One of the many changes that COVID-19 has had on my life is my perception of time
At the beginning of the first lockdown back in March, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of impending doom. Anxiety-driven stomach aches, occasional stress crying, and an all-consuming feeling of fatigue was the usual reaction I had when I was overthinking about the future. Being in that weird, late-winter, almost-spring period of March, meant that most days were gloomy and cold, making it even more difficult to leave the house.
Spending all day inside just trying to pass the time and maintain normalcy was a huge lifestyle change, one that I wasn’t prepared for. It didn’t help that time was moving at a glacial pace. I was spending almost every day doing the most mundane tasks to get through a day that felt like forever.
But if you feel like the shift from lockdown has distorted your perception of time, you are not alone. In an article published by Very Well Mind, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and professor at Columbia University, explains that the brain has different ways of reacting to the loss of a routine.
“Many people throughout this pandemic have experienced some level of insomnia, anxiety, and even depression symptoms from lack of socialization, lack of time outside, and a general feeling that all of our goals are at a standstill at the moment,” she wrote.
During lockdown, on most days my schedule consisted of far too much screen time whether it was doing homework, watching movies, or scrolling through social media. I’d wake up, immediately log onto my Zoom lecture, try to listen while half asleep, and go make breakfast in between class. Afterwards I’d work on assignments before losing motivation and taking a long nap.
Naps were the easiest way to kill time, so I got into the habit of taking at least one a day. After that, with the last hour or two before dinner, I’d either take a walk, online shop, or find some ridiculous new thing to spice up my day. Some days it would be learning how to juggle, completing a 1,000-piece puzzle, or making a house of cards — basically anything that would substitute for the lack of fun in my life.
After about two weeks of being in lockdown, I reached a new level of monotony, made even worse by the fear of the unknown. Not knowing how long we were going to be stuck in this routine or how this pandemic was going to play out only added more anxiety to my torturous boredom.
However, time is relative, and can feel different for others. Moe Gelbart, psychologist and director of practice development at Community Psychiatry, says that time distortion can make the days go by too quickly for some.
“Some people feel that time is creeping along, while others feel it is whizzing by at lightning speed,” Gelbart said. “Mostly, I hear both from the same person, that day-to-day time all feels to be in slow motion, but larger chunks of time — like looking back at a week — go by fast.”
Thissica Logeswaran, a fourth-year urban and regional planning student at Ryerson University, felt herself going through this during her lockdown experience. “I could notice time moving slower during the day-to-day but looking back at a week or month, it seemed to just fade away,” she said. “Even now with online school, every day feels like it’s dragging on forever, but we’re already almost at the end of the semester.”
As the province reached stage three, the gradual reopening of the economy and COVID-19 restrictions, it definitely caused a shift in my relationship with time, but on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. My usual sluggish, slow days where I hardly did anything productive did a complete 180 — it was now a constant, fast-paced, schedule with constant schoolwork to be completed. Going back to a part-time job, taking a full course load and trying to balance my hobbies and personal life filled my schedule to the brim.
Most days I don’t even notice time going by because I’m constantly keeping myself occupied, a habit I completely lacked during quarantine. Perhaps I can chalk it up to just being in fourth year and wanting to get very serious about my future, or maybe quarantine gave me the motivation to work a lot harder than I used to? One of the most likely explanations I’ve found is Newton’s First Law of Motion.
The law says a body at rest will remain at rest and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless they’re acted on by an unbalanced force. By going from task to task, my body receives those cues to stay in motion and keep that productivity flow rather than going back to staying stagnant, like how I was in quarantine.
Although it’s not as bad as lockdown boredom, this type of lifestyle still has some disadvantages, like a lack of leisure time. In an article published by BNN Bloomberg, many people in the workforce say that the new working from home norm has eliminated any work-life balance.
Huda Idrees, the chief executive officer of Dot Health, a Toronto-based technology startup, said that her employees are working 12-hour days rather than the normal nine hour days they used to work. “We’re at our computers very early because there’s no commute time,” she said in the BNN Bloomberg article. “And because no one is going out in the evenings, we’re also always there.”
Finding ways to bring normalcy and meaningful activities back into my life has been a constant effort. Feeling like your days consist of work, school, work, school can get just as monotonous as doing absolutely nothing.
Although Logeswaran had trouble allowing herself leisure time during the first lockdown, she now reads fantasy novels as a way to keep herself grounded amid all the chaos in her daily schedule. With constant schoolwork, her internship, and applying to full-time jobs, her days can get quite hectic.
“It’s almost like escapism — reading takes my mind off of everything else because I’m so focused on the words and following the story,” she said. “I don’t even think about all the other stress of real life for a while.”
That message, of escape to distract from the daily stresses of life, is probably the most important one that I’ve learned throughout this whole journey of my ever-changing perception of time.
Often it can almost feel like I am running out of time, that I’ll be looking back at my university days and I won’t remember fun memories with friends or learning more about myself — rather I will remember all-nighters and long hours of sitting at my desk doing work.
But, the lockdown has also given me a chance to reflect on how I spend my time and use it wisely. This means less social media, more journaling, healing and indulging in the personal joys to bring meaning to my life — a practice that I think many other students would benefit from too.