Stress and the Passage of Time


There are quite a few sources of stress out there, like a job, a co-worker, a quota given or a deadline. It seems the older we get, the more stressors we encounter. Time compounds, and so does the stress. In fact, many times, it is time itself that is causing us stress. Time seems to fly by faster the older we are, but it doesn’t have to!

The passage of time doesn’t change, but the activities in our brain do. We don’t know how to manage our perception of time properly. We are always rushing to the next task, waste time on activities we think we should be doing or “have to” get done and sacrifice being present in the moment. Before we know it, years have gone by and we’re asking ourselves, “Where did my life go?”

There’s a reason time can be a huge source of anxiety as we feel it moving faster and faster. When we are young, each day seems different—because in many ways it is. We are learning so much, having so many different experiences, feeling so many vibrant emotions that essentially anchor those events in our brains, forming strong memories. We live more in the moment and pay more attention to details.

The older we get, the more common it is to come across information we already know. Since the brain is always looking for shortcuts, it tends not to consciously reprocess this information and moves on to the next task or thought. No wonder we are forming less detailed memories. We rarely stop to enjoy the moment, soak in all its vivid aspects, tap into our emotional state. 

But if we do—that is, if we take time each day to take note of that moment, using all our senses to create detailed mental pictures, which turn into memories—we can slow our perception of time and eliminate it as a source of stress. We can also work to manage the other stressors in our lives that speed up our perception of time. So how do we do this?

Slowing Down Time

Here are 2 simple, specific practices to slow the perception of time:

  1. Mindfulness 

Focus on the here and now, especially when pursuing a goal or performing a task. Keep the end goal in mind, but focus on small, incremental steps. Sometimes, thinking about the big picture, while valuable, can cause us stress because of the uncertainty of the timeframe to achieve the goal. Break up the task into small, manageable parts and take it one step at a time. Enjoy the process and don’t worry about the end goal as much. 

2. Vision

Our perception of time differs when we are hyper focused on something or when we are just relaxing. Time seems to pass more slowly when we are relaxed vs. when we are intensely staring and working on something. This is why it’s important also to get some “downtime“ in during the day. Simply closing your eyes for a few minutes each day or “dilating” your gaze (staring off into the distance and noticing the things in your periphery) helps to slow the perception of time. 

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