adults report they are lonely. However, like any recession, there are steps to take to right the ship.
Fighting loneliness requires ongoing work, just as you can't have a wonderful conversation once and feel socially fed forever. Think of your emotional well-being as a battery always being depleted, and nurturing social connections acts as your phone charger. In an astronaut's case, the connections with their inner selves become critical.
How Astronaut Christina Koch Fights Loneliness
Imagine being 254 miles away from civilization, trapped within the confines of the International Space Station. This was the reality for American engineer and astronaut, Christina Koch, who broke the record for the longest continuous time in space by a woman—a staggering 328 days during which she interacted with only 11 different people.
How did Koch and other astronauts manage to maintain their mental well-being? Much like many other facets of their field, they practice a strategy centered on clarity, regimentation, and precise problem-solving, which provides a sense of direction and helps them focus even in extreme isolation.
The parameters of their mission statement are clear: safely up and safely down. But to navigate through the arduous journey, they also need to be clear on their roles, tasks, and routines. They know the duration of each mission, the resources available, and what tasks are required each day. By breaking down their 12-hour workdays into five-minute increments, they avoid losing themselves in the vastness of their surroundings and responsibilities. Strong regimentation, Koch suggests, is part of the astronaut’s resiliency toolkit.
2. Precise problem-solving.
However, even with such regimentation, lonely moments do creep in. In such times, Koch suggests a very specific approach: "Identify a specific problem, and come up with a specific solution." Addressing loneliness in this manner gives you control, while also preventing the emotional drain of loneliness from engulfing your mental state.
3. Clear direction.
A lack of clarity can spur confusion and alienation, leading individuals to a feeling of being lost—a state that only amplifies loneliness. Carter Cast, the former CEO of Walmart.com, says, “The loneliest I have ever been was when I was managing at scale and I just did not know if I was doing it right. I did not know who I could talk to.”
Confusion spurs alienation. Clarity cultivates connection.
The isolation faced by astronauts is much like the isolation we experience on Earth—a sensation amplified by the world thrown into a remote-working culture. To combat this, we need to nurture our social fitness continually.
Like astronauts, we should be clear about our daily routines, allotting time for work, self-reflection, and social interactions. We must learn, not just to connect to others around us, but also to connect with our inner selves.
Right in the heart of the loneliest settings, astronauts show us that the essence of who we are—social creatures craving connections—can not just persist, but also prevail. The power to combat loneliness lies with every one of us, whether on Earth or in space.