Is it just me or does time feel strange right now?

Time has been feeling weird for a long time now, but in the last few months, it’s been a whole different kind of weird.

Some days go by so fast they barely register and then some days, you know the ones, they simply drag like time is almost standing still. There are days when I find myself thinking ‘where has this day gone’, but also, why does this day feel so familiar? You’ll all have felt this. It’s the dreaded Groundhog Day effect. 

Before I continue, I know I’m not the only one experiencing time very differently, and I’m acutely aware that millions of others don’t have work at all – in that sense, many of us literally do just have more time on our hands than usual.

The very concept of time doesn’t feel normal anymore…and apparently (after jumping into google and reading up about this) if you feel like I do, then I have some good news. It’s okay to feel like this!

It’s completely normal to feel life right now has warped our perception of how days, week and months pass by. We can all breathe a deep sigh of relief as we realise it’s actually a ‘thing’.

My initial research told me that there are many psychological processes that make up our understanding of time, and this then affects the way we see the world. Here’s one for you. How is it that January this year felt like the longest month ever and then February disappeared before our eyes?

Once again, I googled some more, and found myself spiralling down a rabbit warren of cognitive neuropsychologist science. In essence, what they say is that the things that we tend to use as ‘anchors’, to mark the passing of time or a specific place in your memories, have no longer been occurring, (because our world has changed so dramatically) which then contributes to this altered perception of time that we are all experiencing right now.

Look at it like this. Think of all those events we had to cancel in 2020. The well-earned summer holidays, the summer weddings, the birthdays, the travel, shopping till you drop (maybe that’s just me) going to the office, doing our jobs and all the normalities that changed overnight leaves us feeling lost, because nothing of value or interest really separates one month to the next.

We simply stopped making our anchors.

So, there must be a reason for this disorienting sense that time is malleable and inconsistent. Right?

In my reading and research, those same clever neuroscientists have worked out that there is not a single organ or system in the body responsible for timekeeping. In fact, psychologists have identified many factors that affect our sense of time, some of which explain our heightened awareness of it this year.

It’s been suggested that the way we feel time is passing is connected with our level of focus or our physical state and even our mood.  So, if we’re multitasking, and we’re busy with many different things at once, we have less attentional resources to monitor the passing of time, which means we might feel that it’s passing more swiftly.

Unsurprisingly; it’s been suggested that particularly negative emotional events can change the way in which we remember the timing of them. In fact, negative emotional events may even actually produce a time dilation effect, (which sounds like something from The Matrix) but it means that you perceive the time is passing much more slowly, We have all been through something awful, and we all remember how long it seems to last. So after all that, the weird passing of time in the last year isn’t just a quirk or you losing your mind. It’s more likely that something is going on, deep inside your brain, to alter how you experience the time.

This article just scratches the surface of understanding how we perceive time and it’s relation to our emotions and behaviour, and we haven’t even touched on the impact of Mercury being in retrograde!

So what have I done to help myself? I’ve found focusing on becoming more self-aware has helped me. I’ve been looking at how I perceive time, not only in different moments, but also for different situations and for different things that play on my mind. It takes practice, but I’m starting to spot some of the research I’ve shared with you in my own behaviours.

In summary, whether you’re feeling time is going too fast, too slow or simply too repetitive; you are not alone and you are normal. 

As we all become more self-aware, we develop the process of unlearning and relearning something different in order to survive and thrive in this new normal.  Our usual anchors may be missing at the moment, to help break up our days, so it’s up to us to actively shape our own years and rebalance our perception of time.

My final thought? As you find yourself progressing through 2021, be aware of the ‘illusion of time’. It might just be playing tricks on you.

Aysha Haynes

You can learn more about Aysha here.

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