How Nostalgia Helps Us Cope with Stress

We talk about the power of nostalgia – and how experiencing it regularly can have psychological benefits, especially during difficult times.

Listener Feedback

We wanted to share some listener feedback that made our day. Steven left this review on Apple Podcasts:

Real talk, with warmth and wit
After a day of stress, sisters Gill and Melia give me the oasis of calm I need. They talk easily, but productively, about the challenges in their everyday lives, without sugar-coating them or making them feel hopeless. I walk away from their convos feeling a little bit lighter, armed with ideas on how to set goals or how to banish that insidious S-word — “should” — from my inner voice. It’s a reliable spot to learn and relax!

Thank you so much! We love hearing from you and appreciate every review.

How Nostalgia Helps Us Cope with Stress

We wanted to talk about the role nostalgia plays in our lives for a few reasons: 

1. There have been a ton of recent revivals of TV shows and movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s that we loved growing up: Fuller House, new seasons of Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster, the Real World: New York reunion, the Coming to America and Bill and Ted sequels, the list goes on. 

2. We’ve both been loving the new podcast, 60 Songs that Explain the ‘90s, a Spotify Original. It covers songs by Shania Twain, The Backstreet Boys, and Mariah Carey, for example, and has inspired us to listen to a lot of ‘90s jams.

3. We’ve both noticed that revisiting music, shows, movies, and books from happy times in the past has been a balm during tough times in the present. It’s so comforting. 

The Benefits of Nostalgia

There’s been quite a bit of research on nostalgia in the last few decades. Until as recently as the late 20th century, nostalgia was viewed in a negative light and classified as a disorder or pathology – a retreat into the past to avoid dealing with the present. But more recent studies have found that – for most people – the positives far outweigh the negatives. 

Some of the main benefits of nostalgia include:

  • Counteracting loneliness, boredom, anxiety and meaninglessness
  • Making people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders
  • Helping loved ones feel closer when they’re sharing nostalgic memories 
  • Acting a buffer against existential threats, and offering hope and inspiration
  • Helping people cope better with adversity and promoting personal growth

In stressful times, like in the past year, these benefits can be especially helpful. A National Geographic article, The surprising way nostalgia can help us cope with the pandemic, from July 2020 quoted Clay Routledge, a psychology professor at North Dakota State University and author of Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource, who said: “I believe many are turning to nostalgia, even if they do not consciously realize it, as a stabilizing force and a way to keep in mind what they cherish most.” 

And a March 2020 study found that “more than half of consumers reported finding comfort in revisiting both television and music they enjoyed in their youth.” 

Not All Nostalgia Is Created Equal

There are different types of nostalgia: 

  • Personal nostalgia is when a person looks back on details of their own past, often triggered by life changes and milestones. Personal nostalgia is usually associated with psychological benefits, like alleviating loneliness, and promoting healthy coping strategies and feelings of belonging.
  • Historical nostalgia, on the other hand, is linked to valuing or longing for times in the past before a person was born. This demonstrates dissatisfaction with the present and doesn’t have the same psychological benefits. 

And the late literary scholar and professor Svetlana Boym defined two other types of nostalgia: restorative and reflective:

  • Restorative nostalgia longs for the past and wants to recreate or relive it in the present – in a way that can be self-defeating or harmful. 
  • Reflective nostalgia savors the past, while still acknowledging that it can never truly be recreated. 

How we experience nostalgia is all in how we look back on the past. Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a professor of psychology at University of Southampton and a pioneer in the field of nostalgia research, said in a 2013 New York Times article, What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows

“Many other people have defined nostalgia as comparing the past with the present and saying, implicitly, that the past was better — ‘Those were the days.’ But that may not be the best way for most people to nostalgize. The comparison will not benefit, say, the elderly in a nursing home who don’t see their future as bright. But if they focus on the past in an existential way — ‘What has my life meant?’ — then they can potentially benefit.”

In EP 17: Balancing the Past, Present & Future, we talk about how your typical time perspective can play a role in how you see the past – that is, if you tend to spend more time thinking about the past, present, or future, and how positively you perceive them.

How We’ve Been Leaning Into Nostalgia


  • Watching a ton of old movies and TV shows, like Jurassic Park, the Harry Potter series, Murder She Wrote and Jeopardy reruns 
  • Rereading books I loved as a kid, like Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl novels,
  • Making family recipes and comfort food
  • Listening to a ton of ‘90s music (especially female singers, like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette) and music from our parents’ record collection 


  • Listening to a lot of ‘90s tunes, like Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill album, the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band, and Barenaked Ladies (this ’90s Singer Songwriter playlist on Spotify is great) 
  • Introducing the kids to books and games I loved when I was their age, like Goodnight, Moon, Harold & the Purple Crayon, and Roald Dahl books, and Connect Four and Uno 
  • Watching old Disney movies on Disney Plus, like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast 
  • Watching Kid 90, a documentary that just came out about young actors growing up in the spotlight in the ‘90s. It’s directed by Soleil Moon Frye, the actress who played Punky Brewster, and uses tons of video footage of her and her friends that she shot back in the day.

Strategies for Getting Nostalgic

Dr. Constantine Sedikides shares two strategies for “nostalgizing” in a beneficial way:

  • Intentionally create more moments that will be memorable. Sedikides said: “I don’t miss an opportunity to build nostalgic-to-be memories. We call this anticipatory nostalgia and have even started a line of relevant research.”
  • Draw from your own “nostalgic repository” when you need a boost or extra motivation. Savor the moments and memories without comparing them to the present.

And a few of our own tips for embracing nostalgia: 

  • Keep nostalgia close at hand. Make and save playlists of your favorite nostalgic tunes. Display photos and other mementos and look at them often. Change them out when they become part of the background.
  • Make a list of your go-to nostalgia triggers and experiment if you’re not sure. You can search Spotify for a playlist from your favorite decade, or stream some of your favorite shows.
  • If you have kids in your life, read the books and play the games with them that you did as a kid. 
  • Do a memory walk around a place that means something to you and you haven’t visited in a while – and if it’s too far to travel to right now, close your eyes and walk there in your mind.  

Get It Together / Got It Together

We each share something that we’d like to work on and something that’s going well for us right now.

Melia’s Get It Together:  Not building enough movement into her day or the kids’

Melia’s Got It Together: More intentionally spending “attend time” with each family member

Gill’s Get It Together: Procrastinating on annoying life admin tasks

Gill’s Got It Together: Taking advantage of the beautiful weather 

Get In Touch

What makes you especially nostalgic? Do any of these benefits or strategies resonate with you? Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com or send us a voice memo.

If you haven’t already, take a moment to subscribe to Semi-Together or leave us a rating or review. You can also support the podcast through Patreon at patreon.com/semitogether.