How Childhood Nostalgia Helps Us Cope With COVID-19 And Become More Powerful

During quarantine, one of the only things that has kept many sane is diving head first back into their middle school obsessions. Turns out, there's a reason why you've been binge watching nostalgic shows on Netflix.
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Imagine feeling nostalgia without knowing what it was.

This was the case for Swiss mercenaries in the late 17th Century that were serving abroad. They faced symptoms of insomnia, fatigue, and indigestion, most times so severe that they needed to be discharged. To Swiss medical student Johannes Hofer this was quite the mystery, and it became even more of a mystery when it was found the mercenaries had no physical ailments.

It was later he would discover that this wasn't a result of a neurological disease, but instead extreme homesickness. It was Hofer who coined the term nostalgia which came from the Greek words homecoming (nóstos) and pain (álgos). 

Nostalgia was thought to be caused by brain damage from the constant clanging of cowbells that the mercenaries heard, and while an interesting theory many today dismiss the idea that nostalgia is caused by cowbells and instead see it as a natural emotion. 

"Nostalgia combines the sadness of loss with joy or consolation that the loss is not complete, nor ever can be. Mortal though we are, whatever little life we have snared from the legions of death is forever ours." - Neel Burton

I'm not sure about anyone else, but I certainly haven't been around many cowbells as of late, although despite this my need for the comfort of nostalgia has increased exponentially. 

Nostalgia becomes much more pronounced during uncertain times, most times of transition and change.

Hint. Hint. Coronavirus.

When we look back at a previous time, it is often through a softer lens. Our memory is attempting to connect us to the past, keyword being attempting. Memories are not as reliable as they seem to be, we think of general periods rather than certain details. 

Basically, nostalgia is just the warmth of the past that we can bring into the present. This being especially useful during the pandemic that we are all currently facing. Although, nostalgia is not always beneficial.

Some view nostalgia as self-deception, meaning that it involves distortion and an extreme idealization of the past. The bad parts are left behind leaving only the best of experiences. There is a Roman saying for it called memoria præteritorum bonorum which means 'the past is always well remembered'.

If one were to overindulge in nostalgia, in longing for a past that never existed and can never exist in the future, there would be multitudes of issues because it is something purely unattainable.

Despite nostalgia being seen as negative or being linked to depression and wanting to stay in the past, it actually provides many benefits. Here's some of the most prominent.

  • Looking back to the past gives us a sense of continuity. We wake up every day slightly different, but it is our memories that bring us together as a coherent person.
  • Nostalgia helps foster a stronger sense of meaning in one's life, looking into the past helps us understand where we've been and how we got to where we are.
  • Cortisol levels that are associated with the body's acute stress response are reduced when engaging in nostalgia.

"There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book, or simply close it." - Shannon Adler

Now, does nostalgia provide more benefits or harm when regarding our future? That is entirely up to the individual. 

If one is focused on restoring the vision of the past that they remember, then this can very well hinder anything they want to accomplish in the future. Nostalgia should be used differently, instead of using it to retreat to the past, use it to push forwards into the new and unknown.

Use nostalgia to make yourself stronger, let it help you be inspired to find new and exciting opportunities that won't recreate the past, but instead build a better tomorrow. Remember what is worth remembering and use that to push forwards. The reality we face today will be the nostalgia of tomorrow.

My mother passed of cancer eight months ago, and while looking back on the memories I had with her makes me sad in the sense that I will never get to experience her warmth again, it also helps me become better. The love and happiness she gave me remains with me and my memory and using it I hope to continue forward stronger than ever. 

So if you're like me and re-watched the entirety of Avatar the Last Airbender instead of doing your work, go for it! But also, please do your work. Just remember that today is what you will become nostalgic about tomorrow, so truly think about what makes you happy, and what you want to bring with you into the future despite the pandemic.

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