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Distorted perception of time during the pandemic linked to stress

The passage of time felt altered for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, from difficulty keeping track of the days of the week to feeling like the hours were ticking by slowly or speeding up, new research suggests.

The results showed that more than 65% of the 5,661 respondents reported that weekdays and weekends blurred together, and that uncertainty about the future was a sense of focus in the present. And more than half reported the experience of feeling “time speeding up or slowing down,” report the researchers, led by E. Alison Holman, PhD, a professor in the Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine.

Significant predictors of these time distortions included being exposed to daily media related to the pandemic and having a mental health diagnosis before the pandemic; secondary stress such as school closures and lockdowns; financial stress; life stress; and lifetime trauma exposure.

“Continuity between past experiences, present life and future hopes is critical to one’s well-being, and disruption of that synergy presents mental health challenges,” Holman said in a news release.

“We were able to measure this in a nationally representative sample of Americans who were experiencing prolonged collective trauma, something that had never been done before, and this study is the first to document the prevalence and early predictors of these time distortions,” he added. holman

The findings were Posted online August 4 in Psychological trauma: theory, research, practice, and policy.

unique opportunity

During the pandemic, many people’s time perspective (TP), defined as “our view of time stretching from our past into the future,” changed as they “focused on the present and immediate danger of the COVID pandemic -19 and future plans”. became uncertain,” the researchers write.

Convenience sample studies “suggested that many people experienced time slowing down, stopping, or speeding up as they faced the challenges of the pandemic,” a phenomenon known as temporary disintegration (TD) in the psychiatric literature.

Holman said Medscape Medical News who investigated TD after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“We found that people who experienced that early feeling of TD, the feeling that ‘time is falling apart’, were more likely to get stuck in the past and focus on the past event,” leading to feeling “more distress with time,” she said.

Research examining the prevalence and psychosocial factors that predict TD are “quite rare,” and studies examining TD “during ongoing and ongoing collective trauma are even rarer,” the researchers note. The COVID pandemic “presented a unique opportunity to conduct such a study,” they add.

For their study, the researchers surveyed participants in the NORC AmeriSpeak online panel, a “probability-based panel” of 35,000 randomly selected American households from across the country.

The study was carried out in two waves: the first survey was administered between March and April 2020, the second between September and October of that same year.

speeding up, slowing down

At Wave 2, participants completed a 7-item index of DD symptoms experienced during the previous 6 months. To adjust for psychological processes that may have predisposed people to experience TD during the pandemic, the researchers included a Wave 1 measure of future uncertainty as a covariate.

Pre-pandemic health data was collected before the current study.

Wave 1 participants completed a checklist reporting personal, work, and community exposure to the COVID outbreak, including contracting the virus, sheltering in place, and experiencing secondary stressors. The scope and type of media exposure related to the pandemic were also evaluated.

In Wave 2, they reported the extent of coronavirus exposure, financial exposures, and secondary stressors. They also completed a non-COVID stress/trauma exposure checklist and were asked to indicate whether the trauma, disaster, or bereavement occurred before or during the pandemic.

The final sample consisted of 5,661 adults (52% female) who completed the Wave 2 survey. Participants were divided into four age groups: 18-34, 35-49, 50-64, and 65+.

The most common experiences (reported by more than 65% of respondents) included being focused on the present moment, feeling like weekdays and weekends were the same, and feeling insecure about the future.

More than half of the respondents (50.4%) reported feeling like time was speeding up and 55.2% reported feeling like time was slowing down. Some also reported feeling insecure about the time of day (46.4%) and forgetting events they had just experienced (35.2%).

When the researchers controlled for uncertainty about the future, they found that women reported more TDs than men (b = .11; 95% CI, 0.07 – 0.14; P < .001).

At Wave 1, associations were found between TD and COVID-related media exposure, pre-pandemic mental health diagnoses, and pre-pandemic non-COVID stress and trauma. In Wave 2, associations were found between TD and COVID-related financial and secondary stressors (all Ps, < .001).

variable b (95%CI)
Pre-pandemic mental health diagnosis.08 (.04 – .11)
Lifetime stress/trauma before the pandemic.06 (.03 – .09)
Media Exposure.08 (.04 – .12)
Financial stressors.11 (.08 – .15)
Secondary Personal Stressors.21 (.17 – .24)

In contrast, COVID-related occupational exposure in Wave 1, being between the ages of 45 and 59, and living in the Midwest region were negatively associated with TD.

“The sense of flow from the past to the present and from the present to the future is important for our mental health,” Holman said. “We need to remember who we have been, how that shaped who we are today and where we want to go with our lives.”

Staying in the present moment is “well, when you do it consciously. But you still need to feel like you can shape and work toward the future and have some sense of control,” he added.

Homan also recommended time perspective therapy, which helps patients with post-traumatic stress disorder to “build continuity through time: understand and learn from the past, live in the present, and move into the future.”

Wide spread distortion

commenting for Medscape Medical NewsRuth Ogden, PhD, a professor at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, said the findings “confirm those reported in Europe, South America and the Middle East, that widespread time distortion was common during the pandemic and that distortions of time were higher among those most negatively affected by the pandemic.

The results also support their own recent research in the UK “suggesting that the distortions in time during the pandemic extend into our memory during the pandemic, with most people believing that the lockdowns lasted much longer than they actually did,” said Ogden, who did not participate in Holman and colleagues. Current study.

“This kind of subjective lengthening of the pandemic can reinforce trauma by making the traumatic period seem longer, further damaging health and well-being,” he noted.

“As the negative consequences of the pandemic continue, it is important to establish the long-term effects of time distortions during the pandemic on mental health and well-being,” he added.

The study was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The investigators report that they have no relevant financial conflicts of interest.. Ogden receives funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Psychological trauma. Posted online August 4, 2022. Text complete

Batya Swift Yasgur MA, LSW is a freelance writer with a consulting practice in Teaneck, NJ. She is a regular contributor to numerous medical journals, including Medscape and WebMD, and is the author of several consumer-oriented health books, as well as Behind the Burqa: Our Lives in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom (the memoir of two brave Afghans). . sisters who told him her story).

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