Adverse Effects of Self-Isolation | Losing Track of Time

When you’re home all the time as a result of the coronavirus, researchers say there has been a major increase in that question as people remain behind closed doors to protect themselves and others during the pandemic

What day is it?

In an ever-changing world where everything seems upside down, struck by a new beat and rhythm brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it seems as though everyone’s internal clock has been thrown out of whack.

Self-isolation has a lot to do with it, say health experts, as many people find it difficult to keep track of the days of the week, forgetting the date, as their lives are significantly upended by the new normal.

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The disturbance in everyday way of life, it’s said, plays with a person’s emotions and moods, altering the perception of time, causing many to lose the sense of where they are in the workday or week, for that matter.

There’s no reference point as millions have been tossed into a distorted mode as some psychologists have compared the virus to a natural disaster, but the clean up is much slower, lugging along, seemingly nowhere in sight.

Dr. Alison Holman, a psychologist and associate professor of nursing at University California, Irvine, told USA Today it’s a phenomenon, explaining that individuals are unable to retain and organize information regarding time, noting they struggle to recall what happened yesterday or the day prior. “For people who are staying in all the time,” she told the newspaper, “the days meld all together. There’s no distinction between the work week and weekend and you lose sense of time and what time it is.”

With so many working from home, the days just become one big blur, prompting actor Tom Hanks on a recent segment of “Saturday Night Live,” to say, as reported in the New York Times: “There’s no such thing as Saturdays anymore. It’s just everyday is today.”

With cancelations of events in South Pasadena like the annual Festival of Balloons 4th of July Parade, traditional June graduations and promotions like we know them, concerts in the park and, heck, even happy hours, the difference between Thursday, Friday and Saturday have been put on hold.

The emotional effects of COVID-19 – social distancing and stay at home mandates, causing loneliness, – creates “the sensation of time dragging on,” Dr. Ruth Ogden, a senior lecturer and researcher at the school of psychology at Liverpool John Moores University in England, told USA Today. “This is because our sense of time is governed in part by the emotions that we experience and the actions we perform.”

Closer to home, Stacey Petersen, the executive director for the South Pasadena Education Foundation — the fundraising arm for the local school district — used to tease her mom and dad that they never knew what day it is after the coupled retired. “Now it’s happening to me!” she said with a laugh. “I feel like every night I have to tell myself what day it is tomorrow, and it is my Google Meets and Zoom meetings that keep me on track. The hustle of everyday chaos seems to have kept me on track and now that my days are spent on the same property with the same people the days just run together with my only form of outside communication being faces on my computer. I will say, I love my daily commute but miss the people in my life!”

Longtime South Pasadena resident Bill Culinane says he’s helping to run several businesses with deadlines to meet. “This helps keep me focused on the day of the week but I can certainly understand for some people the days could run together,” he said.

Among the youth organizations currently on hiatus due to the ongoing crisis is South Pasadena Little League Baseball and Softball, headed by President Alberto Ocon. “Losing track of time is definitely a struggle,” he said, “We all hade routines and now have to adjust almost everyday. Having to be at home with stay at home orders, our battle now is to keep from going stir crazy. Minutes run into hours and hours into days. We are trying to keep the days busy so we can forget the madness and remember each day of the week. The time will be memorable in the future but feels like a never-ending story.”

South Pasadena High teacher and the school’s athletic director, Anthony Chan, says his sense of time has been distorted, to some degree, over the past 10 weeks. “Having a bit of a routine on the weekday gives me a sense of what day it is. For example, I hold office hours for my math classes on my workday,” Chan noted. “I have caught myself trying to figure out if it’s Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, though. Another thing I noticed is the ‘hours of work’ has really changed, with plenty of people doing work in the evenings since we are mostly working from home. There isn’t much of a physical separation between home and office.”

Added South Pasadena City Council member Dr. Marina Khubesrian, “The rapid halt of our typical activities and transition to quarantine life was definitely disorienting. Now that we’ve been at this for 2 months and adjusted to a new normal, I have a new sense of time not necessarily a distorted one. When I’ve travelled to more rural areas of the globe, I’ve experienced this slowing of time where the rhythms of the day primarily dictated activity. Many people living in cities have very hectic schedules with long commutes, long work hours, taking kids to their various activities, and they feel rushed and stressed. I know that I have appreciated more time with my husband, kids and pets, more time to cook at home, read and work in the yard. I’m doing my work with patients and as a councilmember mostly remotely and this has freed up all kinds of time and reduced that sense of being in a rush. Of course there are other sources of stress now but that’s another article.”

And for some, being mindful of anything is difficult during these trying, often confusing, days.

“Losing track of the day?” questioned Michele Kipke, the president of the South Pasadena Board of Education, finding some humor through it all. “I don’t even know what month it is!”