Making space for your mental health - the astronaut approach

CSM’s Mental Health Carers Advisor, Marcella Meloni shares advice on caring for your mental health in lockdown.

As we move into the fourth week of lockdown many of us are feeling the strain of being confined in a restricted space with or without our nearest and dearest, of communicating with loved ones via screens and experiencing a growing sense of isolation, anxiety and disconnection. Who better to turn to for advice than two experts in social distancing? Marcella listened in as former astronauts Scott Kelly and Peggy Whitson shared their coping strategies for long periods of life in orbit.

What did they learn about themselves and isolation?

Scott Kelly commanded three expeditions to the International Space station and as the pilot of the Space Shuttle Discovery (1999) he spent a year in space.  He learned that in extremis people gain most insight about themselves.

For Peggy Whitson effective communication and interaction with her living companions was essential to surviving life at the International Space Station with her mental health intact. Astronauts are trained in communication skills before embarking on a mission because “You don’t get to pick your crewmates You have to go up there and make the best of whatever, situation you find yourself in.”

Astronauts and carers have a lot in common

Being a carer is lonely and you may be experiencing a sense of personal isolation despite being with the person you care for all the time. Having a sense of purpose helps. For Peggy, a belief in the value and purpose of her mission to science and humankind helped her and her fellow astronauts to stay positive in space.

In lockdown we should try to focus on the positive benefits and higher purpose of our own actions. By staying at home, we are helping to limit the impact and spread of Covid-19 and acting for the greater good.

Scott highlighted the importance of supporting each other. Working together as a team ensured the safety of his crew. In lockdown we should acknowledge that we are all on the same mission, but with different roles to play.

Stick to a routine

Day to day, Scott recommends sticking to a routine, picking up a new hobby or even learning an instrument. But most importantly make some time for self-care something that many carers often neglect.

It might seem a big ask to give yourself an extra responsibility in an already busy day when you feel you are struggling to cope, but it is essential to look after your own health and wellbeing.

  • If you are unable to go outside for a walk, then make sure you move around in the house (there are plenty of exercises to suit every level of fitness online and on TV.)
  • You don’t need to exercise like an astronaut for two and half hours a day but do make sure you get some sunlight and fresh air. If you have a garden or balcony step outside for a few moments. Breathe. Make a little time for yourself.
  • Accept that there are things that you can’t control and instead try to focus on the things that you do have control over.
  • Do look after yourself, eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep and try to do some enjoyable things.
  • Do talk about your feelings. Don’t bottle them up, because eventually that bottle “will blow”  Always dangerous on spaceship

Scott Kelly is in no doubt that humans are capable of incredible things if we work together and support each other.

You might not be headed to the moon, but as a carer you are on a critical mission. Acknowledge the important role you are playing and the difference you are making. Keep safe, stay well and look after yourself.

CSM remains open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. Call 020 8646 7515 or email [email protected]

For mutual support from your fellow Merton Carers join the CSM’s Adult Carers Community Facebook group