The pandemic caused many people to feel the passing of time differently. Firstly, it’s essential to acknowledge that this is entirely normal. During the pandemic, many people lost their day-to-day routine, and a routine is one of the things that provides key markers in our day.
Those put onto furlough had their hours reduced or lost their job, also lost a work routine, and for many, it rendered days and weeks irrelevant. There was little distinction between, for example, Sundays – often used for downtime and Mondays, usually the start of the working week.
The sameness of being at home every day caused the time to feel as though it was passing strange. As the hallmark of the workweek changed, so did our ability to handle the amount of time that had been given.
Studies have shown that many people experiencing mental health challenges increased throughout the pandemic, including depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Poor mental health can make it more challenging for someone to process change.
Why has this felt like ‘the quickest year ever’ for many people?
When someone does the same thing every day, or there is no experience that is particularly notable about that day, it may feel that time is slow at the moment. However, when we look back on that time as a whole, it may feel as though it passed quickly. This is because no memory markers or memorable experiences stand out. This theory also helps to explain why the older we get, the faster time tends to feel, particularly when we compare it to our child and teenage years.
Why has time dragged for others?
During the pandemic, the usual patterns in our days disappeared. For many, this meant the start of each day required new thoughts and a new plan. Often this can make time feel as though it is creeping by or dragging.
What causes people to experience time differently?
Firstly, it is essential to acknowledge that everyone reacts differently to crises. Often, resilient people can adapt quicker, while others will find a sudden change and the need to adjust very tryingly.
Let’s also recognise that every individual on the planet experienced the pandemic differently. Everyone carried a different weight and a varying level of pressure. Many people were busier than ever; many juggled full-time jobs with homeschooling; some – like hospital workers – had more demanding work hours than ever before, and others became carers for friends and loved ones.
When these people look back on their time, they will likely feel the time passed quite slowly. On the contrary, those whose routines and daily task-lists disappeared are likely to look back and think that time flew by.
Why do many people refer to the pandemic as the past 18 months?
One theory that could help explain this is called chunking. Essentially, it is easier for our brains to retain and recall information when grouped into a larger unit or timescale. Indeed, many people may also want to chunk this time together to put their experience to the side.
What can people do to become more aware of time passing?
There are several steps people can take to help them feel more in control and aware of time passing.
- Commit to a routine
- Reach out to friends and family
- Maintain a healthy sleep cycle
- Connect with the outdoors
- Put dates in the diary
- Practice meditation and mindfulness
Committing to these steps can be tricky, especially if someone has been out of a routine for an extended period. However, these techniques will create healthy patterns, improve general well-being, and help people feel present and at the moment.
Lucie Ironman is a psychological well-being facilitator at Vita Health Group.
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