Coping with isolation

Benjamin Pothier, a PhD candidate with the Planetary Collegium, has visited some of the most extreme environments on Earth. He has also spent weeks and months at a time in isolation, giving him a unique insight into the most effective ways to survive such circumstances.

In 2019, he took part in a mission exploring the science of space exploration and was part of a team led by the Iceland Space Agency (ISA), which traveled into the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap to test the MS1 Mars analogue suit.

He is also the nominated Mission Commander of the LUNARES 11 – Orpheus Mission, to be conducted in a former nuclear bunker hangar in Poland. It was supposed to start on April 22 but is currently postponed later this year due to the Coronavirus crisis.

Celebrate today - then plan tomorrow

Where possible, plan your activities for the next day every evening. But before doing that take two minutes to sit down, breathe slowly and make a mental list of the positive things you have accomplished today, even very simple things.

You’ve cleaned your windows? Fixed the sink? Wrote an email to a friend? Congratulations, you are an achiever!

Then try to envision larger plans for the longer period you might be self-isolating. Maybe some home renovations, maybe learning origami at an expert level, who knows?

Basically, look for any types of activities that can’t be done in a day. Break down those larger plans in smaller goals that you can achieve in a month, in a week, in few days, etc.

Write what you want to achieve

Probably the most critical piece of advice in my opinion. Once you have set your goals for the next day and for the week or month to come, write down proper to-do lists. And enjoy every time you tick the box in front of the task you have accomplished.

It’s a very efficient way to stay busy and keep the spirits up.

Make a note of what you need

Next to your to-do list is your inventory, to help you stock up on medicine, food, household products etc. Take some time to remove expired products and clean your shelves. Be aware of your resources and plan accordingly.

Right now in France, all of the hardware stores are closed, so it wouldn’t have made any sense for me to set unrealistic goals. I built up my plans weeks ago, after doing my inventory, based on what kind of products I have at home and what is available around.

Re-adjust your goals and to-do list once you’ve done your inventory. If you face in your country what we face in France right now, you will have only very limited access to stores and supermarkets, so it is good to have your list ready and buy only what is critical for you.

Tidy house equals tidy mind

This is your habitat, be it your small apartment, or a house with a garden. Keep your living space tidy every day, do some extras on the weekend, improve your interior.

Don’t look at the self-isolation as a constraint, on the contrary, try to do your best to make your home a better place to live for you and/or your family. 

Unless you are experienced, don’t engage in hazardous home renovations. It’s not the proper time to pop up at the emergency department because you hammered your fingers!

Find ways to maintain your physical and mental health

Stay busy and active, both mentally and physically. Most studies conducted by NASA and other space agencies indicate the importance of daily physical activities in order to manage the stress of the confinement. And it’s good for your health as well.

Keep it real when setting goals

Even though it is very important to stay active, do physical exercises and clean your living space, don’t set unrealistic goals. Maintain a balance. Don’t push yourself too hard, acclimate first to the new situation. You don’t need to switch from no physical exercise to 500 push-ups in the first week. Take some time to relax, breathe and clear your mind every day.

Benjamin Pothier (right) with the team from the Iceland Space Agency

Don't lose touch with people...

If you are reading this you obviously have an internet connection. Take some time to connect with friends, family and colleagues, as the astronauts do in the International Space Station (ISS) with their loved ones and their colleagues on Earth.

If you are self-isolating with a group of people, give them enough mental space but make sure that no one is becoming isolated within the group itself. Support each other.

Communicate within the group and with the ‘outside world’.

... but make time for yourself as well

You don’t need to suddenly become a meditation master, but remember to take a few minutes every day just for yourself, without any screens. Just stop to focus on breathing slowly and calmly.

If you live with a group of people in a rather small space, use earphones and listen to some calm music, just to isolate from the group for a moment. Close your eyes or look at something you like – it could be a painting on a wall or a house plant – and just focus on your deep breath.

This enables you to get back to activities with a clear mind.

Testing the NASA MS1 Suit on a volcano in Iceland

Enjoy some old or new tricks

Maybe you already have a passion that you can fulfil indoors, and increase your skills during that period. If not, it’s a great time to try new creative things.

You can find free tutorials on the internet for most of the creative activities you could dream of.

Don’t make things more difficult

This is self-isolation, not a life sentence. Keep active, busy and relaxed but don’t count the days. Just consider the situation as the new normal you need to adapt to. Find your personal mental space inside it. And remember that you are currently on Earth, our planet is our gigantic spaceship - and we are all space cadets.

<p>Benjamin Pothier sound recording in the Arctic<br></p>
<p>Benjamin Pothier<br></p>
<p>Benjamin Pothier<br></p>

The Planetary Collegium

History

The Planetary Collegium was first established as the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) by Roy Ascott in 1994 at what is now the University of Wales, Newport.

Three years later, Roy established STAR (Science Technology and Art Research) in the School of Computing, University of Plymouth. CAiiA-STAR constituted a joint research platform, with access to supervisory and technical resources of both universities.

In 2003, Roy relocated the platform to the University of Plymouth, renaming it the Planetary Collegium, where it is now located in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business.

Since 1997, the collegium has given more than seventy conferences and symposia in Europe, North and South America, Japan, China and Australia.

Aims

The collegium aims to produce new knowledge in the context of the arts, through transdisciplinary inquiry and critical discourse, with special reference to technoetic research and to advances in science and technology. 

It seeks to reflect the social, technological and spiritual aspirations of an emerging planetary society, while sustaining a critical awareness of the retrograde forces and fields that inhibit social and cultural development. 

It combines the face-to-face association of individuals with the trans-cultural unity of telematic communities, thereby developing a network of research nodes strategically located across the planet, each with a distinctive cultural ethos. 

The collegium seeks outcomes that involve new language, systems, structures, and behaviours, and insights into the nature of mind, matter and human identity.