The Astronaut’s Guide to Stress Management

Mark Sagor


astronautNext time you start feeling the unwelcome onset of stress and all of it’s debilitating symptoms, take a couple of deep cleansing breaths and apply some of the life saving techniques that astronauts have developed for staying calm in crisis situations.

Astronauts have the most stressful, and dangerous, of occupations and their training is the gold standard for successfully managing emotions in emergencies.

If you should wake up and find that your home air conditioning/ventilation system is not working, you can simply call a plumber on your way to work and the problem may be resolved by the time you return home in the evening.

When an astronaut’s spaceship has an HVAC issue they have to fix it themselves and if they don’t succeed the problem can easily escalate into a life-threatening emergency. Traveling in a spaceship is inherently dangerous and astronauts receive the most comprehensive training ever devised for managing emotions in stressful situations. Their lives depend upon this training.

One of those astronauts is Commander Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space. His viral YouTube video singing David Bowies “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station has more than 25 million views.

You could learn a lot about stress management from this astronaut.

In his book, An Astronauts’s Guide to Life on Earth, Commander Hadfield analyzes NASA’s astronaut training program which is composed of increasingly elaborate simulations of the life-threatening problems that can develop in space: fires, engine trouble, computer meltdowns, explosions etc.

An astronauts’s training is designed to produce “the strongest possible armor to defend against fear: hard-won competence….[astronauts] go from wanting to bolt for the exit to wanting to engage and understand what’s going wrong, then fix it.”

In other words the training is designed to override the flight-of-fight adrenaline rush that is our instinctual reaction to danger.

Sounds like stress management to me.

To manage your earthly stresses and problems with an astronaut’s mindset, try following these guidelines:

1.) Approach all problems with “focused curiosity”. Astronauts cultivate a mindset that problems are interesting puzzles to be figured out. They don’t waste any time focusing on what might happen if they don’t figure the puzzle out, they simply engage as quickly as possible in the problem-solving process.

2.) Never worry alone. Astronauts are first and foremost team players. Their first response to a crisis is to gather their team and start working the problem collaboratively. They don’t let pride or ego interfere with the process of getting the support of colleagues. In this regard, astronaut preparation is similar to the training received by physicians who also must be prepared to calmly, competently and routinely face life and death situations.

3.) Rehearse “best practicesAstronauts prepare by engaging in simulations that increase their confidence and competence for handling a wide range of problems. Rehearsal is a powerful tool and you don’t need to be an astronaut, athlete or actor to use this technique to improve your response to stressful situations. For example, if you are worried about losing your temper when feeling stressed with your child, partner or coworker, try imagining, in a moment of calm, a better way to act in this situation. Then mentally rehearse (visualize) this better response, so that when the time comes you are prepared to act like the best version of yourself.

Astronauts describe the special sense of peace and relaxation that occurs when viewing the blue marble of our earth from the vantage point of space.

Most of us will never experience the view for ourselves but we can benefit from the perspective of the men and women who have.