A week is seven days or 168 hours no matter how you slice it, but Mondays spent in the office still feel as though they must surely cover more minutes than Saturdays spent literally anywhere else. Turns out that sensation isn’t just time and space gaslighting you. Rather, there are many factors that make certain days and weeks feel longer and shorter. The most interesting reason, though? Fear.
“If you’re in a state of fear or anxiety, time seems to stretch longer,” says psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “That’s probably because fear causes you to pay very close attention to detail, and the more complex and detailed your perception of events, the longer things seem to take.”
Ah, so that’s also why—whether or not you’re in a state of fear or heightened anxiety—if there’s ever a week when you’re hustling to get through your to-do list that’s longer than those CVS receipt coupons you never use, it can feel like a century’s worth of time is passing. You have a lot of details to remember, and it takes a lot of time to take stock of each. Same goes for tasks that require attention to detail to ensure everything gets done well. And believe it or not, boredom can have the same effect because searching for any sort of stimulation necessitates close attention that makes time feel like time it’s slowing. “When you’re more relaxed and not that attentive, things seem to go faster,” Dr. Daramus says.
“When you’re more relaxed and not that attentive, things seem to go faster.” —psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD
But, then there’s “the oddball effect” phenomenon to consider: According to one recent study in European Review, the speed at which we process new images slows down as we get older, because, well, our brains are simply processing fewer new images. It’s largely why summers seemed to last forever in the best way when you were a kiddo (everything was new and exciting, so it seemed as though a lot was going on). But now, not so much. To find the Goldilocks effect of time perception—not letting the good, fun stuff pass you by while still inching toward Friday at an agreeable pace—you don’t have to throw down for a trip to Bali or somewhere else far-flung. Rather, any injection of novelty—think: an event, a getaway, a dinner, anything—can help slow things down while still shaking up an otherwise stale week.
So really, the art of time control boils down to sprinkling your calendar with exciting experiences, and also calming the anxious mind by knowing how to conquer tasks at hand and then unplugging. “When you’re in a state of flow, where you’re enjoying yourself and things are just happening without putting much thought into them, time seems to go very quickly,” Dr. Daramus says. “If you want time to seem to go faster, relax your attention and do something that will let you get into more of a flow, like listening to music, meditating, an exercise you enjoy, or petting an animal.” And if you’re trying to prolong the moment and maximize your downtime? Enjoy the little things. “Pay a lot more attention to what’s going on around you,” she continues. “Take the time to notice small details.”
And know that though the grind seems endless, there’s always another weekend on the horizon.