Time is our friend (right?!?)

Time is our friend (right?!?)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Lately, I’ve had this sinking feeling that time is betraying me.

I have all of these things I want to try, accomplish, experience, and yet the days pass so quickly.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the other night that feeling hit me so hard that I clutched my chest - my heart running like a racehorse.

Each week I write about ways to ease the mind, uncover more peace in life, and here I am - in near panic attack - over the passage of time, of all things.

Logically, I know this is ridiculous.

Yet here we are.

When it comes to stressors, time is currently my drug of choice.

But why?

Why am I struggling with something that has been my constant companion since I took my first breath?

Shouldn’t I be used to it by now?

Why does the passage of time cause anxiety?

​To get a grip on this, I came up with a list of reasons why time can be stressful:

  • I have big goals that I want to bring to fruition, what if I run out of time?
  • time is money, right? If I don’t use it wisely then I’ll never get ahead financially
  • societal pressure - I should have made it to “here” in life already
  • guilt - I need to take care of so many different things and people in my life but can't juggle it all
  • What if I will die without having “done anything”?
  • I’m not getting any younger and am more aware of that with each passing year

It hit me how much of my power I am handing over to time.

The clock and calendar are dictating how successful I am, how good of a friend or family member I am, and even my sense of self-worth.

I am delegating too much control to time.

Way too much.

This needs to change so I am on a quest to release myself from time anxiety.

My goal is to:

  • ease my worry about time passing
  • end most days feeling like I “really lived” today
  • feel more purpose in each minute/hour/day

I want to feel at peace with where I currently am.

And repeat that in all the future “nows” in my life.

​I’m betting I’m not the only one feeling this way, so in this newsletter, I am going to explain:

  • what I learned about time and stress
  • why time may not be what we think it is
  • ways to take back our power and energy from the calendar and ticking clock

Why time is stressful

I live in a society where time rules.

This isn’t universal.

When I was young we had a foreign exchange student.

She was smart and wonderful and gave me my first lesson on “people are people” no matter where they’re from - she fit into our family so well.

Except in one regard.


She was perpetually confused by the expectation to be perfectly on time.

And what started as confusion gave way to hostility.

In her culture, approximations in time are good enough.

No need to get worked up about it!

​Her new American high school didn’t share that sentiment.

“I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool.”

​— Carl Jung

Thinking back I envy that attitude - there is more to life than precise punctuality.

But that was not how I was shaped.

Different cultures place importance on different eras of time.

This is called time orientation.

Here's how it breaks down:

  • Past-Oriented: areas with a long and celebrated history, avoids change because this may risk what has been built, grows forward but with the past in mind
  • Present-Oriented: lets go of the past and views the future as out of their control, focuses on the now, and thinks in terms of immediate results
  • Future-Oriented: emphasizes using the present to secure the future, planning and sacrificing in “the now” for pleasure and stability later

None of these are more right or wrong than the others.

But, you can see how each has both positive and negative influences on how people in those cultures lead their lives.

So society helps shape how we see time and puts specific pressures on us to conform to it.

​When we try to break free from those cultural expectations, it can lead to all kinds of feelings - feeling too rebellious, selfish, uptight, or irresponsible.

“Regret for wasted time is more wasted time.”

​— Mason Cooley

I am in a future-oriented society.

Working toward goals and stability makes me proud.

And guilt for taking breaks because I haven't yet secured my financial security for my future.

​So our culture is one reason that time can be stressful, but there are more:

  • Our predispositions and personality
  • Family expectations
  • Traumas we’ve experienced

There is a term for all of this and it’s time anxiety.

​​Psychologist Dr. Nicolas Ferrel​ offers a list of different “flavors” of time anxiety and the specific worries they may bring:

  • Existential time anxiety: Am I making the best use of my time on Earth?
  • Future-oriented time anxiety: Am I going to hit certain life milestones “in time”?
  • Efficiency-oriented time anxiety: Am I managing my time on this specific task effectively?
  • Productivity time anxiety: Am I wasting my time needlessly?
  • Punctuality time anxiety: Am I going to be late?

I check 4/6 of those boxes.

But, when I take a step back and look at this list, these all share one theme: a fear of not being in control.

This is a control issue.

For me, this rings true.

Sometimes you want things so badly that the “wanting” drives you crazy.

You are gripping onto it so tightly that it chokes the enjoyment out of your life.

It dawned on me that I have been doing that when it comes to setting myself up for the future.

I'm working hard - trying to do everything right - so it feels like the only thing standing in the way between me and the future I dream of is time.

But I can’t control time.

​Or can I?

Rethinking time

This desire to solve my time anxiety made me curious to dive deep and seek out some wisdom.

Who better to begin with than Carl Jung?

What I found was intriguing.

Jung wrote about time in a way that flies in the face of mainstream thinking.

He believed that time is anything but absolute, something mysterious.

​That it's nature makes things like synchronicity and psychic connection possible.

This reminded me of ​a newsletter​ I recently wrote about focus and telepathy.

In his book, “Flow,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a specific mental state of enjoyable concentration that he believes holds the key to human happiness.

And in that state, time seems to stop.

Is this a way to control time?

Maybe or maybe not, but regardless, it is a way to control our perception of time.

It may not be a shock to anyone to learn that there is a connection between how we feel and the passage of time.

Sitting in a boring meeting - each second is an eternity.

Soaking up interesting conversations and laughing with friends on a sun-warmed patio, the perfect music in the background - hours fly by in minutes.

This is universal.

Psychologists ​Droit-Volet and Gil​ call this the “time-emotion paradox.”

What they found is that the internal clock is dependent on how we feel.

This is biochemical with specific areas in our brains controlling how we perceive time.

​Our bodies adapt time to what we are experiencing.

“It is not reality that has a time flow, but our very approximate knowledge of reality.”

​— Carlo Rovelli

Another wormhole I wanted to explore to discover how I can break free from time anxiety is the nature of time itself.

As in, what is time.

To find out I turned to physics.

And this is where science and woo begin to blur.

One book that feels halfway accessible to me on this topic is “The Order of Time” by physicist Carlo Rovelli.

He uses Smurf illustrations to help make his points, which I appreciated.

​Right away he made two points that made me think differently about time and my sense of reality.

Point 1: Time passes faster in the mountains than at sea level.

This was my first introduction to the fact that time itself isn’t absolute.

Sure, I understood how our perception of time can be altered, but here we are talking about time on a clock.

The closer you are to the center of the earth, the slower time goes.

This is measurable.

Imagine the implications of this.

Identical twins, separated at birth, one grows up near Death Valley, the other high in the Rockies.

Reunited as old women, they still appear to be identical, but one has lived longer.

Time has gone faster for the one from the Rockies and slower for the one from Death Valley.

Even if it is slight, they have lived on different timelines.

This blew my mind.

And what causes this?


Every mass exerts gravity, and the closer you are to its center, the more time is warped, and the more it slows.

Everything we can touch has mass and warps and affects time, even us.

It appears that time is quite shifty.

We already knew that the Moon’s gravitational pull influences the Earth’s tides, among many other things.

Now I find out that our relationship to gravity influences time!

So what else could gravity influence?

What about our proximity to other planets and their massive centers of gravity?

Do they influence us, too?

Oh wait…that sounds like astrology.

Point 2: Speed slows time.

The slower something is moving, the more slowly time passes.

Again, this has been measured.

The difference is slight and unable to be perceived by our consciousness, but true nonetheless.

My loved ones at home exist on a different timeline and in a different “now” than I do when I am in the car on the interstate.

“Now” isn’t universal.

We each have our own.

*One bonus mind-boggling question is what lies between these different “nows?” What exists between my now and yours if they aren’t the same? My brain just melted.

“Time is an illusion.”

​— Albert Einstein

So the ability to control time is within our grasp.

While some of these ways, like running fast on a mountain or walking slow in a valley, won’t alter my clock that much, they helped me realize something.

Time is adaptable and mystical and something I shouldn’t fear.

This information enhanced my sense of oneness - that there is no real beginning or end.

And if something as fundamental as time is an illusion, what else is?

I just need to calm down, already!

​But that is easier said than done, of course.

How to let go of time worries

I now realize that time is relative, that the rate of its passage is conditional, and that I shouldn't hand over so much of my energy worrying about it.

So how do we do that?

What are ways we can alter our inner dialogue about time and keep that worry from driving our behavior (straight into Anxiety Town)?

Ideas I found to help work through time worries:

  • ​If you can, spend time with children. They instinctively know how to not worry about time. Kids help us to feel grounded.
  • Take breaks. For real. Go outside if you can because there is ​research​ that simply being in a forest, and standing there, can lower cortisol levels by 13%. It seems counterintuitive to take breaks when time feels like the enemy, but they can drastically shift your mindset.
  • Get in the flow state more often. his does something to our minds that not only seems to alter time, but that also leaves us with feelings of joy. I wrote a lot about it in another newsletter and you can ​read it here​.
  • Get honest with yourself on how you spend the majority of your time. Do you love your job or hate it? Have lots of obligations you detest? Ask yourself if your time anxiety is actually a messenger trying to tell you something.
  • Think about your death-bed self. This is a concept I introduced ​in this article​ where you use thoughts of your own mortality to help you find more happiness now. If I am speaking with myself on my death-bed, how would I wish I would have spent my time? What would I have worried about and what worries would I ignore?
  • Work on it with a therapist. Often others can see obvious things that, for whatever reason, sit in our blind spots. And professionals have the training to help you explore your past and how that may shape your relationship with time.
  • Be realistic and give yourself grace. Time sometimes has to be spent washing dishes and cleaning up dog puke. These types of chores serve important purposes. The level-up here would look like finding purpose in everything you do. Mindfulness helps with this: What can I appreciate in this moment? Some times may be harder than others!
  • Learn to be in the present. Specific practices that train our brains to be in the “now” could help ease time anxiety. Meditation, hypnosis, and breathing techniques, such as the Ujjayi pranayama. This technique brings stillness to the body and can keep our minds in the present. ​Here is a quick clip​ that explains it well.
  • Metacognition. Metacognition is thinking about our thinking. For instance, we realize we are worrying about not having enough time. Instead of indulging that thought OR trying to talk ourselves out of it, we can choose to do nothing with it at all. There are a few techniques for doing this, but one I found is “worry postponement.” It goes something like this: 

    -“Ugh, who am I kidding? I will never finish this. Seriously…this will never get done and then what am I going to do?”

    -Notice the thought. Observe it. "Oh, that is a worry about time. I will pause that thought and not think about it again until after lunch."

    While this doesn’t sound earth-shattering, it is powerful in helping us realize that thoughts aren’t necessarily reality.

    We can control how we respond (or don’t) to our time worries.

    And changing our response changes our experience.

    Learn more techniques in ​this great handout​ from the JMS Counseling Center.

Working through this kind of anxiety can feel hard because time worry is often such an ingrained habit.

​But, reclaiming your power and peace from the ticking clock frees up energy for the important things you actually want to be spending your time doing.

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Hi, I'm Peggy

I went from lost and desperate to feeling more joy and a sense of purpose. And all it took was a little ancient wisdom! Now my mission is to accompany you on your self-discovery path so you can unlock more happiness and self-love as well!

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