How to self-isolate: Tips from an ex NASA astronaut

- March 30, 2020 4 MIN READ

It’s funny what you start to miss, isn’t it? 

This pandemic has forced many of us into a reactive kind of introspection – suddenly critical of  long-held habits we’ve not had reason to question before. As Louise Bell, founder of Table Tonic shared on Instagram: “When this is over please invite me to everything. I promise I’ll go this time!”

Ditto, Louise 🙂 

In the meantime we’re going to need a plan to make it through to the other side. 

Enter retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who wrote this brilliant post for The New York Times recently about his experience with self isolation on mission. 

When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit.”

Ugh. Sounds bloody terrible, doesn’t it? And let’s just be grateful we don’t have to spend the day sitting awkwardly in a cramped spaceship while we’re at it. At least not literally 🙂

But as Scott went onto explain, the experience taught him some valuable lessons, which he  helpfully goes onto share during these challenging COVID-19 times. 

Make a schedule 

“On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep… When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without,” he wrote. 

A girlfriend of mine has put her love for Excel spreadsheets to good use – mapping out lessons, exercise slots, meal times and “alone” time for all 4 members of her family. 

“It just made me feel better to have a plan. Even when things go wrong (which they have),” she said. 

Keep to routine times for sleep, meals etc

This can be tricky now most of our kids are at home, as another friend said this week (yes, I spend a lot of time on the phone):

“Our kids are living their best life right now. They love being with us and they love being at home. Bedtimes have gotten so much later as we all grapple with a change of routine. It feels like that weird time between Christmas and New Year. Only worse.” 

Scott Kelly would be shaking his head right now – strict bedtimes are essential in space.  

He writes:

“NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.”

Go outside regularly

I don’t know about you, bu our neighbourhood has really changed over the past week – my usually quiet street is lively with walkers and bikers and kids on scooters at all times of the day.  Another friend’s cousin who lives in Berlin says the parks are full of people suddenly taking up running!  Social distanced running, of course. 

 Nature is so important to our sense of wellbeing – something we take for granted in the daily rush of modern life. Your house feels much smaller when you can’t go anywhere else, so regular trips outside will really boost your mood.

Astronaut Scott Kelly felt this keenly:

After being confined to a small space for months, I actually started to crave nature — the color green, the smell of fresh dirt, and the feel of warm sun on my face. That flower experiment became more important to me than I could have ever imagined. My colleagues liked to play a recording of Earth sounds, like birds and rustling trees, and even mosquitoes, over and over. It brought me back to earth. (Although occasionally I found myself swatting my ears at the mosquitoes. )”

Look up at the sky and try and breathe deeply. Perspective is everything right now. 


In many ways making time for exercise has never been easier – with so many clever gyms and Pilates studios taking their classes online. Plus, the whole working from home thing does give you a bit more flexibility in terms of managing your time.

I spent an hour of Saturday and Sunday streaming my weekend yoga class from the comfort of my home! Aside from having to swap the tranquility of my yoga studio to my Lego strewn living room, it was bliss and  so convenient! (Er, not that I had anywhere else to go)

I also noticed that the sports sections of our local Kmart and Target were practically bare. We may be in isolation but looks like we might emerge fitter. Maybe? 

Take time to connect

I have never used my phone so much! Making time to talk with loved ones is so important right now. And the same goes for your neighbours and local community. 

A friend shared this on Facebook yesterday: 

“It’s right about now I realise how much I’ve spent my life navel gazing. The conversations I am having with my neighbours right now are the most I have ever spoken to them in my life!” 

As Scott Kelly writes, talking is also great for our immune systems: “Scientists have found that isolation is damaging not only to our mental health, but to our physical health as well, especially our immune systems. 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.”

How are you coping at home right now? Finding it hard? Would love to hear your coping strategies: lucy@pinstripemedia.com.au

Need more information about self-isolation? Check out this great FactSheets from NSWHealth