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How a pandemic affects our perception of time

by T MANJUNATHA 2 months ago in tech
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According to scientists, it's unhealthy to be stuck in one particular time viewpoint.

Since spring 2020, many people, including myself, have struggled to understand the passage of time. My family took a pretty carefree trip to Barcelona in February 2020, during the Before Times; it seems like a lifetime ago now. Other times, it seems like three years just passed in the blink of an eye. How is it that my son is beginning fifth grade? Just a moment ago, he was a second grader.

Here we are on "blursday." The phrase became popular when the pandemic first emerged. The phrase perfectly expressed the impression of time evaporating as our daily lives and routines were thrown on their heads (SN: 9/14/20). Weeks followed by years merged into days.

Simon Grondin, a psychologist at Laval University in Quebec City, and colleagues wrote a theory article in an effort to explain the phenomenon as individuals started to wonder why time felt so out of balance. According to Grondin and his team's article published in Frontiers in Psychology in October 2020, our time is often broken up by occasions like dinner dates or daily commutes. These occurrences serve as temporal landmarks. Days lose their identity when those landmarks vanish. Time becomes ill-defined.

Cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists have been rushing to record people's evolving relationship with the clock ever since the earliest shutdowns. The epidemic did cause many people globally to experience aberrations in their concept of time, according to early data from those efforts.

For instance, according to two surveys of more than 5,600 people conducted in the United States during the first six months of the pandemic, about two-thirds of respondents said they felt curiously out of sync. According to research published in August's Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, days seemed to blur together, the present was overbearing, and the future seemed unknown.

"Suddenly, everything came to a complete stop.... According to health psychologist Alison Holman of the University of California, Irvine, "We could not be the persons we were used to being in the world anymore.

Some people could experience time distortions as an odd, slightly disturbing phenomena, but they can get over it. Others may be at danger of continuing mental health issues because of the trauma of recent years and this peculiar perspective of time, according to Holman.

Participants between the ages of 18 and 29 and women were those who had the most experiences of time dilation and may therefore be more susceptible to mental health issues. One's risk of experiencing dissonance was also increased by prior life experiences, such as mental health issues that were already present and high levels of lifetime stress or trauma.

As a PhD student in the 1990s, Holman made the initial observations about how a distorted sense of time might harm people's wellbeing. She conducted interviews with victims of the 1993 fires in southern California for her dissertation days after the blazes started. She discovered that persons who had lost their sense of time during the fires continued to report feeling more distress two years later than those who had mainly maintained their temporal orientation.

"Those who had temporal disintegration... were enmeshed in that earlier experience. They were unable to connect the dots between the past, present, and future, she claims.

Now Holman is hoping to identify those individuals who may require recovery assistance early on by evaluating how much people feel like time is slipping away throughout the pandemic.

Recent studies conducted during the epidemic indicate that people who perceive time as going more slowly appear to struggle with greater emotional discomfort than others who perceive time as flowing quickly. For instance, respondents who stated that time seemed to pass very slowly also expressed a greater sense of loneliness, according to research published in August's issue of Nature Human Behaviour.

Similar research is being conducted by experimental psychologist Ruth Ogden of Liverpool John Moores University in England and colleagues, who want to know how individuals could remember the pandemic in the future and what that would entail for healing. A year after the epidemic began, Ogden and her team questioned over 800 respondents in the United Kingdom to consider its beginning.

According to the researchers' findings published in July's issue of PLOS One, only 9% of people stated the previous 12 months felt exactly like a year, while 34% indicated the time felt shorter. The majority of responders (57%) stated that the previous 12 months seemed longer than a year.

People may believe that a terrible occurrence is much closer in the rearview mirror than it actually is when it seems to have happened a long time ago. Ogden and her team believe that these unpleasant feelings might make it harder for people to recover from the pandemic. A lengthier pandemic may seem more recent and present when remembered, the research writes.

Olivier Bourdon, a psychologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, thinks that temporal perception distortions can be resolved through mindfulness training that brings people back to the present moment (SN: 9/26/22).

However, unlike more temporary tragedies like wildfires and mass shootings, the epidemic has not yet passed. Many people are trapped in a kind of liminal present rather than the past. The best way to handle people in this situation is still not entirely clear, but according to Bourdon, the secret is to help them connect their past, present, and future identities. He claims that being trapped in a particular time viewpoint is unhealthy.

According to study, rebuilding people's future visions is very important for wellbeing. People need to "have some feeling of tomorrow," according to Holman.

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