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March 26, 2020

Discover the mental coping strategies utilised by the isolation-experts to effectively deal with long periods of confinement and solitude.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, millions of people across the country are currently in self-isolation or have entered into a period of social distancing. 

Unfortunately, there are only so many Joe Wicks workouts you can do before the stressors of segregation and solitude start to set in. 

No groups of people understand the pressure of isolation than astronauts, submariners and prisoners. So, who better to learn the necessary coping strategies from than the individuals who frequently spend weeks, months and years on their own.


1. Social Support

The effort to obtain sympathy, help, information, or emotional support from another person or persons

A study in 2008, analysed the autobiographies, memoirs, interviews and oral histories of 72 spaceflight veterans to assess the reported coping strategies of each phase of space flight.

Seeking social support was by far the most utilised coping strategy by the astronauts. The findings indicate the importance of mutual reliance and cooperation within space crews, as well as supportive conversations with family members.

I think of the challenges [in outer space] and the mission goals we must accomplish, but I know one thing is certain, I can’t accomplish anything without my family’s support.


2. Goal Orientation/Problem-Solving

Deliberate (rational, cognitively oriented) effort to change or escape the situation

A study that looked at the coping strategies of submarine crew members who went on 40-day exercises found that problem-solving strategies were associated with superior coping during submarine missions.

This was also mirrored by the astronauts who also relied heavily on goal orientation to not just take their minds off the situation but to prepare themselves for the worst case scenario.

Unless something serious malfunction occurred. I had anticipated the nervousness I felt, I had made plans to counteract it by plunging into my pilot preparations.


3. Interpersonal Sensitivity

The ability to accurately assess others' states and traits from nonverbal cues.

Heightened frictions and social conflicts under demanding conditions might seriously affect individual health and performance as well as the ability of the crews to act in a cohesive manner. If an interpersonal problem presented itself, they have to deal with it directly, as it's almost impossible to use escape/avoidance strategies during confinement.

Although 73% of prisoners preferred to use physical confrontation as a coping strategy (which we don't recommend), submariners and astronauts found interpersonal sensitivity as an effective method to maintain the group's harmony.


4. Reframing

Viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives

Being in isolation is tough, but no situation is more stressful than being locked in prison. To cope with the stressors of imprisonment, inmates relied heavily on cognitive coping strategies to ease the strain.

The inherent nature of prisons makes it nearly impossible to escape from the noxious stimuli [the inmates] face on a daily basis. Unlike their counterparts outside prison, they must face and confront these stimuli constantly with little or no chance of relief.

The most used strategy was the reinterpreting or rationalising of a situation so the strain was no longer perceived as meaningful. By reframing the stressful situation they could alleviate their negative emotions without using violence. 

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