By Laura Maksoud
Take a quick glance at today's date, think about April, or even the first days of this month. Unless you're a universal oddity, quarantine has felt like its been dragging on endlessly, but every day just flies by. Last month felt like thirty minutes, but March felt like an eternity. How can a concept as permanent as time be so malleable? How can something so empirical and perpetual seem so inconsistent?
I spent the afternoon casually slipping this subject into conversations with my friends. I wasn't surprised to hear everyone feeling this disorienting unbalance. One told me that "it's always Saturday". The other that "Tuesdays feel like Mondays". My favorite was probably my best friend explaining how "Corona attacked time as well".
Being a person who treats unfulfilled curiosity like literal poison, leaving this pending was bound to drive me crazy. Now i'm not nearly a good enough physics student to try and talk my way through theories of relativity or quantum mechanics. But what I found after a few hours of articles and reports is that this lingering feeling is far more than just delusive or imagined. There's an actual neurological underpinning to it.
The first thing we need to know is the concept of internal time or, in other words, subjective time, and how complex that is.
You have probably heard of an internal clock- usually in relation to sleep cycles, after staying up too late finishing that history essay, or watching all ten episodes of Outer Banks in one sitting. But there's no such thing as one internal clock. Our brains are wired in a complex ad hoc system that regulates much more than solely the time you'll start feeling tired.
An example would be auditory information being synched with what you see, or how long you'll need to focus and pay attention to a specific task. That all works like a machine, a psychological metronome.
But complex systems are fragile, so it isn't any wonder that our sense of time reflects our circumstances. With all that's going on, it only makes sense for time to feel off as well.
This happens because of something psychologists refer to as Flow. This is when you're relaxed and engaging in a routine or productive activity, without any distractions, completely focused- and you essentially lose yourself in it. There is a sense of zen. The more Flow you have during the day, the smoother time will pass. It's calming, satisfying, and makes you feel fulfilled. A task becomes a pleasurable pastime, and minutes seem shorter, more valuable.
During this is also when you experience the emanation of outward-attention; when your thoughts are directed to creating things, learning, carrying out a specific job. But we're all housebound, stressed, no matter what your situation is- it's all relative. There's that constant inkling of anxiety, a disrupted routine, there's none of that Flow and, consequently, we have to deal with inward-attention. These are often negative, repetitive, obsessive thoughts which pour out of your mind and back into yourself because of a cognitive load. It shares a direct correlation to time slowing down. A prolonging feeling associated with depression.
For example, sure, online learning is difficult, tedious, but no wonder we're all going on full rants at 3AM about how we're all drowning in work. And even when we're drowning, we can't find the will to finish all the work and stay afloat. Deadlines seem distant, inspiration keeps waning and, when we haven't accomplished anything, time seems to have disappeared. Wasted away in procrastination. Speaking from a more personal perspective, that's not all- we're being exceptionally hard on ourselves these last few weeks. We demand more not only from ourselves but from friends, partners, crushes, parents, whoever it may be.
Time slowing down makes us blue, being blue makes time go by slow. It's a tautology serpent, one variable is the causation of the other in a never-ending cycle.
Of course, these ideas vary from person to person. A generally pessimistic individual, maybe with a history in anxiety or depression might be feeling this more intensely. Whereas, according to Dr Bardon, a philosophy professor at Wake Forest University, children are the ones adapting the best to these changes, they "experience Flow very easily. They can lose themselves in their imaginary world."
If you're a student like me, try and think about how long you could spend playing the same video game on your DS when you were younger, or how many consecutive hours of Wizards of Waverly Place you could withstand on the daily. You were in the Flow. If you're reading this and have children of your own, think about how energized your kids are, how keen they are to do things when all you want to do is lie down and do nothing.
As clichéd and parental as this might sound, the solution is to give your brain stimulus, to occupy your mind. I'm not going to tell you to fold clothes or finish that AMAZING, LIFE-SAVING, SKIN-CLEARING, NOT-BORING-AT-ALL biology project that Mr Dias set you (even though you should)- but if you're ever feeling stuck, something else I found is that listening to music is the easiest way to manipulate subjective time. It embodies this independent dimension of tempo and pace that helps usurp that notion of inward-attention mentioned before. It blurs the activity in your prefrontal cortex, which is fancy for "where this all happens", and you finally reach the Flow.