Everything You Need to Know About Nostalgic Depression

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Nostalgia can make us feel many things and depressed is one of them.

Nostalgia Depression, It's a Thing

Nostalgia, as defined by Merriam-Webster is, "the state of being homesick, homesickness" and "a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also something that evokes nostalgia."

Ever think about a past memory and get sad? Maybe a picture of something causes you to well up. All of that is normal, we are emotional beings and it's okay to be sad from time to time. But if memories from your past are causing you to be really sad, you might be experiencing nostalgia depression.

You aren't alone, lots of people are affected by nostalgic memories; both good and bad.

What Is Nostalgia Depression?

Nostalgia depression, simply put, is the melancholy feeling you get when something induces a memory from your past.

Alan R. Hirsch published the study, Nostalgia: a Neuropsychiatric Understanding to understand nostalgia:

"Nostalgia, unlike screen memory, does not relate to a specific memory, but rather to an emotional state. This idealized emotional state is framed within a past era, and the yearning for the idealized emotional state manifests as an attempt to recreate that past era by reproducing activities performed then and by using symbolic representations of the past."

Although nostalgia can be positive for some, it can create a depressing state of being, The New York Times explains:

"Nostalgia does have its painful side—it’s a bittersweet emotion—but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future. Nostalgia was originally described as a 'neurological disease of essentially demonic cause' by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps."

How Depression and Anxiety Play Roles in Nostalgia

If you've been diagnosed with depression you are coping in many different ways. Nostalgia can play a factor in anxiety and depression. Looking back on a time of your life that was positive or happy can cause negative feelings when compared to your current life, especially if it's not all you want it to be. Anxiety can play a factor in a different way. You might become anxious about the future by trying to replicate your nostalgic past. Your past might not be comforting so those memories can resurface painful events in your life.

Nostalgic Depression Symptoms

Nostalgic depression—wherein you get sad, depressed, or hurt over past memories—can look the same as any other depression.

The Mayo Clinic cites symptoms of depression as:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness

  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over small matters

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports

  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain

  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or self-blame

  • Trouble thinking, slow thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things

  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek a medical professional for assistance.

If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

How to Cope With Nostalgia Depression

I am not equipped to tell you how to overcome depression, that is for you and a medical professional. But I will say, as someone who is heavily impacted by nostalgic thoughts I have some tips on how to cope with nostalgia induced depression.

1. Lean Into the Memory

It's the equivalent of ripping off the band-aid. Play the song that makes you sad. Look at someone's Facebook that hurt you. Remember the good, bad, and ugly. You are confronting your nostalgia. If you look it straight in the eye, it's easier to overcome when you're done. If you allocate time and energy to a painful memory, it'll be more therapeutic to let it go. Then, once that's done, that song or Facebook page should be off your radar. You ripped it off.

2. Talk It Out With Someone

If a memory is especially painful to you, it might be painful to someone else as well. If you can't look at a picture of your dead relative, confide in someone else who went through the same experience. It's easier to talk it out with someone who understands you, or the memory. You don't have to be alone in nostalgia depression. And maybe if we all discussed mental health openly, we wouldn't be so scared of our feelings. Just a thought.

3. Experience It as a Prized Possession

It's your badge of honor. You lived it, it made you happy, or sad. Those are your emotions that you own. Your memory is unique to you and no one can take it away, and that is actually a good thing. It made you stronger, it will continue to make you stronger.

4. Do Something That Makes You Happy

Play a happy song, hug a dog, do something that makes you happy. It might not fix it forever but it will help in the moment. There's a plate of nachos with your name on it somewhere.