The pandemic has distorted our sense of time. Here’s how to get it back.

At this point in the pandemic, it still feels like we’re stuck in time.

Yes, offices are reopening and many people are continuing their activities and travel plans. But there is still some uncertainty about what might happen next with COVID and when the pandemic will actually end, especially as new options emerge.

Life doesn’t seem normal yet, and as a result, time drags on. Here’s why and how you can “get” some of it back:

1. We have lost our routines.

In accordance with Ruth Ogden, an experimental psychologist at Liverpool John Moores University studying how people manage time, the feeling that time is warped has become a global phenomenon. Through her research, she discovered that people through in the globe experienced distorted time during the pandemic.

The biggest time warp culprit: the loss of our routines.

“All the things in our day that helped us know what time it is, are gone. It meant time slipped and slipped easily,” Ogden said.

During the pandemic, time has stopped for many of us. We canceled our activities and distanced ourselves from friends. People did everything – slept, ate, worked, socialized, raised children, played sports – from their homes.

“We are all heavily routine creatures, but this routine is important because it keeps us in time,” Ogden said.

Our daily activities help us to perceive time – if we drive to work, we know that it is morning, if we run for lunch, then it is already noon, and so on and so forth. Without a daily routine to act as time markers, it’s easy to get lost in time. What made your Saturday Saturday or your Tuesday Tuesday may no longer exist.

Research also suggests that emotions significantly influence our perception of time. When we are happy and physiologically excited, time flies by; conversely, depression can make time feel sluggish.

Also, our expectations of how things will play out (like the pandemic is over!) compared to the reality of how things will play out (we have a new version ahead of us) can make time feel faster or slower, depending on whether the actual result is better or worse than our forecasts.

2. Memories help us manage time and our memories are different from the past few years.

Think back to the beginning of the pandemic when news of the spread of COVID in China first leaked. How long does it seem to you? Months? Years? Probably hard to say.

Ogden and her research team studied how people relate to the length of a pandemic and found that the brain processes the length of time through memories.

“If we have a lot of memories, then he says, ‘Oh, it must have been a long time ago,’ but if he has very few memories, then we think it was a short period of time,” Ogden said. .

In theory, most of us should remember that the pandemic was short because we didn’t do much, Ogden said. But she found the opposite: to most people, it feels like we’ve been stuck in a pandemic for much longer than we really were.

The reason seems to be that while we don’t necessarily form many fun, new memories over a period of time, we do form memories. We learned how to bake bread, solve puzzles and crafts, and fill our days with Zoom meetings. We went through life through restrictions, disguises and distancing; we developed new skills and plunged into new routines. Time has moved forward.

Delmaine Donson via Getty Images

The loss of a routine is the main reason why time seems to drag on unnoticed.

3. People perceive time differently.

How warped time feels varies from person to person. Ultimately, it depends on each person’s personal experience with COVID and how much the pandemic has affected or changed their day-to-day activities, he said. Nicole DudukovichChair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Oregon.

Ogden’s research, for example, showed that social satisfaction is one of the most important factors influencing how people manage their time.

“The more socially satisfied you were, the ‘faster’ the pandemic went,” Ogden said, noting that it meant not just being around people like family in your home, but seeking and enjoying social connections.

People who are back to “normal” life, traveling, commuting, and doing other things, are likely to have a more normal sense of time now. People who are at risk and squatting, as well as those who are stressed by returning to pre-pandemic activities, may continue to feel disorientated in time.

“For some people, this experience will last for a long time, and it will continue to distort their perception of time,” Ogden said.

4. Now we are more aware of time.

Ultimately, the pandemic has made people more aware of time. We have more free time, according to Ogden, which has made us more aware of time and how it passes.

At the same time, we often do not remember the exact time. It’s very hard for people to remember how we felt about things like time in the past – a lot of it depends on how we feel about things now. According to Dudukovich, memories of how time has passed can be very inaccurate. While it may seem like time flows differently now, it’s likely that we’re just misremembering how time felt before the pandemic.

“Perhaps if you had asked me in 2019 how fast time goes by, perhaps it wouldn’t be so different from how I feel about it now,” Dudukovich said.

Here’s how to overcome the time warp.

Ogden said it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not going back to pre-pandemic life.

“So much has changed in the world as a result of the pandemic,” she said. We have continued and adapted to new ways of working and communicating.

One of the best ways to alleviate the feeling of being stuck in time is to create new routines.

“There is a lot of evidence that your daily routine, as well as the number of activities you do, will influence how you perceive time,” Dudukovich said.

A change of scenery—leaving the house, taking a walk, or even changing the room you work in—can trick your brain into thinking that more is happening and time is passing more regularly.

If your days merge together, save certain activities and routines for certain days of the week.

“Make your Tuesday your Tuesday because of what you do on it,” Ogden said.

Finally, try to be busy. The busier we are, the less we tend to focus on how time passes.

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