Nostalgic or Depressed? The Truth About Nostalgia and Life Transitions

During times of transition, feelings of nostalgia are pronounced.

We yearn for what was.

Bonding with colleagues at work. Evenings at the pub with good friends. Precious, fleeting moments with children and family. It’s easy to indulge in a whirlpool of remembering when.

This is particularly true when navigating through the end of a career into our next act. Whether moving into a traditional or hybrid retirement – it’s a shock to the system, changing the contours of our everyday existence. Leaving us suddenly vulnerable.

A dive into an idealized past can be just the thing that provides a healing balm.

Nostalgia: A Double-Edge Sword

In his article, Is There A Dark Side to Nostalgia?, Robert Yaniz, Jr. says that “Nostalgia inspires more connectivity with others, greater self-esteem and more empathy for those in need.”

But it’s important to be aware that nostalgia exists in two forms: reflective and restorative. And of the two, only one type – reflective nostalgia – holds a benefit for us.

According to Hal McDonald, PhD., in Psychology Today, reflective nostalgia helps us “accept the fact that the past is the past.” We can’t change it.

Restorative nostalgia, on the other hand, is an obsessive indulgence. It takes flight when nostalgic thoughts stimulate a need to restore our experiences. Recreate the past.

But as the saying goes, you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.

The truth is, if we can’t disconnect from memories, we prevent ourselves from processing whatever current feelings of loss we feel since moving on.

How the Media Unwittingly Supports the Dark Side of Memory

Media output can serve as an enabler to those with restorative nostalgia. It’s easy to fall victim to advertisers who manipulate us through the purposeful use of nostalgia.

Think of hot, velvety chocolate drizzled slowly over a Bing cherry.

The tightly woven harmonies of the Backstreet Boys as they sing about the joys of skinny jeans.

Or a team of regal Clydesdales bowing in humble respect at the sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Touching moments like these are calculated to drive us back to the past. To a familiar era.

But what if the reverse occurs?

What if the idea of feasting on chocolate-covered cherries becomes an opportunity to body-shame?

What might you feel like when age and body type make it unlikely you’ll ever wear a pair of skinny jeans again?

Or if that elegant bow to Lady Liberty jars harsh memories of a September 11th morning when liberty itself was threatened.

Negative self-talk can harm self-esteem and lead to depression.

What to Do About Nostalgia Depression

Women.com writer, Sophie Matthews, shares her personal wisdom about nostalgia-related depression with these coping mechanisms:

  • Lean into the memory. Remember your experiences fully. Don’t fixate on one negative feeling that can influence the recollection of an entire experience. At all times, try to remain in the present.
  • Talk it out with a loved one who went through the experience with you. Someone who understands your life on a deep level. Your view of the incident might not be accurate. Another set of eyes and ears can provide a needed perspective.
  • Think of the experience as a privileged learning. In the vein of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Yes, you bruised your proverbial knee. But you’ve gained insight. It’s time to move on.

Own the memory. Don’t let it own you.

Be On a Nostalgia Stakeout

Health, brain and neuroscience blog, Cognifit, recommends we confront the negative aspects of restorative nostalgia, head-on.

If a memory is occupying too large of a space in your psyche, think about this:

  • Be planful. Stay busy. Move toward positive objectives. Current success can improve negative impressions that we harbor toward ourselves.
  • Change your mindset. If a past issue can be rectified today, then work toward a resolution. Reclaim the high-ground.
  • Focus on what’s good. Don’t obsess on what’s bad. Self-discipline can move you away from what’s causing the pain.
  • Balance is your best friend. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Rest. Exercise. Try to disconnect from your problems.

While I believe Socrates was on the money when he said that “An unexamined life is not worth living”, I believe that an over-examined life can be just as damaging.

Give yourself some breathing space.

This article has many links that can help you explore this topic in greater detail. Should you require additional support, remember to reach out for assistance from a mental health professional in your area.

This article was first written for Sixtyandme.com.

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