How To Embrace the Healing Power of Nostalgia

Memories are a powerful thing. While they can be triggered by something as simple as a smell, a song, or a snack, they can magically transport you. One second you’re sniffing a vanilla-scented candle; in the next you are a child, holding your mother’s hand and her favorite vanilla-scented lotion wafts into your nose. A sip of coffee that you accidentally sweetened too much reminds you of your first cup of coffee in high school and how it made you feel like an adult…even though it was 80 percent cream and sugar back then. Nostalgia can evoke more than just warm, fuzzy feelings — it can also benefit your health, science says. In fact, researchers say staying calm, energetic, and healthy is as easy as harnessing the healing power of nostalgia. Read on to learn how dwelling on your past can enhance your present.

To fuel weight loss: Take a brain break

Do you remember the childhood fun of stretching out in the grass and looking up at the sky, searching for shapes in the clouds? Taking a break each day for this type of guilt-free R&R (whether you’re studying clouds, paint, crafts, or just taking a nap) reduces stress, which may help you get lean faster, study suggests obesity reviews. Even short moments of rest signal your nervous system to switch off the production of metabolism-inhibiting stress hormones.

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To regain self-control: Re-read your favorite book

Or watch a popular TV series again. Can’t decide whether to start a new book or show or settle into one you’ve enjoyed before? When you’re feeling distracted or restless, reaching for that old favorite can help you gain more self-control, says a study in the journal social psychology and personality science. That’s because in a familiar setting, with characters you already love and a storyline you already know, you can lose yourself and feel completely relaxed and safe without worrying about what’s going to happen next becomes.

To feel energized: see an old friend

Regularly enjoying a chat or a coffee date with old friends can reduce fatigue, say University of Michigan scientists gerontology and geriatric medicine. They explain that connecting with people who bring you joy is linked to reduced loneliness, which can cause fatigue and depression. Interacting with friends can cause your brain to release dopamine, making you feel energized.

To fall asleep faster: Eat a small treat

Donuts, macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies… whichever classic treat still makes your mouth water – enjoy a few hours before the lights go out (in moderation!). This Might Help You Drift Faster, According to Research: An Article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that simple carbohydrates stimulate the release of the calming, sleep-enhancing hormone serotonin.

To relax your mind for bedtime: Wrap yourself in a familiar duvet

Spending a little time each night wrapped tightly in a cozy blanket doesn’t just help you relax and unwind: it can warm you from the inside out and gently lull you to sleep, says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn. She explains that our childhood association with being wrapped in blankets signals our brain that it’s time to sleep, and the pressure and warmth help your brain release sleep-inducing hormones.

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To boost your immune system: play a fun game

Playing lighthearted childhood board games like Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, or Trouble (or even hosting a weekly game night) is fun and relieves stress. And avoiding stress regularly can keep colds and viruses at bay, researchers say Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences Diary. They explain that long-term stress can damage the body’s immune response. So play another round of UNO for your health!

To relieve pain: listen to your favorite oldies

Do you remember the thrill of hearing your favorite song on the radio? Listening to a song that you associate with past happy times can transport you to another place and potentially contribute to pain tolerance, says a 2020 study frontiers in psychology. Scientists explain that engaging in nostalgia by reflecting on positive past memories can reduce the severity of pain. Nostalgia activates the thalamus, which is linked to the sensation of pain.

To keep back pain at bay: Get moving

Low back pain is common in a large population of adults, according to a 2016 study healthcare Diary. But this study also says that aerobic exercise can help reduce the stiffness that causes back pain. To add to the nostalgia angle, play a bit of hopscotch, grab some friends and jump rope for Double Dutch, or see how long you can hula-hoop. Your back will thank you!

Feeling a sense of purpose: Play with a childhood toy

According to a scientific journal, nostalgia can evoke feelings of meaning Storage. So dust off your old slinky or magic cube. Focusing on the look and feel of a toy that evokes happy memories can boost self-esteem, mood and feelings of social connectedness, the researchers explain.

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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment plan.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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