NASA astronaut Scott Kelly knows a thing or two about being isolated from friends and family. He spent a year on the International Space Station as part of a mission to study the long-term effects of space on the body. Kelly recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times offering insight from his time on the ISS.

Here's how he learned to address loneliness and isolation while working and living in a giant lab orbiting 250 miles above Earth. 

Set and honor a time to stop working. 

Try to keep a schedule to give your days structured. This includes a consistent sleep schedule as well as when you start and stop work. 

If you're new to telecommuting, you actually might find yourself working more. One reason remote workers outperform office workers is because they tend to work longer hours. The lines between work and home life are blurrier. 

"When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it," Kelly says. His advice? Pace yourself. Do your work, but know when to walk away. 

If you've already logged a full day of work, let yourself walk away. Power down your computer and turn to something else. The work will be waiting for you tomorrow. 

Cultivate a new hobby, or pick up an old one.

With social events canceled and fewer plans, you may find yourself with more time on your hands. You also need to fill your time with something that's not work (see above). It's good for your brain, health, and even your productivity. 

Kelly brought physical books with him to the International Space Station. "The quiet and absorption you can find in a physical book--one that doesn't ping you with notifications or tempt you to open a new tab--is priceless," he says. Instead of ordering from Amazon, Kelly encourages you to support independent bookstores, many of which have online stores and local delivery. Extra bonus: Paper books won't bombard you with alarming news notifications. 

You could also learn to play an instrument, take an online class (Yale's most popular course ever is available for free), or learn the basics of a new language. 

Schedule video events with friends and family.

If you can't physically see those you love, the next-best thing is video chatting with them. Numerous studies point to the health and longevity benefits of having strong social connections. 

"Even with all the responsibilities of serving as commander of a space station, I never missed the chance to have a videoconference with family and friends," Kelly says. 

My fellow columnist Minda Zetlin has advice on how to host a virtual happy hour. Though it's not the same as meeting up with friends in-person, a virtual meeting can help fill the loneliness void and boost your mood. You could also watch a movie together or host a book club. 

Living in isolation was tough--even though Kelly gladly signed up for the job. His advice to maintain a schedule may seem overly regimented, but he says it helped him adjust to this unusual way of living and working. "When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without," Kelly says. ​

Published on: Mar 26, 2020
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