How the #Covid Pandemic Messed with Time

Mona Lisa in brown dress holding white plastic bottle painting
Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on

Psychologists at the University of Aberdeen have been researching the way our recollection of events was affected by the Covid pandemic lockdowns.

Professor Sahraie explained:

“We found that people could not remember when events happened during the pandemic – in fact, their accuracy for recalling the timing of these events was as bad as events that had happened 3 or 4 years earlier. 

“Effectively, what the pandemic has done is to take away the ability to remember when events happened.”

These last 3 years have been like living in a dream world for many people – but not a good, fluffy dreamscape but one of anxiety, dread and a fear of getting ill with the virus. The lockdowns removed people from their support mechanisms and, unless they were a key worker, from their workplaces too.

How many times did you even forget what day of the week it was?

The Aberdeen researchers found that the accuracy of remembering the timing of events was worse for those people who had higher signs of anxiety, depression and stress, however, those who had higher resilience were less likely to make errors.  

Professor Sahraie continued:

“One explanation for the findings may be to do with how our psychological state alters the perception of the passing of time, such as the perceived “slowing down” of time when there is little to occupy the mind.” 

Professor Sahraie interprets their findings broadly in relation to a ‘timescape’.

“If you stand on a hill, you will have in front of you a landscape. You can look around and see your position in relation to some anchor points such as famous buildings and hills and then describe all other places in how far they are from these anchor points.  

“There is an equivalent called ‘timescape’. That is knowing where you presently are in relation to all the events over the timeline.  

“The pandemic related restrictions removed all the usual anchor points in time, such as birthday celebrations, funerals, holidays and get togethers that allow us to place events in this timescape. Without the anchor points, the events merge together. 

“While we are starting to understand the impact the pandemic has had on the economy, our physical health and our mental health – there is still much to understand about how the enforced lockdowns, stress and isolation may continue to affect us in different ways in the future.” 

Click on this link to access, Lost time: Perception of events timeline affected by the COVID pandemic, published in PLOS ONE.

Covid-19 Weekly Update

Meanwhile, although the trend in the number of Covid related deaths has been going down since March in Scotland, our NHS is still under considerable pressure because of the virus.

Tracking the virus in the community has become nearby impossible as most government sites, UK and Scottish, have stopped publishing up to date information.

Public Health Scotland have announced:

 Between 1 June and 5 October 2023, PHS has moved to dashboard only updates for respiratory infection and COVID-19 surveillance on a weekly basis and are reducing the frequency of the accompanying narrative report to monthly. This approach aligns to the pre-pandemic one for respiratory pathogens, which typically follow a seasonal pattern with most cases occurring between October and May. PHS will continue to monitor COVID-19 and other respiratory infection levels and reinstate the weekly narrative report before 5 October 2023 if necessary. A written report will accompany the dashboard update on 22 June, 20 July, 17 August and 14 September 2023.

Click on this link to access the dashboard : COVID-19 & Respiratory Surveillance in Scotland

On the week ending 28th of May 2023 there were 117 acute COVID-19 admissions to hospital, compared to 109 the previous week.

The number of Inpatients with Covid-19 was 134, compared to 132 the previous week. NOTE: Change to inpatient definition from 08 May 2023 (max number 10 days)

The number of patients in ICU for 28 days or less with Covid was 4, compared to 1 the previous week. NOTE: From 08 May 2023, manual data collections from NHS Boards on the number of patients in ICU paused. These data are no longer updated.

Number of inpatients with COVID-19 in hospital
Number of inpatients with COVID-19 in hospital

The success of the vaccination programme and most people taking sensible precautions against catching the virus and spreading it around have been crucial. NHS Orkney services have been under pressure due to the Covid cases in the Balfour Hospital.

Covid-19 Vaccinations

Tracking the virus in the community can also be recorded in the RNA Monitoring of waste water. The latest figures show that Covid-19 is still with us in Orkney.

System Pressures Update at NHS Orkney (1st June 2023)

We remain busy across NHS Orkney however, we have made the decision to restart day case procedures from tomorrow, Friday 2 June. The In Patients 2 ward (IP2) remains restricted to essential visiting only due to the Covid outbreak.

We are able to move back to day case procedures as we have managed patient flow with all service providers. 

Sam Thomas, Director of Nursing, Midwifery, AHP’s and Acute Services said: 

“This would not have been possible without the teamwork and resilience shown across the whole system, as well as you, the community for seeking the right care, in the right place. We’d like to thank you all for playing your part as we continue to navigate the challenges across the system, ensuring all our patients and staff remain safe and allowing staff to deliver the best possible care.”

We do remain busy across the system and as a reminder, please continue to seek advice from NHS Inform ( and NHS 111 as well as your GP practice and local pharmacies. If you are acutely unwell, please call 999 or attend the Emergency Department

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Fiona Grahame

3 replies »

  1. “Messed with time”… an interesting study. But surely, anything which dominates the life of individuals (or whole populations) will have such effects to some degree? Conflicts and war come to mind, an economy in tatters, regime changes and so forth. All of those will push other events in the background of the mind and affect normal frameworks. To some extent a workaholic could find during a holiday that the absence of the work schedule removes exactly this framework which I would argue provides a scaffolding for memories in relation to when events take/took place.
    Nosy as I am, I had a look at the supplementary material of the study. I do not think it had anything to do with the pandemic that I did not remember the occurrence dates of the majority of the listed events. It may simply have to do with the lacking relevance, either of the event itself (around royal family matters for example) or – if the event was significant – the exact date or even year of occurrence was less important.
    Obviously, the pandemic did have an impact on perceptions of time. I find myself sometimes categorising events as “before the pandemic” or “since the pandemic started” but I would strongly refute this to be interpreted with a conclusion that ‘the resultant interventions can also have dramatic hidden adverse effect on a variety of cognitive processes’ (as the authors of the study stated).
    The ‘interventions’ were certainly not the reason that I cannot remember when ‘Donald Trump was banned on Facebook’. This is not a significant event worthy to be remembered… and I couldn’t care less when it took place.

  2. I’m thinking of how children have a very diffent perception of time passing, to adults.

    A child’s life is also restricted and controlled.

    I’m not sure if this is relevant – it’s just a thought that occurred to me!

    One effect we’ve noticed, personally, is that Lockdown – and our on-going caution – meant that we didn’t have much to do with people – and now we don’t feel inclined to have much to do with people, or go to noisy places.

    I believe that the effects of Covid will be many, on-going and will appear gradually through decades.

    I don’t mind that I won’t be here to see it happening.

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