Four Tips For Living and Working in Isolation from a Former Submarine Officer

Brian Andrews

By Brian Andrews

With the possible exception of the International Space Station, deploying on a submarine hundreds of feet below the ocean is about as isolated as a person can get. And yet, despite this very real physical isolation, submariners have learned to adapt in order to stay productive and avoid succumbing to feelings of desolation.

Here are four time-tested submariner tips you can put to use in these challenging times:

Establish a new routine to create a new normal.

As soon as the submarine gets underway, the crew falls into a new and regimented routine, with a clear schedule and responsibilities. Nothing creates more daily stress and anxiety than living a life without routine and predictability. If COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into your daily routine, then create a new one for yourself. A daily routine adds predictability and purpose.

When it’s chaos in the world outside, bring order to your house.

Submarine life involves regular cleaning and maintenance. Yes, this is important for health, hygiene, and equipment reliability, but it also has a profound psychological impact. You can’t control the craziness out there in the world being wrecked by COVID-19. You can’t impact the food supply at your local grocer, or the stock prices in the market. But what you can do is bring order and cleanliness to the confines of your house or apartment. You are king/queen of your domain. Take the time to organize, tidy up, and get items crossed off your “to-do” list. It will reduce your anxiety and give you a sense of control.

A look inside the USS Clamagore submarine

Check the broadcast once a day, but otherwise go deep and focus on your mission.

By design, a submarine stays out of sight and avoids communication with the outside world, focusing solely on completing its individual mission. This happens to be great advice for pandemics too. If you spend your whole day watching cable news and scrolling through social media, you’re going to become an emotional basket case. Cable news has one job, which is to create sensationalism. I’m not advocating being uninformed, but if you can limit your COVID-19 updates to once a day, your anxiety level will be lower and your productivity will be higher.

Have an “all hands on deck” mission planning session.

There’s an old adage in the military: Plan your work, then work your plan. Planning and execution are two of every submarine commanding officer’s favorite words, and for good reason. Nothing on a submarine gets done without a plan. The better the plan, the better the probability of success. So whether you’re a lone ranger or part of a family unit, have an “all hands on deck” meeting and start planning. Let everyone have a voice and contribute ideas. Develop a plan for cooking and freezing meals. Inventory your foodstuff and house supplies and figure out how long you can go between trips to the store. Plan for replenishing prescription medication at the same time as your shopping. Figure out who you can contact for help if you need money, or transportation, or medical advice. There are dozens of scenarios you could face in the coming weeks and months and you don’t have to have the answers to all of them. But if you have a plan—even if it’s not a perfect plan—you will be better prepared to deal with possible problems on the horizon.

Don’t let life be something that “happens to you.” Tackle unpredictability with planning.

 

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