Our perception of time is really quite fickle. When we’re happy time flies and when we’re bored or mood is low - oh, how it drags. These all to familiar sensations tell us that emotional states strongly affect our perception of the flow of time. When time seems to slow dramatically, as is the case with major depression, the sense that things could change for the better diminishes considerably. Possibilities for recovery seem distant, clarity is lost, and the misery and guilt of the past seems to crowd in.
Not a great deal of attention has been given to the process of time perception in low moods or depression. It tends to be viewed as a symptom rather than something worthy of study in its own right. To sense that every hour of the day feels more like a week is distressing and a very prominent feature of depression. In fact there are various characteristics of the time dragging phenomenon in depression. One of the simplest ways to measure this is to expose people to a timed task - say 30 seconds. In timed tasks for example, depressed people are known to judge time differently and the more severe the depression the more prominent this judgment is affected. Not surprisingly, when symptoms of depression become less severe so time judgment improves.
In order to break into the time dragging issues associated with low mood it can be very useful to impose some kind of structure on the day and then stick to it. This makes us more time aware and also increases activity levels, which lifts mood. You should embed certain key activities within the structure. Exercise is one, bedtime is another (sleep disturbances don’t help so a routine is good). Also embed social contact, hobbies and interests. The rest is made up of the things you need to do such as shopping, work/ housework, making meals, ironing, etc.
Break the tasks into components of time and try to stick to them. Don’t make things too monotonous. If you have half a day’s worth of ironing waiting to be tackled, don’t do any more than maybe 30-40 minutes at a time and then move on to something different. Within all this, add some ‘me’ time for relaxing and doing whatever you like.
Many of these tips can seem like pointless contrivances. But they are tried, tested and effective methods. The only way to see for yourself is to try.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.