Here's Why Nostalgia is So Powerful During Times of Crisis

James Logie

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I watched Back to the Future the other day.

I watch Back to the Future quite a bit, to be honest.

But then I realized while I was watching it, that I had already watched it just 5 days beforehand.

During this time of uncertainty and stress, you may have found yourself returning to the same TV shows, movies, books, and music that you always have — and there’s a good reason for that.

Nostalgia brings us comfort, and during this time of pandemic, we need comfort more than ever.

So why is nostalgia so powerful during a crisis, and why do you prefer it instead of taking on new things?

The Power of Nostalgia

New TV shows, series, and movies are great, but there is a bit of a sense of anxiety with them.

You’re not exactly sure what will happen, they may challenge you in ways you didn’t expect, and you’re not sure about the emotions you’ll experience when watching them.

This may seem weird, but even a little bit of anxiety is still anxiety, and your body doesn't know what the source of it is--it just reacts in a similar way.

Our stress hormones go up, and that sense of uncertainty begins. Even if it's a small amount of anxiety, when it is constant--and every day--it can have a pretty damaging impact after enough time.

When you combine this with all the genuine day-to-day anxiety, you can see why we're always in this constant state of uncertainty.

It's for this reason that it's natural for you to avoid doing something new--especially when it comes to starting that new movie or series.

Compare all this to your favorite shows and movies: you know exactly what will happen, you’ll know how it will make you feel, and where everything is going.

This comfort and control are what makes us return to our favorite things during times of uncertainty.

We may have good intentions of starting new books and TV shows — but there’s an unknown that comes with that.

This is a time when familiarity and comfort are a priority and it’s why you’re more likely to re-watch the Office than start a whole new series.

This isn't about Michael Scott and the employees of Dunder Mifflin. It's about a setting and characters that you already know so well. It's like meeting up with your lifelong friends.

And it's the same for whatever is your favorite show, movie, book, series, or music.

The Comfort of the Past

We crave that return to the familiar during times of stress, and that’s what nostalgia provides.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it’s about sentimentality for the past — something we’re all craving right now.

Nostalgia is about a return to a time period that we associate with happiness.

The word nostalgia comes from a combination of Greek words including “nostos,” meaning homecoming, and “algos,” meaning “pain” or “ache.” Nostalgia is quite literally a yearning, or ache, for the past.

Our favorite forms of entertainment help return us to that sense of peace, warmth, and happiness.

In the brilliant Mad Men episode, “The Wheel,” we see Don Draper promote the power of nostalgia — and a return to the past — when he sells Kodak on the idea of renaming their slide project wheel the “carousel.”

He uses pictures of his own past to show nostalgia’s power and our yearning to return.

Should You Feel Bad for Not Starting Something New?

With all the newfound free time, many of us had grand ambitions of starting new projects, books, and other forms of entertainment we had been putting off.

But you may have found yourself not pursuing those things. You may then have felt a sense of guilt for not exploring something new, but there is no reason to feel this way.

Challenging yourself is always important, but this might not be the ideal time to do so.

If you’ve been able to take on new hobbies — or explore new content — that’s awesome, but you’re not required to do so.

There will be plenty of time for all of that — right now it’s more about finding stability, and we get this stability from nostalgic things.

The issue is those unfamiliar things have a sense of risk to them. Not a substantial risk, but some risk nonetheless. That new book might not be any good, or it might be very good.

The main issue is that there is that sense of unknown.

Again, this is not an awful thing, but maybe not when you’re already feeling overwhelmed by everything going on in the world.

Putting yourself under pressure to take on new challenges, hobbies, and projects can end up overwhelming you with some stress and anxiety.

It may be just a paltry amount of anxiety, but a small amount of anxiety is still anxiety.

Broadening your horizons is extremely important as it leads to expanding your mind — but there’s not a lot of comfort that comes from that.

This is not about being ignorant, but acknowledging there’s a crisis going on, and turning to the things that give us comfort and control.

Final Thoughts

So if you’ve been feeling guilty about not taking on all these new things during the pandemic; don’t.

The sense of obligation creates more stress during a time when we have enough to already deal with.

If you can take on new things--great. But if not, there is no requirement that you undertake all these new hobbies, projects, and content.

This stuff is here for your enjoyment--not as a duty.

Instead, embrace those things you loved from your past. Return to those familiar movies, books, and tv shows that continue to bring you joy.

You're allowed all the comfort you can get, and those favorites of yours are favorites for a reason.

There is a familiarity and reassurance in going back to those things you loved. Everything is right there where you left it and you can jump back in at any point.

So, whether it’s Dunder Mifflin or going 88 miles per hour, you’re allowed all the comfort you can get right now.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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