What does isolation feel like?

Astronauts are often isolated from the world for a long time. And they must remain physically and mentally fit. Both are currently true for about two billion people affected by the COVID-19 crisis worldwide.

For many years, the Center for Integrative Physiology in Space (CHIPS) at the German Sport University Cologne and the Center for Space Medicine at the Charité in Berlin have been supporting European astronauts with their research work and developing sports programs to maintain physical and mental performance during long-term missions in space. In many isolation simulation studies, but also during real isolations, such as the wintering in the Antarctic station Concordia or the German Neumayer Station III, they were able to prove the positive effect of sport on mental performance.

When the novel corona virus reached Europe and governments imposed contact or curfew restrictions, the researchers* realized the parallels to their previous work. Prof. Dr. Dr. Stefan Schneider, Managing Director of the Center for Integrative Physiology in Space, and his colleagues Dr. Vera Abeln and Dr. Petra Wollseiffen (Institute for Human Movement and Neuroscience) formulate their thoughts on this: "We never thought that our work could be of significance for a large part of the population - and at the same time we are shocked how little we know about the effects of isolation and curfews. Even if we do not have the answers yet, as scientists we see it as our duty to at least ask questions in order to understand the phenomenon and be better prepared for future events and/or generations".

Therefore they developed an anonymous questionnaire to find out how people deal with sudden isolation. The aim is to expand the knowledge of the interdisciplinary scientists* in order to be better prepared for such scenarios in the future. Besides easy-to-answer questions such as marital status, living situation or daily coffee consumption, the emotional state is also asked: I am calm; I feel secure; I feel tense; I am troubled etc. Of course, questions about the type and extent of physical activity during isolation in comparison to normal everyday life are also important. The puzzle questions might surprise you, for example: On a lake there are some water lilies. Every day the number of lilies doubles. If it takes 48 days for the lilies to completely cover the lake, how long does it take to cover half of the lake? The ways of science are sometimes unfathomable.

The questionnaire is available in five different languages, its answer takes about 20 to 30 minutes. A lot of time - the initiators are aware of this - but also a great help for research. And if the current situation brings a positive result for many people, then that is exactly what it is: time.

You can access the questionnaire via the website of the Center for Integrative Physiology in Space.