We all perceive time a little differently, for some a day of work lasts seemingly forever whilst for others it can appear to pass in a fleeting moment.
Psychologists and Neuroscientists study time perception in order to understand how time can appear different between individuals. A new meta-study has shown evidence that people who suffer from depression & anxiety show signs they experience time differently to others. The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, along with the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia are believed to be responsible for our perception of time and keeping our sense of time in check (circadian rhythms). After reading about this new meta-study I started wondering if depression, anxiety and the treatments for both really do affect my sense of time.
It’s widely accepted that ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ and it’s quite common for time to appear to drag on during tasks which we do not enjoy. This is something I experience quite a lot, on days when my depression is particularly getting at me hours can seem like weeks. The reverse is also true, on the days when I am productive and doing things which I enjoy the day can pass in an instant. So the perception of time is clearly linked to our mood, and this is evident for everyone not just people suffering with mental health issues.
Why did this review interest me then? I have a strong interest in how the body works but in particular the mind. Time perception is believed to be linked strongly to dopamine receptors in our brains – when active, our perception of time speeds up and when inactive it can slow down. This chemistry is interesting as dopamine receptors are what a lot of antidepressants target among other areas of the brain. There are also links to norepinephrine, something which SNRI antidepressants target too.
It would appear that the people who were tested and showed signs of depression in their scoring also experienced differences in their perception of time. But the studies were not actively testing for this – it was just noticed as an observation. So were these people actively being treated for depression? Would the use of SNRI or dopamine effecting antidepressants have made these results inaccurate? This is definitely something that needs to be considered.
During stages where I was off medication and still suffering from severe depression time did seem to move more slowly. Now with some meds in my system and a slightly healthier and more positive outlook this effect isn’t as noticeable (except when I am really low). So these results seem normal, and are likely linked to particular hormone levels – even “healthy” people with no signs of mental-illness are capable of experiencing the same effect on their off-days. Likewise people with severe depression are likely experiencing more of what everyone else feels. Depression isn’t directly effecting the perception of time but the hormone levels are.
Id like to read about more studies conducted in this field, especially time perception in general. A recent episode of “Sherlock” involved a case linked to a time-perception altering drug. When asked about the relevance of such a drug Sherlock explained some of its possible uses. Uses included things like being able to make someone perceive an hour to last 20 years – which would significantly de-clutter the prison system and make serving sentences as effective but more efficient. Likewise you can make the last few hours on earth last years, or at least make yourself think they do.
In the mean time I’m happy to experience each day as it comes, on bad days they will be longer than 24 hours and on good days they will be significantly shorter. I just need to remember that in reality, they are both exactly the same.