Quarantine: Is Time Going Too Fast or Too Slow?

If you are anything like me, this quarantine is starting to feel like you are living the same day over and over again. You wake up, do your school work, sit around in bed, eat dinner, sit around in bed some more, and then actually go to bed. It is getting very repetitive, and in the worst way. Because every day is the same, you never actually know what day it is. It feels like it might be Tuesday, but when you check your phone, it’s Thursday. It could still be March, who knows? Then you check again, and it’s May. Where did April go? Time seems to be blurring together as the days drag on and on. 

I knew I could not be the only one experiencing this phenomenon, so I set out to find why time felt so weird lately. Adrian Bardon studies the “philosophy of time” and the many psychological processes that make up our understanding of time. In an article I read, he explained why time seems to be moving so fast, but at the same time, not fast at all. Let’s break it down since time can be a very complex idea. 

We all have an internal clock, so to speak. This is the way we experience time through emotions, memories, and events that happen specifically to us. This internal clock can be compared to an external clock that is keeping time for everyone through minutes, hours, days, months. However, there is not just one internal clock that we use to measure time; there are multiple systems that influence our perception of time. We are constantly interpreting and synchronizing our sensory data, as well as regulating or switching our attention. We are making new memories, but also making plans for the future. Many things are happening all at once in our brains. 

Flow is the relaxed, outward attention that we usually lose ourselves in. During this quarantine, our routines have been disrupted, and many people are stressed because of the pandemic. We are not living life as we usually do, and are, therefore, broken out of flow.”

Time perception has a lot to do with emotion and attention. The type of emotion we experience affects the type of attention we pay in any situation. When we are relaxed and engaged in productive activities, we experience what is known as “flow.” Flow is the relaxed, outward attention that we usually lose ourselves in. During this quarantine, our routines have been disrupted, and many people are stressed because of the pandemic. We are not living life as we usually do, and are, therefore, broken out of flow. Now we have the opposite of flow. 

Right now, you are probably experiencing negative inward attention, which is simply when you have a lot on your mind. The official term is rumination–repetitive, obsessive, negative thoughts about your situation. This state is closely associated with the feeling of time dragging on. But, like I said, we also are experiencing the sense that time is flying by. This also has to do with rumination. We are out of our routines; we are not doing anything that is productive or things that we can feel good about. When we look back at our days, it seems like it went super fast because we did not really accomplish anything. You are presumably doing the same thing every day, so there is no need to remember each day specifically. Although time seems to pass slowly in the moment, nothing will really stand out when looking back, causing you to feel as if days are passing by quickly. 

Our timing systems are way off which makes sleep difficult as well. Our usual sleep-wake routine has been in a tailspin, and unfortunately, the best time for negative thoughts (rumination) is when you are lying awake in the middle of the night trying to fall asleep. Our bodies are all confused, and our time perception is being pushed and pulled in every direction. We experience negative emotions, time slows down, but then we look back, time is speeding by. It is one giant paradox. 

We experience negative emotions, time slows down, but then we look back, time is speeding by. It is one giant paradox.”

It is certainly a challenge being bored at home every day working with only the things around you to keep you busy. We cannot just grab a bite to eat with friends, go see a movie, or go to the gym. What you have at home is what you got. It is important to keep goals, although this may be hard. I know I struggle with finding motivation for simple tasks. Try little things at first. Make an effort to keep a journal, even if it is only a few lines a day. Go for a walk on nice days. Facetime your friends to chat a little. Just do something. 

Quarantine is definitely not a positive time, but we can make it positive. We can use this time to work on ourselves. We do not have to sit and ruminate, and progressively deteriorate our mental health. We can build ourselves up, adopt new hobbies, and spend time with family. You just have to get past the block in your mind telling you to sit in bed all day. I am still trying to get past it, that is for sure, but I will not give up. I hope none of you do either.

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