(NEW YORK) — As much of the nation has been asked to stay at home to help stop the devastating spread of the novel coronavirus, a former astronaut and his team of researchers released self-help tools for how to battle emotional stress and stay sane while in confinement.
“Outer space and your own living room might be drastically different physically, but emotionally the stressors can be the same,” Dr. Jay Buckey, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, said in a statement. “There is no reason why people who suddenly find themselves stuck at home for long periods of time — alone or with others — shouldn’t find this research to be helpful.”
Buckey spent 16 days orbiting Earth confined to the small habitable quarters on the space shuttle Columbia in 1998. He told ABC News that after his mission in space, he became very interested in “barriers to long-duration space flight.”
“One of those barriers is the psycho-social challenges of being in an isolated environment for a long period of time with a small group of people,” Buckey said.
“We were looking at ways to offer people in that environment tools that they could use,” he added. “Over time, we realized that these are materials that are good for a lot of things, not just being in space.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Buckey and his team made the tools they developed free and available to the public as millions of Americans are being asked to self-isolate and government-mandated stay-at-home orders take effect.
Buckey told ABC News that the tools are web-based and “available for anyone to use and try.”
“They are self-directed tools, they are anonymous, people can use them to learn at their own pace,” he added.
The videos and online lessons, dubbed the Dartmouth PATH Program, are part of a research study with the college, so you would have to sign a consent form, but otherwise they are free and accessible to all who wish to use them.
The former astronaut said the three main areas they deal with to help people in confinement are conflict resolution, stress management and improving mood.
“With conflict, the idea is to give people some instruction about how, sometimes, conflicts develop,” he said, “which is sometimes based on the idea that people assign meanings to what people are saying, which may not be an accurate reflection of what they are saying.”
The stress aspect is “based on the idea that we all have stress triggers, and those triggers lead us to do certain things, to take certain actions, and also they give us strong feelings, like anxiety.”
The mood program helps identify “problem-solving treatments,” he said, such as finding things you have some control over.
How to deal with stress and conflict while ‘maintaining our relationships’
The tools are especially helpful for those living in confinement with a small group of people, such as roommates, family members or significant others.
“Living in isolation and confinement is challenging and it’s challenging for everyone,” Buckey said. “Long-term relationships matter, it’s important for us to be able to deal with conflict, to deal with stress, to maintain our mood, and also doing it in a way that we are maintaining our relationships that we value.”
The tools they developed for space are also already being tested in research stations in Antarctica.
“In the space program or in the Antarctic station, you are depending on your crew mates and the people you are with for your existence,” Buckey said. “We can certainly see that in a space environment or in Antarctica, but in our daily lives it’s true, too.”
“Our spouse, the people that are really important to us, those are the people who are going to be there when we’re sick, who are going to be there in times of crisis,” he said.
These people we see every day, however, are also most likely “the people we are going to have the most kinds of conflicts with,” Buckey added.
Still, the former astronaut said his No. 1 tip for staying sane while you are confined is to value your relationships, and “maintain them if you can.”
“By and large it’s important to be able to work through things while keeping those relationships intact,” he said. “We’re all in it together really.”
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