Yeah. Neither can we.
In less than a month, Trump has laid the groundwork for war in fill-in-the-blank, appointed a reality show loser to guard our nuclear weapons, put a white supremacist in charge of national security and made a nationwide call for more “easy D.” As our flawed democracy erodes one Trump tweet at a time, our private lives feel static and sleepy in comparison. For some, time feels like its moving slower in Trump’s America, and while the earth is spinning at the same speed it always does, psychologists believe that the perception has to do with the way the brain reacts to stress.
Time flies when you’re having fun, not living in perpetual fear
Take a minute (though it may feel like hundreds of minutes) and examine how your previously mildly unhappy life transformed in the past few months. Maybe you used to spend time on Twitter looking for jokes, not clues that Obama hid the nuclear weapons codes from President Trump. Perhaps you used to use your bed for “bed,” not for “staring into the darkness until light comes.”
“It’s only been 3 weeks?” Meg S., who opposes the Trump administration, asked. “That is a crazy way to feel since so much is happening literally every day. It’s exhausting and it’s crawling by. Maybe it’s because time flies when you’re having fun and time crawls when you’re watching democracy set on fire in real time.”
She’s not alone.
Me after 12 days in Trump’s America pic.twitter.com/B4c1lRRyVf
“Easy D” Dinucci (@slackup.menuccbko) February 2, 2017
Donald Trump as president is so draining. He does everything for attention.I’m tired of thinking or hearing about him.It’s only been a month
Alina (@slackup.mealinathequeenx) February 6, 2017
Trump has not been president for a month yet. Whatever else the man can do, he can sure slow time to a crawl. https://t.co/kiU2GVg46q
Rob Graham (@slackup.meErrataRob) February 14, 2017
If time flies when we’re having fun, the opposite seems to happen when we’re in crisis
While these tweets may seem hyperbolic, a 2007 report published by neuroscientist David Eagleman and a team of researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine found that the feeling of danger can distort how people experience time in moments of emergency.
To study the phenomenon, Eagleman conducted an experiment where willing participants quite literally dived backwards and rope-less off a 150-foot ledge, approaching speeds of 70 miles per hour before collapsing into what researchers called a “special net.”
The feeling of danger can distort how people experience time in moments of emergency.
The journey itself only took 3 seconds. But participants who experienced the fall estimated that the trip took much longer than the lucky witnesses who watched them fall. Eagleman even attached chronometers with varying speeds to the participants to see if their brains sped up as they flew, which would allow them to read rapidly-rotating numbers.
They didn’t. For the the flailing participants, time moved slower and in high emotional relief.
Eagleman’s experiment only examined how time slows down in individual moments of crisis, not daily compounded ones. Chronic trauma isn’t quite the same as individual moments of panic. Still, psychologists witness the same phenomenon when their clients experience depression and anxiety both of them manifestations of nationwide Trump-related anxiety.
There are good reasons why our brain seems to slow down in crisis as well as destructive consequences
Multiple psychologists, many of whom of have been overloaded with nervous clients since Trump’s election, have witnessed the same phenomenon as Eagleman. Dr. Steven Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Roosevelt University. For Meyers, there’s a good reason why time seems to slow down in an an emergency: it allows people to more acutely monitor a situation and identify potential predators in their environment.
“Time seems to slow down and this allows us to see, hear, and feel with greater precision so we can respond adaptively. This response comes from our evolutionary history when humans faced frequent challenges to their survival,” Meyers said.
“My god, it’s only been a month. The longest month in american history.” historian commentator on CNN, having a realization on air
_ (@slackup.meMikeIsaac) February 15, 2017
Sure, evolutionary dangers and contemporary threats to democracy might be a little bit different. Staring down a mammoth predator isn’t quite the same as fearing that your president might withdraw federal funding from your city so that he can throw immigrants to the wolves. But Trump’s policies have already proven to be deadly for some. A government in perpetual crisis, and anxiety about its possible demise, is still disorienting for people not immediately affected by a raid or executive order.
“In the worst cases, this despair has caused a state of chronic anxiety characterized by deep and persistent worry,” Meyers said. “Among these symptoms is also a sense of fatigue and an altered sense of time passing. This may be heightened by the frequency of high-profile actions from President Trump which receive continual news coverage and can exacerbate feelings of being overwhelmed.”
Boy Trump’s first hundred days sure have been a real WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S ONLY BEEN THREE WEEKS
RunwayDan (@slackup.meRunwayDan) February 14, 2017
It’s hard to move out of crisis, but not impossible
For many Americans, every day brings a new heart-stopping CNN notification. Some respond to that fear with Facebook outrage, others by simply withdrawing into their comforters. People move from one traumatic event to the next, leaving little room to process or grieve.
“There’s so much happening that when you look back at the last two weeks, for example, it will feel as though it was a long two weeks because we judge how much time is passing by how many new memories we make,” Claudia Hammond, a psychology lecturer and columnist for the BBC, said.
Once disoriented, people may struggle to re-orient themselves thanks to an unfortunate function in our brain called “state-dependent memory.” According to Meyers, state-dependent memory makes people more likely to recall memories that mirror their current moods. If we’re feeling sad or panicked, we’re more prone to remember historical events that once made us feel the same way. Pain and anxiety loop.
“When you are highly anxious the high intensity of emotion may narrow your perspective and negatively impact your reality testing,” Michael Brustein, a clinical psychologist who works with patients suffering from Trump anxiety, said. “This may contribute to dampening your recall of other times when you felt different or when things were different.”
Thankfully, anxiety-induced time warps aren’t permanent.
Thankfully, anxiety-induced time warps aren’t permanent. The more empowered people feel over their daily lives, the less anxiety and depression they feel (and vice versa).
Both activists and psychologists suggest that people take meaningful action in their communities and reach out to their support networks in times of crisis. Private citizens may not be able to immediately resolve a constitutional crisis on their own, but they can affect change on a local level.
“There are simple techniques such as spending more time with family and friends who provide support, ensuring ample sleep, eating well and exercising,” Meyers said.
It may be four years before Trump leaves office. It may take eight or don’t think about it even longer. Either way, Americans are in it for the long haul. This is just the beginning. There are more Washington Post notifications ahead. The best way to make time fly by is take meaningful action and (gulp) try and enjoy it, however many calls, protests and plates of fettuccine alfredo it takes.