The monotonous days of quarantine drag by. Wake up, eat, work, sleep—all from the confines of your home (minus the occasional trip to the grocery store, gas station, or restaurant for takeout).
Since our days feel as long as weeks, why do our weeks fly by? Because our brains calculate the passage of time based on events…and I bet your life isn’t brimming with memorable events during quarantine. (I know mine isn’t.)
How our brain tells time
Is there a mini clock tucked among the folds of our brain? Is it analog? Digital? Does it have an alarm?
Although scientists have studied the brain for years, no one has discovered a clock in there (yet). In fact, they’re not even sure that the brain registers events using minutes and seconds. These experts hypothesize that our minds catalog the duration of time using events and memories.
Memories = time
For many of you, this feels like a normal day:
You woke up late, took a quick shower, then grabbed a bagel and cup of coffee on your way to work. It was a long morning of meetings, including a particularly engaging one over lunch, before you spent the afternoon at your desk. Thankfully you were looking forward to dinner with your family because tonight is a rare evening when everyone can gather around the table (no soccer, ballet, or karate). As usual, you helped your kids with some homework before bath time and bedtime. Then you sipped a drink with your spouse before calling it a night.
And for nearly all of us, this is what a day looked like during quarantine:
You pull yourself out of bed and throw on some clothes (which you might have already worn this week). Coffee at the kitchen table. You start your “work day” by opening your laptop and checking emails. Later you make a few phone calls, take breaks to play with your kids, and wrap up the day early. Everyone sits around the table for dinner, you all take a family walk in the evening, and then it’s snuggle time on the couch for a family TV show before bed. Nothing special. Today was the same day as yesterday. And the forecast for tomorrow looks similar as well.
In essence, those days are similar. Wake up, work, dinner, family, bed. So why do our brains think the typical day flies by faster than a hummingbird while the quarantine day moves slower than a sloth? Because the clock is our brain computes time based on events.
- More events or greater variety means more time has elapsed.
- Fewer events and monotony means less time has passed.
Our quarantine days are slow because our brain recognizes that …nothing…special…is…really…happening. (Sorry that your day is so uneventful!)
At the end of the week we glance back and wow, where did the time go! Slow days of insignificance blend into accelerated weeks. Wait, what? That’s right, without mile markers throughout the week, your brain categorizes your week as a small blip of time. (Remember, the tick tock of your brain tells time by events and memories, not hours and minutes and seconds.)
Yep, that’s weird. Can’t you relate? “When will this day end?” and “Where did the week go?”
Struggling during quarantine?
If you’re still in your house, this reality is more vivid than you’d like to admit. If you’re just experiencing the freedom of reopening society, perhaps your at-home season feels like a blur. Either way, it’s obvious that time under lockdown distorts our perceptions.
Are you struggling to thrive as quarantine time passes away? Try one of these 3 tips:
1 – Mix it up. Monotony adds ten pounds to the hands of your clock, slowing down time. In contrast, variety makes those hands swoosh around the clock at a vibrant pace. So spice up your life!
- Have a special picnic lunch. Venture to your patio, backyard, or local park (if open).
- Take a virtual vacation. Museums and tourist hotspots offer online “tours” to help you travel from the comfort of your own home!
- Eat dessert for breakfast, or breakfast for dinner.
- Host a virtual cocktail hour with your friends. Everyone dresses up, preps a drink, and hops on a video call together.
2 – Change spots. Changing your location helps your brain distinguish among memories. Simple modifications can make a huge difference to your brain’s clock.
- Move your desk into another room for the week.
- Rearrange the furniture in your home.
- If safe and possible, work from a public cafe or coworking space. (Follow local guidelines for wearing masks, social distancing, or other safety protocols.)
- Is there another family that you have been quarantining with, like your parents or neighbors? Ask if you can swap workspaces for the day, or plan to have a meal together in the other person’s home.
3 – Don’t struggle alone. The entire world has been under lockdown or restrictions to some degree, which means everyone has felt the impacts of time under quarantine. You aren’t alone.
- Call a friend (phone or video call) and share your struggles.
- Invite someone to meet with you weekly (in person or digitally). This event is something to look forward to and it can be a safe place to process how the pandemic is impacting you. Depending on your location, you could plan a weekly walk together or a virtual coffee date.
We’re here for you. Although our team has never counseled clients through a pandemic, our expertise covers stressful, anxious, and depressive situations like this one. Allow us to help you grasp the way your brain is interpreting time. Together we will look back over the past few months and transition well into the next phase of COVID. We’re open and ready to step into life with you. Call us today.
Teen Social Anxiety