Almost everywhere you look these days, there are reminders of times gone by. Streaming services regularly release reboots of long-ago stories, such as NBC’s Quantum Leap and Netflix’s Cobra Kai. Retailers are advertising scrunchies, tracksuits, and 90’s jeans. Songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “Take On Me” are trending on TikTok. The Instagram account @EightiesGirls has over 179K followers, including actress Blake Lively. And top artists are competing to get their albums released on vinyl.
There is no doubt that nostalgia is in.
Nostalgia is a strong longing for a past period of your life which typically has a positive association. In my practice as a psychologist, it’s not uncommon to hear anxious patients nostalgically recall times in their lives that were happier or less complicated. It’s just human nature to seek comfort during times of high stress.
But does it really help?
To understand nostalgia’s impact, Constantine Sedikides and colleagues (2008) conducted a series of studies during which they obtained feedback from participants about their experience of nostalgia. They concluded that “chief among the perceived benefits of nostalgia was its capacity to generate positive affect, bolster social bonds, and increase positive self-regard.”
In other words—it helps.
“Nostalgic participants manifested stronger social connectedness than did control participants,” the authors explained. “They felt more loved and protected, had reduced attachment anxiety and avoidance, and reported greater interpersonal competence.”
Revisiting elements from your past is one of the most powerful ways to invoke the feeling of nostalgia. “In an experiment in the Netherlands, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets of Tilburg University and colleagues found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.”
With the above factors in mind, it’s easy to understand why trends of the 80s and 90s are back in style. Having lived through the COVID pandemic and recent political unrest, anxiety is at an all-time high, and Americans are seeking comfort wherever they can find it.
Of course, there are many other tried and true methods of decreasing anxiety and improving one’s mood, such as exercise, meditation, and psychotherapy. However, spending a few minutes here and there recalling a few favorite memories might help as well. Come to think of it, I am going to pour myself a Fresca, put on some Springsteen, and reminisce about my glory days.
Francine Rosenberg, Psy.D., practices cognitive-behavior therapy, specializing in treating anxiety disorders.