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Former Astronaut Jay Buckey Talks About Dealing With Isolation

Apr 07, 2020   |   Dartmouth News

The professor of medicine and adjunct professor of engineering addresses stress, depression, and conflict during the pandemic.

On April 17, 1998, Jay Buckey rode the space shuttle Columbia into low Earth orbit. Over the next 16 days, he studied the impact of microgravity on the human nervous system. Along with six crewmates, and confined to the shuttle's limited livable space, Buckey circled the planet 256 times. Taking a walk in the backyard was not an option.

The shuttle crew worked well together for the relatively short mission, but it could have been different, says Buckey, a professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine. If the flight had stretched on for much longer, the effect of confinement could have crept in.

"People who are isolated and confined are at risk for conflict, stress, and depression," says Buckey. Fortunately, there are skills people can use to deal with this, and these skills can be learned."

As director of the Space Medicine Innovations Lab at Geisel, Buckey studies strategies to help enable people work effectively in small spaces for extended periods. A self-help research program developed along with his colleagues is available online to anyone interested in learning more about the approaches that are used to deal with the psychological challenges of confinement.

While the program is not designed specifically for the social distancing and quarantine measures associated with COVID-19, Buckey believes that it has relevance in the context of the pandemic.

"These resources are meant to make anyone better at stress management, depression treatment, and conflict resolution," he says. "The individual is doing the work. The tools offer practical things that people can do in any environment."

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