The current ‘unprecedented times’ have undeniably induced a craving for the past, with many of us turning to nostalgia in lockdown and happy memories for comfort.
Social media has been awash with ‘On this Day’ posts, knitting has become trendy once again and baking old childhood treats, such as banana bread, has been a particularly popular pastime.
As many sought escapisms through childhood nostalgia during the first lockdown, the much-anticipated releases of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Disney+ could not have come at a better time.
During the summer, broadcasters also chose to show repeats and highlights of events from the pre-lockdown past, such as the previous year’s Glastonbury and Wimbledon.
But why does nostalgia, for so many, provide a comfort blanket in this period of uncertainty?
In response to a survey carried out by the7Stars during the first lockdown, 41% said they had been finding solace in listening to old music, followed by 37% watching re-runs of TV shows and 33% looking at old photos.
Recent research has also shown that the pandemic has brought a renaissance of older music.
Dr Timothy Yu-Cheong Yeung, a research fellow of the Centre for Legal Theory and Empirical Jurisprudence at the University of Leuven, analysed Spotify data from almost 17 trillion songs across six European countries – Sweden, the UK, Spain, France, Belgium and Italy – and concluded that “Spotify listeners are finding comfort in nostalgic music choices during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The research paper, published last September, showed that demand for nostalgic music peaked around 60 days after lockdown was implemented in each country.
Yeung counted a song as ‘nostalgic’ if it was released more than 3 years ago. Old classics which were particularly popular in the UK during the first lockdown included Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky (1997), Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now (1979) and Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles (1969) – which was played up to 63,000 times a day in the UK.
Yeung concluded that “[lockdown] might have caused ill emotions and people dived into nostalgic music to escape the reality, even if the virus had not caused their or their close relatives’ health any harms…One possible way to recover – or to generate positive utility – is to seek nostalgia that reminds people of the good old days”.
Escapism – Nostalgia in lockdown
Unsaid reader Laura (25) from South London, said that music has been, to her, “a form of escapism in times of mental health struggles”.
“I’ve really struggled with my mental wellbeing throughout the lockdowns – particularly the third lockdown which is, I suppose, worse because a lot of people have the typical ‘January blues’ anyway.
“I’ve been using music as a sort of way to escape my worries. An old song can bring back memories from a night out, concerts – happier times. Music in the background has also helped me cope with working from home. Listening to old favourites really can brighten my mood.”
Another follower of Unsaid, Marie (36) from Portsmouth, said that she has enjoyed returning to old childhood food favourites with her family throughout the lockdowns.
“At the start of lockdown one, I hopped on the baking trends like everyone else – making our own bread, banana loaf, homemade sourdough. My mum used to make these things for me and there was something comforting in eating food from my childhood. It was also special to make it with my daughters when they were off school.
“Sometimes when I feel low during lockdown, I like a nice bowl of tomato soup and crusty bread. It reminds me of having it when I came home from school absolutely freezing on a winter’s day. When I eat it, I can briefly return to the simplicity of those times.”
Psychologist Kimberley Wilson explained to the Stylist why she finds it unsurprising that nostalgic foods have been popular throughout the lockdown periods. She said:
“In practical terms, we have much less (if any) access to our usual sources of pleasure. No favourite restaurants, cosy cafés or local pubs. Eating at home becomes one of the few remaining sources of pleasure within our control.”
But, experts say that we should take care not to become completely reliant on nostalgia for comfort during lockdown but instead should aim to focus our energy on daily positives.
Amelia Dennis, a researcher at the University of Surrey, told Mental Health Today:
“As lockdowns have continued people have been presented with unusual challenges and many have struggled. We found that looking to the future and appreciating what is positive in our lives currently is more psychologically beneficial than reminiscing about the past.
“The current restrictions and any future lockdowns have removed our sense of control of our lives. For the sake of our wellbeing, we need to acknowledge what we do have rather than regretting what we have lost.”
Mental Health.org suggests that keeping a journal to ‘incorporate gratitude practice’ into our daily routines can be one way to look after our mental wellbeing whilst working from home. The site suggests asking yourself on a daily basis ‘What was I grateful for today?’.
Overall, it seems returning to nostalgia certainly provides a means of escapism during such anxious times. Yet, we must also learn – the best we can – to live in the present and try to appreciate the little things which add positivity to our day-to-day lives.