Highly Sensitive Refuge
Time can start to lose its sense of meaning during endless days of social distancing and quarantine

Are You Losing Your Sense of Time in the Pandemic?

Nowhere to go, no one to see, and nothing to do. Here’s how HSPs can stop feeling lost in “pandemic time.”

About a month ago, I sat down to write in my journal about how anxious and disoriented I felt. I had to check my phone to remember what day it was. (Sound familiar?) 

“Time,” I wrote, “feels far away from me. And I feel far away from everything.” 

I call it “Pandemic Time” — due to its uncertain end date and lack of scheduled events — and it had me feeling ungrounded and detached from the world around me. While I’d initially enjoyed the freedom of working from home and the comfort of giving all my days the same basic structure, I was now struggling to find meaning in the passage of time.

And as a highly sensitive person, too, I was used to paying careful attention to time in order to avoid the overstimulation of being rushed. Plus, I could follow a routine — which HSPs tend to love — and set “no internet” hours for myself so I could avoid being overwhelmed with a glut of information just before bedtime or creative work time. 

I also kept track of time in order to be conscientious — so that I wouldn’t waste others’ time or disrupt them when they were likely to be busy.

But, the more weekdays and weekends started to feel the same, the more my Pandemic Time — I’m tempted to call it Sensitive Time —  felt like it was slipping away from my control, which is difficult for my HSP self.

So I brainstormed a list of strategies and developed a formula for helping my highly sensitive nervous system calm down and make meaningful sense of time during uncertain times. And since Pandemic Time doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, I think it’s best to make the most of it. 

4 Ways to Cope When You’re Feeling Lost and Adrift in ‘Pandemic Time’

1. Spend time exploring your outdoor environment in the daytime.

Like many HSPs, I’m drawn to nature and gardens. I’ve long known that I feel happier and more peaceful on days when I spend time outside. Now I’ve recommitted to not just “spending” time outside on a daily basis, but to being outside. 

This means tuning in to the natural phenomena around me and letting them clue me in to the passage of time. 

We HSPs are great at noticing even the most minute details. On my morning run with my dog, for instance, I notice how the quality of the light is changing as the sun rises a little later each day. Another day, I spot the first yellow leaves on an oak tree. A few days later, I enjoy the rustling sound they make under my dog’s paws. 

On an afternoon walk, I savor the warmth of late summer and smell of my neighbor’s final tomatoes. At dusk, I sit outside and listen to the hum of insects and the calls of birds. 

Focusing all my senses on the world around me is calming and grounding — and it helps me locate time in the passage of the sun through the sky and the turning of the seasons.

“Spending time outside is really important during this time,” Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, tells Highly Sensitive Refuge. “The change of scenery and fresh air can make a world of a difference, especially if you’re feeling stuck in a rut.” 

She says it’s also a great way to practice mindfulness — notice how the air feels, what smells you notice, what colors you see. “Practice being present and enjoying the moment rather than overthinking (which HSPs tend to do),” says Cole. “Even doing this for just 10 minutes can make a big difference.”

2.  Spend time exploring your outdoor environment at night, too.

When’s the last time you went for a walk at night or stepped outside just to look at the moon and/or stars?

Since most of the days in my planner looked identical, I decided to go back to the original monthly calendar in search of rhythm and variation. I looked up a Lunar Calendar and marked the dates of the next few full, half, and new moons in my planner and made a point of looking up at the moon on those nights. 

Now I check on it most nights to watch its waxing and waning. Moon-watching has brought little moments of joy and beauty into my life and given me a new way to keep mark the passing of each week through the month. 

Once again, my HSP self enjoys noticing the little things — it’s an HSP habit

how quickly the moon seems like a crescent one moment and barely visible the next.

Cole agrees, noting that it can be healing to take in this energy and connect with the beauty of the moon and the stars and to notice how expansive the universe really is.

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3. Invent daily and weekly rituals, but allow room for flexibility.

Many HSPs find rituals soothing because they create an opportunity to pause and reset. They’re also a way to give time rhythm and meaning by returning to particular activity on a regular basis. 

I already had a long-established morning ritual (drinking coffee, reading poetry, and cuddling my dog on the couch), but I decided that I needed an evening ritual to signal to myself that I was finished working (and finished checking email) for the day. 

Now, if the weather is nice, I sit and read a novel on my deck, where I can listen to the sounds of the birds and my neighbors transitioning toward evening. If it’s raining, I savor some cozy indoor knitting time. 

And like I mentioned earlier, with weekdays and weekends easily blending together, I think it’s important to differentiate them somehow. Plus, not always sticking to a routine helps build emotional resilience.

So I’ve added a weekly ritual to my life: Wednesday field trips. I break up the week with a visit to a sculpture park or a hiking trail. A 2-3 hour trip in a socially distanced setting gives me a just-right dose of stimulation and inspiration without becoming an overwhelming expedition with too much external stimuli.

“Rituals can bring you a sense of comfort and structure, and structure can be really helpful when life feels unstructured, like now,” says Cole. “It’s important to have some rituals in mind, but also not be hard on yourself if you don’t complete them.” 

She says to keep in mind that it’s not an “all or nothing” experience. “You want to make sure they feel good and not like an obligation,” she says. “They’re something you ‘get’ to do, not something you “‘have’ to do.”

4. Turn inward and pause for a few minutes each day.

Every few hours, I pause what I’m doing and close my eyes or look out the window as I take a few deep breaths. Whether you practice mindfulness or yoga or simply sit still, the idea is the same.

I sit still until I can feel my heartbeat. I listen to my lungs and my heart and remind myself that these are my inner timekeepers and I can trust them to ground me in the present moment even when the world around me feels uncertain. I find this so important since HSPs tend to get mentally and emotionally flooded.

Cole, too, says dedicated quiet time is important, as it gives you time to really connect with yourself. “It’s important to do something intentional: Scrolling through social media is more mindless or unconscious quiet time where you’re not truly connecting with yourself,” she says. “But, taking time to connect with yourself through being present with yourself in activities — such as through meditation, artwork, writing, or playing with your pets — can be rejuvenating and help you replenish yourself in areas where you may feel drained.” 

She says some of her clients struggle with the idea and don’t feel they’re being productive during this time. “But I believe otherwise — you are giving to yourself through quiet time, which is such a valuable gift to give to yourself,” says Cole.

Instead of focusing on what feels off-kilter about the calendar, I’m finding ways to be present with uncertainty and to measure my progress through this difficult year. And since Pandemic Time doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, I think it’s best to make the most of it. 

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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