Is having nostalgia in one’s life good for one’s mental health? Is it essential for the recovery of your mental health?
When it comes to nostalgia, humans tend to have heaps of it in their overall living years. It is basically part of what being a human is, as humans will experience all kinds of emotions throughout their whole life until their dying breath. Happiness, excitement, fear, confusion, loneliness, sadness — those are some of the emotions one will experience that will give them knowledge on how to deal with what life throws at them.
But is it true that having nostalgia can be a good source of “positive energy” to aid in the recovery of our mental health? Or having that can be damaging and negative instead?
Origins of Nostalgia
The origins of the word “nostalgia” come from the Ancient Greeks, via New Latin. It is a combination of two distinct words, namely “nostos” and “algos”. Notos means home, while Algos means pain; when combined roughly translates to “the pain of home”.
However, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, nostalgia means “the state of being homesick (homesickness)” or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”.
You can use the word nostalgia if you are overwhelmed with the feeling of being homesick or even lonely. You can also use it when you yearn for something in the past that cannot happen anymore in your present, such as your previous lifestyle or the good things that happened before in your history.
Nostalgia in the Medical Field
The first usage of the term nostalgia that is connected to a medical condition was in Switzerland, in the 17th century. According to old records, a physician during that time period named Johannes Hofer identified it as a condition-specific to Swiss mercenary soldiers during that time.
Hofer first identified it as a “disease of the mind”, in which he states that it is sympathetic to an afflicted imagination.
During that time, Hofer mentioned the symptoms of that “affliction”, which are the following: persistent thoughts of going home, bouts of weeping, anxiety issues, having an irregular heartbeat, anorexia, insomnia, and smothering sensations. Those symptoms were confirmed by a paper study that was published by Prof. Tim Wildschut and Constantine Sedikides from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, in 2006.
Hofer wasn’t only the medieval physician during that time that shared his views about nostalgia during their era. A fellow physician named J.J. Scheuchzer shared some of Hofer’s views and findings of nostalgia during the 17th century.
But instead of blaming the influence of internal balance as the cause of nostalgia, Scheuchzer instead blamed it on external factors instead. Those external factors are atmospheric pressure and excessive body pressurization that causes blood to travel more from the heart to the brain, causing nostalgia.
Nostalgia & Homesickness: Benefits?
In the current status of medicine today in the modern age, nostalgia isn’t viewed by many health experts and professionals as a disorder, unlike in previous centuries. However, they still baffle those same experts and professionals on what causes this kind of phenomenon to happen with humans. Even with the massive leaps of advancements that modern medicine has already achieved nowadays, the answer to the cause of nostalgia is still unclear.
Prof. Wildschut, Sedikides, and their team of colleagues aim to answer the question if nostalgia is essential for the positive recovery of one’s mental health.
Based on a study the two and their colleagues made, they have confirmed that during the test, their participants have stated that nostalgia was considered as a “positively-tone and self-relevant emotion that is usually associated with the recalls of various experiences involving their previous interactions. That usually happens with important people in their
lives or something momentum in their lives.”
They have found that nostalgia often comes with mixed emotions such as happiness and sadness at the same time. Those bags of emotions are combined to form nostalgia as a result.
A second study made by the same group of people has also confirmed that nostalgia greatly helps an individual to create a constructive narrative of the meaningful events that happened in their past. Those can be sourced as triggers for nostalgia.
The participants managed to provide information to the study group about how they experience nostalgia. They have stated that they experience nostalgia when facing life-affecting/life-changing difficulties such as present worries and anxieties. To dispel their nostalgia, the researchers in the study group advised the participants to recall a happier
memory in their minds, to ease their worries and anxieties.
That result became proof that having nostalgia can help people’s mental health to become positively better. Another study in 2012, proved that having nostalgia greatly helps the mental state of an individual to be more positive than before, as it helps them to be more sympathetic and understanding not just to orders, but to themselves as well.