Isolation Advice from the Remotest Base on Earth

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been more isolated than we have ever been. Our time in isolation has bought us closer to understanding how it might feel to be an astronaut on the Internation Space Station or a researcher working at Concordia, Antarctica.

These jobs are some of the most isolating jobs in the world, spending long periods of time with the same small group of people. Unlike our pandemic isolation, these astronauts and researchers can't just pop to Tesco or for a walk around the park to break their boredom, so how do they cope?

We caught up with Carole Dangoisse, who stayed in Antarctica for 400 days doing research for the ESA on the biological and physiological effects of isolation in extreme environments. Here is how Carole managed to stay sane during her long stint at the Concordia and how these tips can help you in isolation.

Tip #1: Do Things for Others

Carole says: A lot of people have suggested following a routine. This is very true, but what helps, even more, is if you can make yourself accountable to others, not just to yourself! This really helps in sticking to a routine and takes out a lot of the energy you would otherwise spend on deciding what to do with yourself. In my case, for example, I had to get up every morning because my winter-over colleagues would each come in turn for blood tests or other examinations. They definitely wouldn't have appreciated if I had lingered in bed!

For your isolation: If you're doing school work from home, try setting up a Zoom meeting with your teacher so that you know your work needs to be done by the time that meeting comes around. To keep yourself motivated to stick to a routine in other ways, set up a book club with your friends so that you know you need to finish a book before your weekly chat, have a painting competition with a deadline, or tell a family member you'll be coming round for a doorstep chat at a certain time.

Tip #2: Take a Step Back

Carole says: Appreciate your environment, however limited. Observe it, notice the little things you may not have noticed otherwise. On the Dome C plateau where Concordia station is located, there is literally nothing apart from a vast white ice and snow expanse. And yet the light changed every day in myriad ways that were incredibly beautiful. Even when it was mind-numbingly cold and I could not stay outside for very long (we reached - 82.6°C without the wind-chill!), the sheer beauty and immensity of the landscape induced a profound serenity.

For your isolation: While on your daily walk, don't take any technology out with you and take the chance to take in your surroundings. This could be nature, architecture or even people. You could take a different route each day or notice the slight changes that happen over time.

Tip #3: Celebrate the Small Things

Carole says: Think of meaningful dates in the calendar and create small projects linked to these. For example, I did a lot of origami decorations for various holidays and tried to do homemade gifts for my winter-over colleagues. Every month I had a different project. This was very different from my usual lab routine, and it felt very soothing to immerse myself in these tasks.

For your isolation: Study your diary and find some dates to celebrate. Whether it's a friends birthday, a date you should have been going on holiday, your parents anniversary or even National Cupcake Day, plan out a way to celebrate. You could craft your friend an isolation birthday pack or set up a paddling pool in the garden or bake and decorate some delicious cupcakes to give to your neighbours. Get creative!

Tip #4: Make a Positivity Diary

Carole says: Make a weekly diary and focus on the positive things which have happened over the past week, however small. Add some pictures! Send these out to co-workers or even friends and family; you will be surprised how better you feel after.

For your isolation: Start writing down all the good things in a diary or on a piece of paper to put in a jar. It may surprise you how many positives come out of what you thought was a bad week. The great thing about this is you'll actively search for the positives in situations so you can write a note down!

Tip #5: Distanced Socialising

Carole says: Stay in touch with friends and family. They know you best and will find the right words to lift you up when you need it. Even just seeing their faces on the screen for a few minutes, or sharing a few words if the connection is poor, can change your day!

For your isolation: Rather than social distancing, practice distanced socialising. Just because you aren't physically with somebody doesn't mean you can't socialise. Set up some phone calls and video chats to stay connected and open up to each other if you've had a bad day. You'll finish the chat feeling much happier and positive.

Tip #6: Have Some 'You' Time

Carole says: Find the one activity that relaxes you the most and commit to giving yourself 30 minutes every day, whatever happens. I started daily yoga whilst in Antarctica, and it was my one moment in the day that I wouldn't have missed for anything in the world, however, tired I was or whichever conflicts there were. It can be anything you like; reading a book, watching a series, doing sports, walking around the neighbourhood, listening to music. But every day, you know you will have that one moment in the day just for yourself, doing something you enjoy.

For your isolation: Spend a few days trying some new things (or rediscover an old passion) and once you've found the things you love doing, make sure you set aside some time for it each day. No matter what happens during the day, you know you have that 'you' time to look forward to and to unwind with.

Thank you, Carole, for using your experience at the Concordia to make our time in isolation that little bit easier!

Do you have any additional isolation tips that have helped you during isolation? Let us know on our social media and we will share them with the Wonk! community.

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