COVID-19 has affected people differently, yet many feel the pandemic has radically affected their sense of time. For some, time drags. For others it passes much too fast. And almost everyone is having trouble remembering what day it is. 

Ian Phillips, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies how humans experience time, is available to discuss what’s causing this common but very disconcerting experience.

“For some, the answer is tedium. Lack of change and novelty have long been known to affect our sense of how much time has passed,” says Phillips, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Psychological and Brain Sciences,. “But those on the front-line may have the opposite experience. At the end of the day, having dealt with more in twelve hours than in a normal week, it may seem as if a huge expanse of time has passed.”

Phillips’ work lies at the intersection of philosophy and mind and brain sciences. In addition to the experience of time, he studies consciousness and the nature of perception, including its relation to memory, imagination and belief.

Another key oddity during the pandemic is people’s inability to keep track of days. It all seems to blur together.

Phillips says that’s largely because of our loss of routine.

“The structure of everyday life, its commutes and gym classes, school drop-offs and religious services, Friday nights out and Sunday afternoons at the football game, has vanished,” he says. “The days all seem alike. Weeks and weekends blur. This makes it much harder to anchor ourselves in time.”