Time flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re immersing yourself in something that interests or uplifts you. Time has a way of slowing down when the going gets tough. As a caregiver, you are no doubt familiar with this truism, and yet there never seems to be enough time. The paradox is that you want more time to do the kinds of things that boost your well-being—the very things that can make the day feel like it’s going faster. But can it be that when you steal away moments for your own self-care, you may also conversely have the feeling that time is expanding?
Say that, amidst your busy caregiving day, you manage to carve out time for a short walk around a pond where you listen to birds, crickets and frogs. The effect on your well-being can be magical. You might take a brief break to snuggle a rescue pet, take photos of clouds, sit in a soft chair and read a spiritual passage that gives you hope, or listen to soothing music. Even when your caregiving duties are especially intense and it’s difficult to pull yourself away to do something just for you, it’s important to do so on a regular basis, whether it means you hire a home care aide to leave your loved one in good hands, or ask a family member or friend for an assist. The mood-lifting effects of a brief respite can feel like more than the sum of its parts.
Studies have shown that positive mood is associated with the sensation of time passing more quickly in the moment. Researchers in the U.K. built upon these findings to examine how the Covid-19 lockdown distorted the passage of time for people. They found that significant changes to daily life have a significant impact on our experience of time. The researchers used an online questionnaire to look at “day and week passage of time judgments” among subjects. They measured affect, task load and satisfaction with current levels of social interaction. More than 80 percent of those who participated in the study reported that they experienced distortion to the passage of time during the lockdown. “A slowing of the passage of time was associated with increasing age, increasing stress, reduced task load and reduced satisfaction with current levels of social interaction,” according to the study.
This makes it clear that remaining active and meaningfully engaged in the fabric of life are necessary for well-being. It is vitally important to your older loved one, as well as to you as a caregiver. When you continue to learn new things, experience new places, participate in activities that take you out of your comfort zone and maintain a social network of people who lift and support you, your physical and mental health benefit. Time can fly—and maybe even expand.
Adopting a simple mindfulness practice is another effective approach to overall well-being. Meditation has been associated with the perception that time is expanding, according to other research. Although these studies examined experienced meditators who reported having this feeling while in the act of meditating, mindfulness can be applied in easy ways to possibly give you a sense of more expansive time in the moment.
Mindful.org offers a wonderful and immediate mindfulness exercise from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the renowned meditation teacher, writer and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It begins with simple awareness of breath that can effortlessly carry you away: “Take a few moments to settle into feeling the body as a whole, sitting and breathing, or lying down and breathing, riding the waves of the breath moment by moment, resting in awareness. An awareness that features the entirety of the body scape and the breath scape as they express themselves, moment by moment. Life unfolding here and now in the body, in awareness.” Learn more about this Meditation on Observing Thoughts.