Psychology of reminiscing

Research shows nostalgia can pacify brain in times of trauma

Deeksha Shridher, Staff Writer


Even though students have spent much of this past year bored at home, it isn’t difficult  for us to feel a little homesick. Whether it’s watching decade-old Disney movies, snacking away on our favorite foods from our childhood, or even simply poring over hundreds of baby photos, it’s easy to feel nostalgic about our childhoods and the years of our lives that have gone by in the blink of an eye.

Now that we are nearly a year into the pandemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, time begins to get fuzzy, as we ponder what day of the week it may be or wonder when the last time we left the house was. It’s clear to see that before we were confined to our own living spaces, life was much simpler.

However, in overwhelming times of stress, the nostalgia we may feel isn’t an odd occurrence. In fact, according to a July 2020 “New York Times” article, nostalgia is in fact a way of coping during stressful times.

Going through our memories of the “good old days” is a bittersweet process. Although it may seem sorrowful to wish to return to our childhood innocence, nostalgia has actually proven to give us feelings of comfort and solace, even telling us that we are not alone. Seeing as the virus in itself has caused the global “loneliness pandemic”, our homesickness may not be such a sickness after all- it instead helps us to mentally and emotionally connect with those we love.

Nostalgia can also be used as a mechanism against depression, anxiety, and stress. According to a “Psychology Today” article written by Matt Johnson, research has proved that nostalgia decreases our levels of cortisol, which is our stress hormone.Nostalgic activity also increases blood flow to our brains and activates specific areas, such as the hippocampus and substantia nigra, which are our brains’ reward centers.

According to an article written by Mary Grace Garis from “Well + Good” in April of 2020, there are ways we can actually take advantage of our nostalgia in a positive way. Whether it is through listening to throwback music, reconnecting with others online, or looking through the physical mementos from our lives – albums, souvenirs, even childhood toys – releasing our inner child can help us feel the safety and love we felt in our youth.

With that being said, Garis explains that nostalgia can go two ways- it can become a positive influence that allows us to relive our childhoods, but it can also become a negative influence that affects our self-esteem. While reminiscing about our past, our feelings of nostalgia may in fact make us feel worse, bringing about feelings of further loneliness.

For this reason, Garis emphasizes the importance of maintaining connections with your loved ones, especially if they live away from you. Let your friends and family know you are there for them no matter what, and express your gratitude and support for them. In both giving and receiving support, nostalgia can become an emotion not of wistfulness, but of hope for the future.

In spite of the events that have occurred within the last 12  months, it is clear that we need hope now more than ever..

In utilizing our nostalgia for positivity, getting through these unexpected times can get not only easier, but more enjoyable as well. Through reconnecting with our past lives – and even our past selves – we can appreciate who we are and what we have gone through in life with a brighter attitude, optimistic outlook, and most importantly – hope.