Mental Health Monday: Research suggests we can slow down time—or at least, how we perceive it

This is part of a regular series called Mental Health Monday. Our goal is to share information about mental health trends and research, as well as suggestions for what we can do as individuals and communities to improve the mental health of ourselves and others. 


“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” —Michael Altshuler, author and speaker


We can make time more fulfilling by noticing the world and our place in it

How is time “traveling” for you right now? Are the days and years zipping or crawling by?

If the pace of time is unpleasant for you, research suggests that you can change how you perceive it—and the solution is pretty much the same whether you feel time is moving too fast or too slowly.

A January article in Psychology Today explains that we understand the passage of time through the states of our bodies and our emotions. This perception is subjective—the more our bodily sensations and emotions change, the longer we feel a moment lasts. This is true in the moment as well as when we are judging the duration of time in retrospect, as article author Marc Wittmann, Ph.D. writes:

The rule of thumb is the following: The more changing experiences we have had during a time interval, the longer subjective duration in retrospect. An uneventful week spent with our work routines passes quickly. An exciting week full of novel experiences, when we travel and explore a new place with friends, lasts subjectively much longer. This is the memory effect of retrospective time. More emotionally laden experiences expand subjective duration. Because we had so many novel experiences in a joyful context memory formation is enhanced. Life lasts subjectively longer.

This helps to explain why older adults often say life seems to move quickly: In youth, we have many novel experiences as we do many things for the first time. There are fewer “firsts” to experience later in life, and with fewer emotion-sparking experiences, life seems to go faster.

The research suggests two strategies for a more fulfilling, and perceivably longer, life. First, step out of monotonous routines every so often to feel something new and different. Second, make a point to notice what your body senses and the emotions you feel in both novel and regular situations.

Read the full article here.


Let’s Do More:

  • Mindfulness, or the purposeful awareness of our environment and the state of our bodies in it, has many benefits for mental health, including a more fulfilling perception of the passage of time. Learn more about mindfulness here. One helpful way to get started in mindfulness is with a mindfulness app. These apps often have a free trial period.

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