Welcome back to Circling the Sandbox and the next installment of the Nostalgia, Hope & Mindfulness series! As promised, we’re diving into the deep recesses of the sandbox this week to talk about nostalgia: what it is, its mental health benefits, and how to incorporate it into your self-care routine. And since mental health is health, mental health matters!
Sometimes throughout the day, my mind drifts to a distant but not-too-far-away place. A smell, sound, or the shifting tide of my inner workings calls for remote but familiar memories that bring me joy. These moments are essential to my well-being.
Thoughts of farm animals, funnel cake, and poorly maintained carnival rides whose gears are screaming while scraping together make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Ok, the last one is a bit of a stretch. But it’s undeniable that certain sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches can transport us to times when we were wide-eyed in wonder, felt safe, and carefree.
And for me, that looks like a New Jersey state fair. In my childhood, I participated in a contest with my pig, Cleopatra, where I held a donut on a string as she attempted to eat it but ultimately bit my leg.
Despite the bite, fairs illicit a whistful sensory response from me.
This is nostalgia— sentimental reminiscence. It is strongly rooted in the emotion associated with the memory.
Why does this matter for our mental health?
Simply put, nostalgia is a powerful tool you likely need to use more in your self-care routine.
Mental Health Matters: 5 Benefits of Nostalgia
1. A source of joy
Modern society is fast-paced and overwhelming at times. Occasionally taking a mental stroll down memory lane to a time and place when we experienced joy provides a much-needed time out. For me, this could be the memory of walking down my childhood small-town street with a Jolt cola in my hand on a summer day. Yes, Jolt used to make cola, and it was wonderful.
2. Combats loneliness
This study found that the more nostalgic people feel, the more desire they have to connect with others.
The same study also found the more nostalgic people feel, the more positive they think about connecting with others. Therefore, nostalgia is a natural regulator of loneliness. And when people are feeling lonely, they naturally retreat to a nostalgic mindset and reflect upon those experiences, which helps them cope with feelings of not belonging.
3. Fosters optimism and hope
Retreating to happier or more comforting times enables the individual to recall things that once brought them joy–and that these are things they may want to do again. (For those in a bit of a rut, this can be highly beneficial).
4. Reduces stress
Sometimes the best way to remove stress is to take a step back. By re-experiencing a comforting, joyful memory from a time of less responsibility, a person can soothe their mind. Turning to nostalgia in these times of need leads into the next benefit.
5. Promotes resilience
Envisioning past positive experiences highlights the chance of being able to experience them again, which gives hope–my other self-care tool that also doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
Hope and resilience go hand in hand (something I’ll discuss in my hope-focused post soon).
While some view nostalgia negatively, seeing things as they were in “the good old days,” I choose to put a positive spin on this regarding my self-care practices. For those who feel nostalgic in response to unfavorable events in the present, this may be more harmful, so it’s essential to remember that memories are unreliable. People can tend to view past events through rose-colored glasses.
But, my perspective is that nostalgia brings me joy and reconnects me with my inner child. Being raised in an environment where I took on adult roles too quickly, I prioritize nostalgia in my self-care routine. Particularly this time of year.
Nostalgia is felt so hard in the fall because it signifies seasons changing before significant holidays when people feel the pull to interact with family and friends.
So how do we identify nostalgia to put into our self-care? Well, through the senses, of course!
5 Steps to Incorporate Nostalgia for Mental Health Matters
- Envision a childhood memory. One where you embodied what it meant to be a child. Whether it was playing tag, hide-and-seek, or being scooped up by a trusted caregiver for a big hug after some time apart. There are many instances we can call on for good memories if we look hard enough.
- Now that you have the memory, what did you smell, hear, feel, taste, or see? Maybe it’s the smell of a bonfire, the sound of dry leaves rustling, the sensation of cool autumn air breezing across your face, the taste of freshly baked apple cider donuts, the view of a pumpkin patch, or maybe all of the above!
- When was the last time you experienced it? You may have had a bonfire with friends recently and are looking for something different to get the nostalgic experience. If that’s the case, run down the list and pick one you haven’t done in a while! While you can’t do certain activities daily due to time or financial limitations, isolate what can work for you that brings joy. Oddly enough, I find raking leaves this time of year nostalgic. And that’s always very free.
- How can you recreate that moment? Once you have the memory, what are your options for doing it again? It could be grabbing a delicious apple cider donut on the weekend or taking a spooky day trip to Salem.
- Do it! Whatever you’ve isolated for yourself, act on it. Sometimes the biggest hurdle in implementing self-care is yourself. But know, you deserve to relax and feel joy!
To sum this up, here’s how this process looks to me. I remember the sight of goats, pigs, and cows—the sounds they make. The smells I like but also don’t like. I can thankfully say I experienced this recently at a small enclosure of a farm of the orchard I went apple picking. The best part was my daughter seeing these animals in person for the first time.
Nostalgia isn’t discussed as much as mindfulness, but there are likely yearly traditions you have, especially this time of year, that have this quality.
So as you’re going about your seasonal activities, keep in mind when you experienced them for the first time, the excitement and anticipation as they approach, and all the feelings that keep you coming back for more. Remember, your mental health matters!
Until next time, thank you for visiting Circling the Sandbox. Feel free to drop a comment below to let me know how you practice nostalgia in your self-care routine!