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Subjective View of Time in Depression, Anxiety & Addictions

I have long been interested in how psychological perspectives of time influence our mood and mental health. How we relate to our past, the present and the future all has important implications on our mood, our happiness and even our choices in life.

Distinct Time Perspectives have been shown to link to drug and alcohol use, engaging in risky behaviours, depression, anxiety and more…

My research interests have included analysing the distinct and unique subjective perspectives of time experienced by those in active addiction, and perhaps more importantly, how this changes as people recover and overcome their addictions. I have also been particularly interested in how psychotherapy can support more helpful adaptions in relationships to time in order to better support recovery from addictions and compulsions and to improve mood and mental health.

I became particularly interested in examining ‘time’ in those with issues of addiction as they tend to be the clients more than with any other issues, who almost always turn up late, miss appointments, are rushing around, have a sense of urgency, but also seem to struggle hugely with time-management. At the same time, I noticed that many people I spoke to with addictions or compulsions seemed to struggle to connect to the present moment, either independently or in connecting fully with another person. It may be something you notice if you are communicating or talking with somebody you think may have addiction issues - there is a sense of them being “there but not really fully there”, like a distance or preoccupation. Ironically, getting a “fix” from whatever drug of choice seems to provide an overwhelming sense of being in the moment, that is seemingly a struggle to experience much of the rest of the time.

Time Perspective

Dwelling on the past, remembering bad things, experiencing guilt or regret about things that have happened or things one has done is synonymous with a sense of depression - as is feeling hopeless about the future. Worrying about the future is characteristic of anxiety and panic disorders. Many people tend to swing between the two with little peace in between.

Connecting with the present moment is an incredibly freeing and enjoyable (although sometimes painful) experience - but one ultimately associated with more positive mental health, sense of wellbeing, connection, purpose and life meaning. The practice of mindfulness is very much about becoming more connected to the present moment.

However, I was always struck by how arguably uneasy this is to achieve for many people. We have all heard of how helpful and great mindfulness can be, but if it was so easy, I assume everybody would be doing it and none of us would feel depressed or anxious, right?!

Past traumas can keep us locked into our past, and at the same time suspended in a state of fear or apprehension about the future. Either / or - this affects our ability to fully connect with and enjoy the present moment.

My research interests investigates the reasons why the temporal bias we all essentially develop influences so much about who we are, the choices we make, how we feel and how we experience life.

A study of mine was published in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery in 2015 and is available in full HERE.

Basically, the results showed that men and women in active addiction (drugs & alcohol) seemed to have a very unique time perspective profile - and that this in turn significantly relates to mental health.

Before receiving residential treatment for addiction, the study participants reported an overall psychological time profile of:

  • High levels of past-negativity - ie. a lot of focus on past regrets and guilt

  • Clinical levels of depression

  • A hedonistic view - more interested in immediate gains and highs

  • Limited view of the future, particularly future consequences of current behaviours

  • High levels of anxiety

  • A sense of never having enough time - that time is running out

  • Panic - feeling rushed and having a sense of urgency

  • Apprehensive and fearful of the future

  • Lack of time management skills

After successful completion of rehab which included psychotherapy, group therapy, mindfulness meditation, CBT therapy and involvement of the 12-step recovery programme, participants reported a significant change and adaption in their time perspective, to views that were more healthy and helpful. This included:

  • A more balanced and positive view of their past

  • Significantly reduced levels of depression & anxiety (about a 50% reduction!)

  • Being able to experience being more present - mindfulness

  • Shifting from being anxious to feeling more hopeful and optimistic about the future

  • Being able to plan and work towards future goals

  • Experiencing a sense of there being more time

  • Feeling more in control of their time and time management

  • Recognising the importance of planning and routine

  • A slower pace of time - feeling more relaxed

These findings have important implications for specialist therapy and treatment for addiction or any other obsessive-compulsive behaviours. In the counselling psychology I offer, I incorporate the sense of time perspective people coming for therapy have and how this may impact on thinking, feelings, behaviours, decisions and overall mental health. More importantly, there are practical ways in which you can learn to adapt your psychological perspective of time to more helpful views, that can help manage depression, anxiety, compulsions and more…

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