THE CONCEPT OF TIME IN A PANDEMIC AND HOW WE CAN TAKE BACK OUR WEEKENDS
Do you ever just sit in your pajamas all day, every day, for the rest of the week? You wake up, have breakfast, work from home, take classes remotely, and at the end of the day, you suddenly realize it’s already the weekend. Why something you used to look forward to the most, have become these fleeting (almost non-existent) days of the week.
When the lockdown started, we had some structure in our homes to maintain that internal calendar that guides us for our daily routine. “One of the challenges of the current crisis is that many of our schedules are completely in disarray,” says Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale University who teaches the popular course The Science of Well-Being.
“Humans are creatures of habit, so having a regular schedule for when we work and when we engage in leisure can help us reduce uncertainty, especially in this already uncertain time.”
Retreating from the office and schools remotely, the line between the weekend and weekday has blurred. For some people, every day feels like a weekday, added with household chores and not much recreation. Others perceive every day as a Saturday, with endless opportunities for fun. Either way, life now seems like a vinyl record playing over and over.
It’s easy to lose track of time, especially when your routine revolves around in one space. Even the psychologists who study time perception have felt their days blend into one another. “I’ve experienced it myself,” says Kevin LaBar, a psychologist at Duke University. “As this drags on, and as your day becomes very constrained by your limited environment, the days kind of blend together.”
In normal times, think about all the after work drinking sessions with your officemates, or leisurely mornings you anticipate almost every day. Those practicing social distancing due to COVID-19, or are keeping isolation, may not get that feeling of anticipation anytime soon. Aside from treating each weekend day as actual weekends by dedicating some time in whatever space you find in the apartment, another suggestion is to have a good understanding of why you’re self-isolating.
Samantha Brooks, who has studied the psychological impact of quarantine at King’s College London explains it like this. “Open, transparent, consistent communication is the most important thing governments and organizations can do: Make sure people understand why they are being quarantined first and foremost, how long it is expected to last,” she says. “A huge factor in the negative psychological impact seems to be confusion about what’s going on, not having clear guidelines, or getting different messages from different organizations.”
Having a good amount of worry about the coronavirus might pull a similar trick on our brain, LaBar thinks. “You’re devoting more of your resources — both your attention resources and memory resources — to processing information about the event,” he says. “That extends the feeling that it’s lasting longer.”
To add to that, the pandemic is becoming a source of chronic stress, especially when it’s been going on for months. There’s always the need to be productive and do more, which ends up with multi-tasking. Switching in between tasks increases our cognitive load, using up more of our mental resources.
According to Inger Burnett-Zeigler, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, she said that high stress levels impair our concentration and attention, and can affect short-term memory. “When (people are) attempting to multi-task, it makes it more difficult to encode the information that’s in front of them,” she said. “Then the information is not stored and they can’t remember what they were doing or what they were saying a moment or a few moments later on.”
It’s easy to lose track of time during these times, especially when there’s so much going on externally. The need to have a routine, regardless of what it is, makes a difference as it keeps your body in sync. By shifting things around a new schedule that accommodates well with your new normal, may allow you to like things just as they are and hopefully help anticipate for the weekend.
While weekends have become not as exciting as they used to be, it doesn’t mean they can’t be as restful. If you think you’ve had enough of it already since the lockdown started, think of it as another layer of added break, restructure it, and adjust again.