Tick Tock Tick Tock – Our anxiety of time

We have handed over our instincts to the hands of a clock. Increasingly, we serve time rather than time serving us.” 

Matt Haig, author

I’m writing this during my festive break. A well-deserved rest, as we all need, from a very strange year. And yet my restful state doesn’t come easy. I make lists of things to do. I berate myself for not getting on with things as I should (like writing this very piece). I don’t want to waste this precious holiday time. And yet I make myself anxious and certainly don’t give myself the break I need. The irony that the more I focus on the limited time I have, the more limiting my time feels.  I grow nervous noting the ticking minutes and hours which seem to rush by. As William Penn once said, “time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

Clocks appear everywhere in our world. Reminding us of the passing of time. We spend our lives chasing the clock, often not living in the present, but instead living in fear of time running out on us. When it comes to time, who’s really in charge? 

The measure of time

Our anxiety over time is partly due to how we measure it. Clocks are omnipresent (except for spaces designed for rapid consumption such as casinos or shopping centres). Every time we check our phones (around 96 times a day), we are confronted with the time down to its minute. We measure or evaluate ourselves against time. If we’re running ahead of time, we feel a sense of achievement and a sense of failure if we’re falling behind the ticking clock. 

It’s important to remember that there was a time (excuse the pun) when we didn’t have mechanical clocks (imagine)! These were first invented in the fourteenth century and it took another 200 years or so for the minute hand to be added. Before then, we used natural ways of determining time such as sundials, water clocks or an hourglass. Much less accurate and subjective but also less anxiety provoking. 

Chronos or Kairos?

I like to think of time in the way the good old ancient Greeks considered it. They had two terms for time: Chronos and Kairos.  Chronos refers to time in a quantitative sense (i.e., what we focus on nowadays), whereas Kairos refers to time in a qualitative sense, (i.e., more about going with the flow and ignoring the hands of time).  

I try if possible, to step into Kairos at least once a week. I let go over my slightly over regimented to do list (obsessive moi?) and give my watch and phone a rest. Stepping out of Chronos gives my anxiety a well-deserved rest and allows me to experience a different way of being. In our modern world of appointments and schedules we have little choice but to reside in Chronos, but I find it really helpful to remember that there are two different ways of experiencing time and that we have the choice to move between them.  

How to manage time anxiety

The first way of getting to grips with our anxiety around time is acceptance. Time will always move forwards and there is nothing we can do to change that. By accepting this daunting truth, we can begin to let go of our fear of the ticking clock and use our time more wisely and hopefully more enjoyably. 

Another way of helping is to wonder about your own relationship with time. What to you is time well spent? What really gets you into the flow (and by flow, I mean when you get so preoccupied in something that you lose track of time)? Start to build a short list of activities you enjoy, and which bring value to yourself. Then start to create a space of these activities. This doesn’t necessarily mean finding extra time but more about finding moments which already exist to incorporate these kinds of activities. For example, say you’re in the flow when writing poetry, then you might consider wondering/doing this activity during your daily commute. In a sense you’re bringing some Kairos in where Chronos normally exists. 

Time anxiety can be paralysing and often we can get caught up in it all and waiting for motivation to come to us. The key here is to act sooner rather than later. Psychologists have found that motivation does not precede action, it’s the other way round. Time will always be moving forwards and worrying about it won’t change that. So, let’s stay in the present and enjoy the moment, and as writer Maria Edgeworth said, “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” 

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

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