Nostalgia – A Trigger for Stability and Wellbeing

“Long considered a disorder, nostalgia is now recognized as a powerful tool in the battle against anxiety and depression,” Tim Adam writes in an article (Look back in joy: the power of nostalgia) on The Guardian.

Growing up as kids, we had little or no worries. We just had to go to school, get our home work done and every other thing was pretty much sorted out by our parents or guardians. Fast forward several decades later, we make statements like “I remember the day’s when life was simple” or “those were the good old days”; Nostalgic statements often triggered by periods of transition in our lives journey. These periods may include; relocating to a new country, maturing into adulthood, technological advancement overtime or today’s reality, the COVID 19 pandemic which has changed the way we live, interact with our friends and family and even do business.

Through this write up, we explore how nostalgia can provide stability and clarity of thought when we deeply reflect on our past experiences, our present day and how we can carve our ideal future.

How we choose to communicate our sentiment is entirely relative. The objects that offer a path to the big bangs of our present ideals and values, the way we act and think are hidden in sacred memories. Some of these memories are buried deep beneath the soils of our collective memories, others lay loosely on our surface.

Be it from childhood, to the formative years to teenage life and young adulthood, nostalgia is hidden in sounds, objects, feelings and all these things that prompt or effect this nostalgia to me are referred to as objects of sentiments.

These objects of sentiments often give us a bittersweet combination of emotions. Sweet because they temporarily open a window for us to relive fun memories and bitter in the sense that these fun memories can never be brought back.

One thing which remains constant is change and with this comes a certain level of unpredictability. Change often threatens stability and well-being due to our inability to control the situations we find ourselves in. In times like these, our minds travel back to a past memory in ‘our own’ past where things were stable and controlled (i.e. personal nostalgia) or a ‘period/era’ where life was easy (historical nostalgia). Thinking about our past experience could remind us of just how strong and capable we are in adapting to change; this could reinforce stability to our world.

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I remember when I had to undergo training for a job in the financial services sector. At the time, I had a background in Information Technology but I was expected to learn advanced courses in finance, accounting and economics in weeks. I can still remember what my Uncle who was a Chief Finance Officer for a blue chip oil firm said when he saw my course materials; “these are study materials for 1 whole semester in the university and you are to finish them in one week?”. Well, I was able to scale through the training and I got employed by the company.

That experience made me understand what am capable of and how fast I can adapt to change to bring stability to my world. I think we all have defining moments where it’s easier to give up and follow the easy way out. Choosing to persevere makes us better, stronger and more adaptive.

In grouping our past oriented thought, nostalgia stands out as adaptive.

Everyone has a unique journey and experience in life which makes us unique as individuals. A combination of experiences and how we react to them play a huge role in defining who we eventually become. Do we thrive in the face of adversity? Do we bask in our small wins and forget the bigger picture?

We find that our past experiences inspire most of our creative genius. This is evident in various forms of artistry. We see musicians make great records while reflecting on how tough things were when they were hustling to be heard; actors getting into character by recalling a memory of pain, hate or joy; writers gaining inspiration from a historic event or era, the list goes on. Our past can be a trigger for innovation and creativity. In grouping our past oriented thought, nostalgia stands out as creative.

The first step to problem solving they say is to “identify the problem”. Growing up, we were faced with several problems, some of us may choose to start up a business or pursue a career in order to solve these problems. These past experiences serve as a source of inspiration and fuel our passion. “People with greater propensity for nostalgia are more likely to avoid distractions that prevent them from confronting their troubles and solving problems” – Krystine Batcho a professor of Psychology in Le Moyne College mentions in her article on “The psychological benefits and trappings of nostalgia”.

Nostalgia can be seen as the “perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future” and a mental state absolutely central to human experience.” – Constantine Sedikides

Through our objects of sentiments, we trigger nostalgic thoughts therefore creating a path through which we explore our creative genius by harnessing past experiences and relating them to our present day. The correlation of nostalgia with hardship, difficulty, stress, anxiety and depression depicts how adaptive we can be as nostalgia compensates for these uncomfortable states. In cases like this, it creates a sense of connection and continuity with the past and helps us find meaning.

Words: Ebri Inah
Muse: Alexa Asuquo
Photography: Ukandi Atsu
Studio: The Space, Calabar

  • Ebri holds a BSc & MSc in information Systems from American University of Nigeria and Aston University respectively. He has keen interest in fashion, dance, arts, technology, business development and research.

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