There’s A Reason The Pandemic Has Made Our Time Perception Feel Off

Quick reminder that it’s been nearly five months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, August is officially in full swing, and summer will soon start to wind down in the northern hemisphere.

If you’re feeling extra baffled by the passing of time these days, you’re not alone. One recent U.K. study concluded that over 80% of participants felt like social distancing has altered their perception of time in one way or another.

What is it about a pandemic that’s got our sense of time all out of whack? We dug into the research and consulted a few experts to find out.

What we know about our perception of time.

We’ve all experienced it: You’re in the middle of a riveting conversation and realize an hour has gone by, or you glance up from attempting to meditate to find it’s only been two minutes. While there are plenty of things we still don’t understand about time perception, we do know that it’s relative. “Time is an ethereal concept, and our experience of it is anything but constant,” psychologist Logan Jones, Psy.D., says.

“It’s a measurable unit and metric, in which seconds and minutes tick by with predictable, meticulous precision,” Jones previously told mbg, “yet our experience of time can be expansive or constricted depending on our neurological and emotional state.”

Michael Flaherty, Ph.D., has a theory that one thing that makes time expand and constrict is our “density of human experience.” When the density of human experience is high, time will feel as if it’s passing at a different rate. While periods of lots of activities can cause this density, quieter times can too, since they’re filled with more inner inquiry. So high density could result from changes in your external environment but also internal emotions, like fear or boredom.ADVERTISEMENT

How does it connect to COVID?

As with all matters of perception, the way the pandemic affects your sense of time will be unique to you. That said, the aforementioned U.K. study did identify some apparent connections between time going by slowly and having a lower task load. High stress was also linked with time going by slower, as well as being unsatisfied with one’s social life, and being older in age.

Based on those findings, it’s safe to say that anytime your routine is turned on its head, it’s going to change the way you perceive time. Here are some other ways your perception can be thrown off:

3 things that make time feel like it’s going by slower:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. New, novel experiences
  3. Stress and fear

3 things that make time feel like it’s going by fast:

  1. Keeping busy
  2. Doing “goal-motivated” activities
  3. Dopamine

If you feel like time has been going by too slow for your liking, Jones adds, “In general, the best practice for helping time move faster is to engage in healthy, life-affirming activities that focus and narrow your attention on rewarding, dopamine-boosting tasks.”

And if you feel like time is going by too fast, take some time to get mindful, slow down, and tune into the present moment.


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