Mark Kelly's Decision: Coping with Stress

                                                            by Joan Vernikos

Does worry keep you up at night? Do you fuss over fears, "what if" worries, stuff that needs to be done? It's easy to become all wired up with stress.

But have you stopped to think about how real this stress is?  It seems real enough at the time. Yet you can quickly erase it from your mind once you realize that it falls in the category of something that is not under your control.  You are unnecessarily wasting energy if you do not realize that all this anticipated stress is generated by you.

Then there is stress that comes unannounced, that you cannot disregard because it happens  unexpectedly and you must deal with it.  The incredible live TV drama of the shootings on January 8th, a beautiful sunny day in Tucson, Arizona came, like 9/11, to shake us out of putting off making sure we tell people we love them.

Think of that day's awful events. On the one hand, families lost loved ones and many were needlessly injured and experienced trauma. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords not only came near to losing her life but suddenly is facing the steep climb to carve out a somewhat different kind of future. Things never quite return to the way they were.

Consider what her astronaut husband Mark Kelly has been dealing with. He is Commander of a Shuttle mission only weeks away, and must have hit emotional bottom that fateful Saturday. Grueling naval and astronaut training, that equipped him in dealing with great risks as well as with news media, must have come in unexpectedly useful. Yet in his wildest dreams this was not the scenario he had prepared for. Additionally, his major support and twin brother Scott Kelly was unavailable, 200 miles up in space as Commander of the International Space Station. Should one tell astronauts in space this sort of tremendously bad news? Today's technology makes it impossible to keep anything a secret. These are professionals and they are trained to deal with bad news and challenges of all sorts.
How could astronaut-specific training have helped Mark Kelly? In the case of loss or near loss, astronauts will react like any other human being and use the tools they have developed. The list includes prayer, action, continuing with life's demands, taking care of one's own health, letting go of negative emotions and having people to lean on through the process of recovery.

In the case of  prolonged uncertainty, as in the case of Mark Kelly, the rigorous training to analyze, anticipate, think through and act must click in automatically. Yet no one can be trained for this kind of event. When others rely on you, helplessness is not an option. Staying emotionally in control and calm remains a fundamental requirement from which he can draw strength. His training would say:
  • Get the facts
  • Analyze
  • Remain informed
  • Question gently and constantly and establish control. Doctors and caregivers are in virgin territory with this case. Nothing can be taken for granted.
  • Organize assistance
  • Act on whatever is under your control
  • Faith 
Decision-making is one of the most stressful life events. Mark Kelly recently announced his decision to remain on-schedule to lead his 14 day mission on the shuttle Endeavor's last scheduled flight.
"As you can imagine the last month has been the hardest time of my life," he said.  Of his wife, he added "She's made progress every day; I have every intention that she'll be there for the launch." 
Godspeed Mark Kelly!


  1. Great news!! Recovery and rehabilitation is a slow journey. Every step and every day is a success story. Love, inspiration and steady hard work are what make success happen.

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