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Astronaut offers out-of-this-world tips for surviving a shut-in life

  • April 30, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 4:47 p.m.
  • English Press

Astronaut Koichi Wakata knows a thing or two about remaining sane in a secluded environment, having lived aboard the International Space Station for six months.


So, Wakata, 56, can empathize as more people work from home during the coronavirus outbreak and abide by requests from prefectural governors to remain there as much as possible.


Wakata was asked during an online interview about how to reduce stress from leading a shut-in life


Question: What tips do you have for working from home?


Wakata: Actually, I am working from home right now. But I still have to maintain my work productivity. In order to do so, I believe it is important to set a clear schedule.


On the ISS, we had a daily schedule arranged down to each minute for the next two weeks. While I won’t go so far as to say a minute-by-minute schedule is needed, one should define one’s goals and fulfill each item on the schedule in the same way as if it was an ordinary day at school or the office.


And on days off, one should not do any work.


Q: But isn’t it still difficult to continue with that approach?


Wakata: I recommend keeping a diary. Psychological research at NASA has found scientific evidence that keeping a journal while in a confined environment such as space is effective in maintaining mental health. I kept a simple diary when I was in space.


I believe it is important to set aside a little time to reflect on the day’s activities and to think about the future while keeping an eye on the end of the long tunnel.

Q: What can be done to maintain physical and mental health?


Wakata: Maintaining one’s daily lifestyle rhythm. In space, I made it a habit of not changing the number of hours of sleep I got (even though the sun rises and sets every 90 minutes on the ISS).


Learning to relax is also important. I used to exercise, take photos, care for plants and talk with my family over the phone. I think watching movies or listening to music also helps.


To maintain my physical health as an astronaut, I still continue to exercise 90 minutes every day through aerobic workouts and lifting weights. That contributes not only to maintaining my physiological health, but also my psychological health.


Q: What should we do to assure smooth personal relationships?


Wakata: While the government is recommending avoiding congested, unventilated spaces where there is close contact with others, ordinary close communications with others is very important. It is important to make the effort to grasp what the other person is trying to say and to transmit one’s own thoughts as well.


But there are also times when one wants to be by oneself. Previously on the ISS there were small bedrooms about the size of a phone booth, and I used to keep stuffed animals given to me by my family as a charm as well as photos in there. Stress can be reduced by creating time for oneself.


It is very rare in life to face such a pandemic as it is now involving an illness. I believe it is important to spend time now thinking about what can only be done now rather than think about doing something that can still be done later.

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