OPINION: Overcoming Nostalgia and Feeling Stuck in the Past

Photo Credit:The Noun Project

Photo Credit:The Noun Project

Elijah Carson, OwlFeed Editor-In-Cheif

Nostalgia is a phenomenon of remembrance, an event where a person looks back at an object of youth and feels deep happiness within. Nostalgia is something that we all like to dream about. With it, we can look back on life and remember the simpler, happy times. 

However, when you examine what nostalgia is, people realize that everything that you used to do isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. So instead of living in the past, let’s try and look towards the future! 

When analyzing nostalgia, please note that not all memories can be good. Sometimes when someone is feeling nostalgic and wants to do an activity that recreates that old feeling, it can trigger something unpleasant. That’s what a trigger is. A trigger can be a word, motion, or activity that was seen as traumatic to an individual.

So how exactly do nostalgia and triggers correlate to each other? Let’s use an example. Let’s say someone was in a car accident recently, and their first time being back in the car, the driver makes a sudden brake. This can cause a person to experience traumatic flashbacks to the car accident and will put them in a state of panic and despair. 

Dr. Art Markman, Ph.D., explains this in an article he wrote for Psychology Today, where he wrote, “These studies suggest that nostalgia is a double-edged sword: If we try to look back at the past for events that make us feel nostalgic, we often think about positive things from our past that can lead to feelings of contentment and happiness. However, when life events trigger a feeling about the past, we often think about things that are not as positive, and that can have a negative impact on our sense of well-being that can last for a few days.” 

However, it’s not only the negative thoughts that we have to worry about with nostalgia. Positive memories can cause some damage as well. 

Sometimes people would want to look back to their positive memories whenever something negative is happening in a person’s daily life. People choose to live those happy memories as a way of escapism to dull the pain of what’s going on. In our current situation of the pandemic, it certainly is something a few people are doing. 

By utilizing nostalgia, people become someone stuck in the past, they become engrossed with the past, so much so that they cannot stand the present, and ignore the future as much as they can. Sometimes people can do this with negative emotions as well. I know this because I used to do this. 

Back when I knew someone who treated me very badly, I used to rely on nostalgia to remember the good times we shared. I hid behind my rose-coloured glasses and ignored any bad things that they did to me. I tried to use the past to be my justification that everything will be alright, however, it wasn’t. It was anything but alright, it was terrible. 

Photo Credit:The Noun Project

It was a constant cycle of something bad happening, then they do something nice, which gave me a nostalgic feeling of how things used to be, and then it started all over again until they stopped caring and acted horribly to me again. 

Now, I have been talking horribly of nostalgia this whole time, but it’s not entirely bad. It can help you from time to time. 

Dr. Kate Cummings, a clinical psychologist, said in an interview at Brit.co, “When a person travels back to a productive or motivational time, the nostalgic emotions can help push them toward growth and future inspiration,” she said. “It’s also a healthy coping strategy and has been scientifically proven to improve patience, help lessen the pain of loneliness, and improve well-being.”

There’s further proof, as a research analysis paper titled The Negative Interactive Effects of Nostalgia and Loneliness on Affect in Daily Life written by David B. Newman & Matthew E. Sachs stated this about Nostalgia:

“For instance, several experiments have shown that nostalgia increases meaning in life, positive affect, self-esteem, and optimism (Wildschut et al., 2006; Routledge et al., 2011; Cheung et al., 2013). For example, certain nostalgic feelings can counteract the detrimental effects of meaninglessness (Routledge et al., 2011), they can reduce the deleterious effects of induced self-threat (Vess et al., 2012), and they can increase perceptions of social support following induced loneliness (Zhou et al., 2008).” 

The furthered this proof by writing, “Although a few exceptions to these positive effects of nostalgia have been documented (e.g., Iyer and Jetten, 2011; Verplanken, 2012), the overwhelming number of documented positive effects has led some researchers to conclude that “nostalgia is considered an emotion, and a predominantly positive one at that” (Sedikides et al., 2015).” 

Nostalgia can be proven to be positive for everyone, as it can help people who need it the most and help average people who like to remember the happy events in their life. So what is the point of the article? The point is simple. 

What I am telling you is that nostalgia can be good, but can be dangerous if you use it too much and dangerous. One cannot be obsessed with nostalgia causing a spiral downfall and being trapped in the past. People need to move on and accept the craziness of the present as we all deal with them together as a society. 

Together we can move on and embrace a new tomorrow, where our futures will shine bright. So instead of being trapped in the past, let’s live in the present, and build our bridge to our future.