How Nostalgia & Reminiscence Contribute to Emotional Wellbeing

How Nostalgia & Reminiscence Contribute to Emotional Wellbeing

Posted on
October 26, 2021
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Emotional Wellness in the COVID Era

October is National Emotional Wellness Month. Caring for one’s mental and emotional health has been at the forefront of media headlines and discussions in the COVID era. Our world has been grappling with isolation, fear, worry, and division in the wake of a virus that has had catastrophic impacts on our economies, healthcare and education systems, work and social lives, and families. Therefore, it is no surprise that emotional wellbeing has been in the spotlight. 

Undoubtedly, the pandemic forced some people to take better care of themselves. The inevitable slow down became a much needed respite from the busy grind of life. Unable to go to work or school, many families spent more quality time together in lockdown than ever before. People benefitted from exploring new hobbies, taking long walks, looking out for their neighbors, and reconnecting with loved ones. 

But the emotional toll of COVID is undeniable and we will continue to see it’s effects for many years to come. There has been an enormous strain on care professionals, teachers, the elderly, working parents, and service industry workers, to name a few. In unprecedented times, telling someone at the brink of an emotional breakdown to eat better, get more sleep, meditate, or try yoga sounds trite and unhelpful, even if those things are beneficial. 

We’ve been longing for the past. Nostalgic for the way things were before the masks, restrictions, social distancing, vaccine wars, and virtual-everything. On top of that, autumn especially feels like a natural time for reminiscing. Back-to-school season, the change in the air, warm meals, the smells of pumpkin and cider, crunchy leaves, holiday traditions. I get a little sappy with the memories when this time of year rolls around. 

Potentially, life may not go back to the way it was before for many, many years or ever. Therefore, a lot of focus is on adapting and shifting to the “new normal”. There’s pressure to not get caught up in the past and instead move towards the future with great resilience. But we’ve learned from psychologists studying nostalgia that remembering the past can actually help motivate us to take action and live with a greater sense of wellbeing in the here and now. 

Nostalgic Memories

Dr. Routeledge, a professor at North Dakota State University says, “Nostalgic memories are actually motivational, they can inspire action, give us a sense of social competence, keep negative feelings at bay and sustain us in an important way.” 

One of the main ways reminiscence and nostalgia contribute to emotional wellbeing is by providing a sense of comfort during stressful times. It’s well known that Holocaust survivors reported that conjuring positive memories of lives before the camps aided them in enduring that experience and would go on to help them rebuild their lives afterwards. 

Suffice to say, nostalgia mixes both pleasure and sadness. While the memories being recalled may be positive, they’re often associated with the loss of people, places, or experiences. Despite this melancholy, reminiscing about the past has these other emotional benefits: 

  • Creates emotional bonds and intimacy with others when shared 
  • Brings a smile or laughter, reducing cortisol levels
  • Increases self-discovery 
  • Decreases isolation

There are a myriad of ways to pursue improving your emotional health…journaling, therapy, meditation and breathwork, napping, exercise, connecting with others, volunteering, eliminating alcohol or drug use, etc. 

During National Emotional Wellness Month, consider taking a moment to sit with a cherished memory. Write it down or share it with a friend. This could be a special memory with a grandparent, the best Thanksgiving you’ve ever had, the last place and time you felt truly content. Reminisce and let the memory fill you with a comforting warmth as you move forward toward whatever lies ahead.

Looking for question prompts to help you recall happy memories? Check out these articles:

70 Question Prompts to Capture Childhood Memories

40 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before They Die

20 Thoughtful Questions for Writing a Compelling Life Story