COVID time warp: Does it really feel like 2 years?

As we approach 2022, it’s hard to believe two full years have passed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some, it may feel like the pandemic started ages ago.

For others, it might seem like it just began yesterday.

“This is a huge global phenomenon having a tremendous impact on the way we experience the world and our feelings,” said Philip Gable, an associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware.

Gable conducted research looking at the relationship between our emotions and our perception of the passage of time during the pandemic.



“It’s almost like a sixth sense that we have,” Gable said. “We can measure time objectively but we have a subjective sense of what time is and it’s really strong.”

Time has been skewed

Some participants in Gable’s research described weeks as feeling like one “blursday” rather than individual days.

“All the days were running together,” Gable said. “It’s the same news, and things seem to be settling down and not changing. In that sense you might look back and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t even realize what I was doing today or I can’t even remember.'”

In Gable’s study, which was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, he and his team asked 1,000 Americans about their sense of time and emotional experiences on a monthly basis.

Initially in the pandemic, 50% reported that time seemed to be dragging, which was related to them having higher levels of stress and nervousness. Roughly 25% of participants said time seemed to be flying by, which was associated with feeling happy and glad. The remaining 25% of participants felt no change in their sense of time.

Gable said it relates to the feeling we all have of time moving more quickly when we have a positive attitude and more slowly when we are feeling negative.

“This sense of time that we have is valuable to us,” Gable said. “It helps us pursue our goals and avoid things that could be harmful.”

According to Gable’s study, participants who felt the government could effectively control the pandemic and that there were effective treatments for COVID-19 felt that time was passing more quickly. Participants who felt there was an insufficient amount of medical equipment to treat COVID-19 and felt the virus was highly lethal reported time passing more slowly.

“Until we can get used to the change in our lives or can go back to what we think of as normal, I’m afraid that we’re going to be stuck with this sense of upendedness,” Gable said.

The study is still under peer review.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up