Spoiler alert: lockdown has skewed everyone’s perspective.
Fun fact: I asked what month we were in last week and my brain genuinely defaulted to thinking we were in November.
Yep. Lockdown has scrambled everyone’s brains a little. And no wonder – it’s been a seriously testing time for our mental health. I’ve personally experienced brain fog, lethargy, and a totally skewed sense of time, so wanted to know whether this was just me, or something everyone might be suffering from right now.
Lucky for me, I had four medical professionals on hand to share their take on the matter. Keep reading to discover why lockdown has created such a skewed, distorted sense of time, and educate yourself with some simple tips for rooting yourself in the here and now.
Suffering from a warped sense of time right now?
First up, is losing track of time normal?
Yes, it is – so don’t worry. According to Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist and author of A Pain In The Mind, time distortion can be an important marker of your mental health.
Find yourself losing track of time and asking yourself what day is is on a regular basis?
“You may be experiencing the phenomenon ‘temporal disintegration’, often caused by a traumatic event. In this case, the trauma is caused by the pandemic,” explains Caroline Harper, specialist mental health nurse at Bupa.
She goes on to add that if you experience a warped sense of time, you perceive time differently in different contexts, for example, time may feel slower or faster than it is. This may be when you feel anxious, worried, or even bored.
“The pandemic has caused an unprecedented amount of strain to our daily lives; for example, anxiety caused by lockdown, job uncertainty, and the stress of home-schooling. There is also a lot of uncertainty about the future, too, and often people lose track of time when the continuity from the past to the future is gone,” she continues.
5 signs you’re experiencing a warped sense of time
Making errors of judgement around time
“If you commonly make errors in judgement surrounding time, it’s possible that you are experiencing a distorted sense of time,” explains psychologist Charlotte Armitage.
For example, think regularly missing meetings or appointments or regularly forgetting what day it is.
Additionally, if you are having difficulty sleeping, you may be experiencing it. “Whether this is getting to sleep, waking up regularly, or struggling to wake up in a morning, this could signify a change in your body clock,” she shares.
Brain fog and general lethargy
You know, difficulty concentrating at work and feeling tired all the time. Sound familiar?
Change in mood
So you’re struggling to sleep and you’re experiencing a change in mood? “This could be a sign that your mental health is suffering and you may need to seek help from a mental health professional,” the psychologist shares.
Why are you losing track of time, generally?
Heather Garbutt, psychotherapist at Swindon’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre, shares that lockdown obviously has a large part to play. “Being locked down is like being in a waiting room you can’t get out of for an entire year,” she explains. “You’ve read all the magazines, watched all the adverts, and scanned all the notices hundreds of times.”
She continues: “We have no real choice or autonomy. Time has taken on that of the quality of dreams, floating, unmarked by clocks or calendars. Meanwhile, we’re trying to digest and integrate all that has happened on a feeling level.”
Peacock agrees, adding that lockdown will have undoubtedly played a role in your strange perception of time.
“Lockdown has meant we’ve lost the order, routine, and events which mark the days, weeks and seasons,” she explains. “It makes sense that people’s sense of time is out of kilter. You’re not living by your usual routines or experiencing your usual transitions, like leaving for work. We just aren’t experiencing those subtle and implicit indicators of time.”
Do note here: this is to be expected. “It’s normal to feel unbalanced and uncertain given the unpredictability and instability we’re experiencing,” shares Armitage. “It’s not surprising, with the amount of behavioural adaptions and additional stresses, that we are struggling to find focus, balance and perspective right now.”
5 easy ways to stop time distorting
“We need to do as much as we can to calm the fight and flight mechanism,” shares Garbutt.
Here, Harper shares her top five tips for keeping your sense of time in check or for it you’re generally feeling a bit lost at the moment.
1. Keep your regular routine
Creating a routine may seem like a simple thing to do, but it can really help manage any feelings of anxiety, stress or worry, the expert shares.
“It can help to maintain your sense of time – especially if you’ve got a set structure to your day,” she explains. She recommends:
- Having set times that you go to bed and get up
- Aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night
- Setting yourself periods to take regular breaks
- Trying to go outside during these times, whether for a quick stroll round the block or a longer walk.
- Getting dressed in the mornings to help maintain normality
- Finding time for yourself, to exercise or relax
- Socialise safely and when allowed, or even virtually.
2. Celebrate the small wins
If time feels like it’s going slowly or speeding up, set yourself small – but achievable – goals every day, Harper advises. “This will help you stay motivated throughout the day,” she adds.
- Try to progress any goals that you feel motivated and excited to achieve.
- Write down simple steps to help you tick this off your list: this can help to spur you on.
- Share your progress with someone: you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you do so.
3. Talk it out
It’s not always easy to open-up about how you’re feeling, especially if you’re experiencing mental health worries. “Talking – whether it’s with a mental health professional, friend, family member or a colleague you’re close to – can help you cope with a problem you’ve been struggling with,” Harper shares.
Do remember – things may be tough right now, but this situation is temporary, and it won’t last forever.
4. Head outdoors
A change of scenery can do wonders for your mood, and sense of time.
Make sure you’re spending time in nature where possible – it’ll only help to ground you and boost your mood.
5. Seek support
“It’s completely understandable if you’re feeling worried, irritated, or anxious, especially with all the change we’ve experienced over the last year, Harper concludes. “If you feel like you’re struggling to make sense of time, it’s important to remember that there’s always support available.”
Speaking to a healthcare professional about how you’re feeling can help. They’ll be able to help you identify what’s causing you to feel this way, and to identify steps to take to improve how you feel.
“When all is said and done, this quarantine time warp will settle,” shares Peacock. “Humans always adapt, and we will, but we’ll also be changed forever. If we can learn how to be OK with it now, this is one way we can prepare for our uncertain future.”