We are all part of the biggest psychological experiment in history

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 2.6 billion people were under a mandate to stay at home. According to psychologist Elke Van Hoof of Free University of Brussels-VUB, [the lockdown] "is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever conducted." What impact will COVID-19 have on the planet's mental health? The scientific study of psychological resilience is not a new field. But COVID-19 is fairly unique in the range of stressors it triggers, from the death of loved ones to isolation, devastating financial loss, and uncertainty about what comes next. Meanwhile, we actually aren't all "in the same boat." In Scientific American, Lydia Denworth surveys the real-time research on what we can learn from all this about resilience and how to increase it for the next time. From Scientific American:

Individual resilience is further complicated by the fact that this pandemic has not affected each person in the same way. For all that is shared--the coronavirus has struck every level of society and left few lives unchanged--there has been tremendous variation in the disruption and devastation experienced. Consider Brooklyn, just one borough in hard-hit New York City. Residents who started the year living or working within a few miles of one another have very different stories of illness, loss and navigating the challenges of social distancing. How quickly and how well individuals, businesses and organizations recover will depend on the jobs, insurance and health they had when this started, on whether they have endured hassle or heartbreak, and on whether they can tap financial resources and social support.

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Help Wanted: participants for a NASA social isolation experiment inside a Russian lab

NASA is looking to pay US citizens to spend eight months in social isolation inside a Russian laboratory. The goal is to simulate the longterm social distancing that astronauts will endure on future missions to Mars. The location is "a unique multi-compartment facility used as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions" located in the Russian Academy of Science's Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. From NASA's announcement of the opportunity:
NASA is looking for highly motivated U.S. citizens who are 30-55 years old and are proficient in both Russian and English languages. Requirements are: M.S., PhD., M.D. or completion of military officer training. Participants with a Bachelor’s degree and other certain qualifications (e.g., relevant additional education, military, or professional experience) may be acceptable candidates as well.

Participants will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars. A small international crew will live together in isolation for eight months conducting scientific research, using virtual reality and performing robotic operations among a number of other tasks during the lunar mission. The research will be conducted to study the effects of isolation and confinement as participants work to successfully complete their simulated space mission. Results from ground-based missions like this help NASA prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration and provide important scientific data to solve some of these problems and to develop countermeasures.

Compensation is available for participating in the mission. There are different levels of compensation depending upon whether or not you are associated with NASA or if you are a NASA employee or contractor.

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Monday: New Order's Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris's streaming tribute to Joy Division's Ian Curtis

Monday, May 18, is the 40th anniversary Joy Division singer Ian Curtis's death by suicide. Former Joy Division (and current New Order) members Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris will pay tribute on that day with "Moving Through the Silence," a livestream of performances and conversations organized by Headstock, the UK musical festival organization that raises awareness about mental health issues. From the event description:

The Killers frontman, Brandon Flowers, will be talking about the influence of Joy Division on the band. Other interviewees include Ian Curtis's friend Mark Reeder, and there will be a special appearance from Maxine Peake. Headstock’s broader mission to ‘use music to change the conversation on mental health’ will be further supported with performances from Elbow, LoneLady, and the Lottery Winners, as well as acclaimed Irish rock band Kodaline. Also performing; Jennifer Hardy, poet Oliver Lomax, and the Royal Northern College of Music’s Northern Session Choir.

The event will be streamed via https://unitedwestream.co.uk/ - and can also be accessed via https://www.facebook.com/UnitedWeStreamGM/

The event is free to view, but donations are strongly requested, with 70% of the donations going to the mental health charity Manchester Mind. The remainder will be divided between Nordoff Robins and the Mayor Of Greater Manchester’s Charity. More about our chosen charity, Manchester Mind: https://www.manchestermind.org/.

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Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott has advice for us about social distancing

Nicole Stott is a talented artist and retired astronaut who spent more than 100 days living in space on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Stott is one of several astronauts who in recent days has been asked to share their advice on isolation and social distancing.

"Nothing beats that first hug after landing," Stott says.

From the New York Times:

[In the video above, Stott] reflects on the three months she spent on the International Space Station, far from her husband and 7-year-old son. Living on the space station, being alone on a spacewalk, watching lightning storms crisscross the planet — all these experiences taught her that we’re all inherently connected, even when we’re physically far away.

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Tips from a fellow who has been social distancing for 50 years

For 50 years, Billy Barr has been the only resident of Gothic, Colorado, an abandoned silver mining town. He's not a hermit though. According to NPR, Barr says he "occasionally interacts with skiers who pass through, he talks to his sister on the phone, and he works for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory nearby, which gets flooded with scientists in the summer." Below are a few of Bill Barr's tips on social distancing. You should read the rest though because Barr is very funny. From NPR:

1. Keep track of something.

Each day, Barr tracks the weather for a number of groups including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He started measuring snow levels in the 1970s, mostly because he was bored [...]

2. Keep a routine.

Barr starts early. He wakes up around 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m., and stays in bed until about 5 a.m.

"Up until a week or two ago, I would listen to the news every morning so that I could start every day either totally depressed or furious. That's always a good way to start the day," he said [...]

4. Embrace the grumpiness.

Sometimes, Barr said, it's kind of satisfying to be grumpy about something.

"Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience" by Rae Ellen Bichell (NPR)

image: courtesy of Billy Barr Read the rest

Using colored paper, help a neighbor with "Isolation Communication"

Nova Scotia resident Glynis Mullen shared a simple, but brilliant, way that we can all employ to look out for our neighbors in real life, "Our neighbour is older and lives alone so I gave her three colour pieces of paper for her window which face our kitchen window. Green is for I’m OK, yellow (is) for need(ing) help with an errand, and red for emergency. I call it isolation communication."

Surrey Now-Leader:

She and her neighbour often communicate through her kitchen window and said the tri-colour paper system is a “really good visual comfort that everything is okay. When it’s yellow, I know I should call and we can arrange something.”

screengrab via Glynis Mullen/Facebook Read the rest

Quarantine survival advice from Buzz Aldrin and other astronauts

I had the privilege of interviewing Buzz Aldrin a few years ago. The second man to step foot on the moon (and first to pee on it) had just released a new book, and won his first ever March Madness bracket, and the first thing he told me over the phone was how he'd spent his 80th birthday scuba diving in the Galapagos with his son, but got in trouble when he broke away from the group and grabbed a whale shark by the dorsal fin just so he could ride it.

Buzz Aldrin is a god damn national treasure and a real American badass. (I'd also love to see the look on that scuba instructor's face if/when they realized that the old man they were scolding was in fact Buzz Aldrin.)

Now, Aldrin is 90 years old, which puts him at particularly high risk for infection by the novel coronavirus. But this national treasure has a solid plan to stay safe, as detailed to Eric Berger at Ars Technica: "Lying on my ass and locking the door."

Aldrin is a survivor — of outer space, of shitty jobs, and of alcoholism and depression — so I tend to trust his advice. But if you're looking for something more substantial, Forbes spoke with several other astronauts about their time in isolation, including NASA’s Human Research Program Director Bill Paloski, Ph.D.; John Grunsfeld PhD, a retired NASA astronaut and Hubble Space Telescope repairman who spent over 59 days in space; and Dr. Read the rest

After a year in space, Astronaut Scott Kelly's tips on isolation

Scott Kelly watches a bunch of fresh carrots
Astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a combined 520 days in space, including nearly a full, continuous year as part of NASA's One-Year Mission to the ISS, knows a thing or two about isolation, quarantine, and keeping sane in small places for extended periods.

He has recently published an article on his recommendations for those of us on earth who now find ourselves isolated into our homes or similar small spaces, cut off from many of the comforts and connections that we are used to as a part of everyday life. Read the rest