Coping with life in confinement

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As France confronts its second week of confinement, Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, research professor at ISAE-SUPAERO and specialist in questions of confinement during manned space flights, shares her recommendations for coping with this unusual period as well as possible.
She also tells us about an experimental approach being developed with Raphaëlle Roy, research professor, and the neuroergonomics and human factors research team, involving students in confinement on campus.

Unlike an astronaut’s confinement in the International Space Station, the confinement that we are currently living is not a choice, but rather a challenge to be dealt with. The general public needs to be told when this restrictive episode will be over, because humans need to have an end date to cope with this kind of situation, as has been observed during analogous missions that we have participated in” the researcher explained.

Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez

As observed during confinement simulation missions, the period that we are going through may be broken down into three distinct phases. During the first phase, there was a real disruption to the French people’s everyday lives. They had to change their habits, their pace of life, reorganize life at home, organize working from home while taking care of children, etc. During this first phase, which was last week, they were still able to enjoy quiet moments, their loved ones, and take their time.

The second period of isolation risks being more complicated for their morale. France is moving into second phase of confinement. Fear of the virus, a feeling of being locked up, managing food supplies and collective living conditions risk creating real tensions within households. It is during this period that you have to find a way to hold on, to meet the challenge and to put up with others despite their shortcomings, especially since confinement has a real impact on your sleep, and therefore on your mood.

Then comes phase 3, when your spirits start to lift again because you can finally see the end of confinement coming. This is where setting the end date will be essential. So here is some advice for trying to get through the coming weeks of confinement:

  • Keep up regular physical or artistic activity. For example, practice your yoga course, walk up and down the stairs, paint a picture, etc. It is important to preserve your habits. So if you normally play a sport on Monday evenings, set that time aside for some kind of physical activity and adapt your living space to it.
  • Feel involved by doing something useful for the community. This can take on different forms – cooking, gardening, etc.
  • Respect each person’s private time. Usually, everyone has time for themselves, whether on their way to work, while going grocery shopping, when out for a walk, etc. So it is essential for you to take a little time for yourself, reading a book, playing a video game, taking a bath, isolating yourself in a room. Everyone needs time to cultivate their own secret garden and must be flexible with other members of the residence.
  • Separate work time from leisure time. When in confinement, your living area also becomes you workplace. The structure of your normal day can disrupted and your professional life can sometimes invade your private life. So you must learn to clearly separate your work time from your free time. For this, let yourself take breaks, share a meal with others and check your schedule to maintain a balance.

Students currently confined on campus are participating in an experiment on the impacts of isolation

A team of our researchers in human factors, in connection with the research work carried out under the Space Advanced Concepts Chair (AIRBUS, ARIANE GROUP, ISAE-SUPAERO), has developed a protocol called TELEOP (Teleoperations) to analyze the evolution of performances and astronauts’ attention during periods of confinement. By having them drive a small remote-controlled virtual rover, TELEOP puts subjects in the position of the pilot of a Lunar or Martian rover working from a station in orbit. Performances and cognitive data are gathered using questionnaires, electrocardiograms and visual attention tracking.

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Crédit photo : mission MDRS / CREW 189

Experiments with the TELEOP system have been carried out several times in the last 3 years. Firstly, during two MDRS (Mars Desert Research Station) missions simulating life on Mars in Utah, USA, in 2018 and 2019, undertaken by crews made up of engineering students from ISAE-SUPAERO, and secondly, during the ARES-III mission at Lunares in Poland, a space base that prepares astronauts for confinement on space missions.

In 2021, TELEOP should be embarked on the Russian part of the International Space Station (ISS). Before that, the researchers will have worked in collaboration with the experts at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (IMBP) in Moscow to configure the equipment under operational conditions at the NEK (IMBP’s confinement simulation base) and train the crew in the experimental protocol in the context of the SIRIUS-9 mission in 2019 and the SIRIUS-20 mission in 2020-2021, with 8 months’ confinement.

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Last week, Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, Raphaëlle Roy and the neuroergonomics and human factors research team asked students confined on campus to participate in an experiment through the lightweight TELEOP protocol. Eighty of them who were isolated in their 15-m2 rooms agreed to fill in the online questionnaires, keep a logbook, and share their physiological, psychological and technical data so the team could study the effects of confinement on their cognitive performances. Their rare outings, considered as the astronauts’ extravehicular outings, will also be an opportunity to gather a wider panel of data.

These additional data will be used for the purposes of experimenting with the scientific protocol. TELEOP will be deployed by 2022 in cooperation with the French Polar Institute in the Antarctic to study behaviors in another extreme environment!

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