Nostalgia can often evoke positive feelings. However, scientists have found it can also lead to negative emotions, which people sometimes call nostalgic depression.

Nostalgia involves having feelings of sentimental longing or affection for the past. People feel nostalgia when they recall and reflect on significant past events.

Nostalgia is generally positive. Some researchers believe experiencing nostalgia has physical and psychological benefits. However, it may also contain elements of sadness as people miss parts of their past.

Depression is a mental health condition that causes someone to experience symptoms that affect their feeling, thinking, and daily activities.

Nostalgic depression is not a formal diagnosis. However, it describes negative emotions that people feel when thinking about their past. It may refer to sadness when contrasting happier memories with present negative feelings. It can also mean longing for the past but feeling negative emotions when someone is unable to reclaim it.

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This article discusses the link between nostalgia and depression and the upsides of nostalgia. It also outlines tips for coping with nostalgic depression.

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Recent studies suggest that people may focus on negative memories when experiencing nostalgia. They can exclude positive aspects of the same memories. If a person perceives their past as happier than their present, they may feel emotional distress. This may then lead to symptoms of depression.

Researchers investigated nostalgia in a 2020 study. They found that nostalgia may make people more likely to experience depression.

They also found nostalgia could cause individuals to have negative thoughts after an unpleasant experience. These negative thoughts could make a person more likely to think about the past and experience more nostalgia. This could lead to more negative thoughts, causing a cycle of nostalgia and depression.

Learn why people need nostalgia.

Sadness or regret

A 2020 article summarized recent and older research on sadness and types of nostalgia. The author noted that most studies into nostalgia found that it can have positive effects. However, it can also increase negative effects, including sadness.

Rumination and worry

The researchers mentioned above also found that nostalgia could lead people to worry and ruminate more. Rumination is when a person repeatedly thinks about or dwells on negative feelings and their causes and consequences. People also often may experience these feelings the following day after feeling nostalgic.

Loss and loneliness

Some research suggests that loneliness and nostalgia have significant associations. Loneliness, in turn, may result in a person experiencing several symptoms, including those of depression.

Researchers believe that nostalgia has some positive functions and upsides. It can:

  • improve a person’s mood
  • make people feel warmer
  • strengthen someone’s sense of meaning in life
  • increase a person’s self-continuity or their sense of connection between their past and present selves
  • have social upsides, such as increasing a person’s
    • tendency to seek help
    • empathy
    • physical closeness
    • reduce prejudice
    • perspective of their romantic relationships being positive

Researchers have also found that nostalgia can increase a person’s:

  • sense of meaning in life
  • self-esteem
  • optimism
  • likelihood of experiencing positive emotions or their positive affect

Nostalgia may also have some advantages for people with depression. A 2022 study explored how inducing nostalgia in college students with depression affected their intentions to seek counseling and help for depression.

The study found that if students viewed public service announcements that induced nostalgia, they tended to feel more positive emotions. This, in turn, made them feel more positive about seeking help.

There are various ways a person can cope with feelings of depression from nostalgia.

Keep things in perspective

A person’s recall of memories may be selective. People experiencing nostalgic depression may idealize and focus on only positive aspects of their past.

The American Psychological Association recommends that keeping things in perspective can help build mental resilience. For nostalgic depression, this may mean remembering a more realistic view of the past, in comparison to only remembering the positive aspects.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a technique where a person notices and focuses their awareness on events happening in the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness can help a person enjoy the world around them more and help them deal with issues more proactively.

Build relationships

Connecting with people and building relationships can reduce a person’s risk of many health conditions, including depression. People may be able to improve feelings of loneliness from nostalgic depression by reaching out to friends and family or building new relationships.

Nostalgic depression is not an officially recognized mental health condition. However, mental health professionals can offer support and guidance for those with depression by:

  • teaching strategies to help them cope with negative thoughts or process difficult experiences
  • providing emotional support
  • exploring the root cause of their condition

The National Institute of Mental Health offers help and resources for people with mental health conditions.

The following are answers to common questions regarding nostalgic depression.

Why do I feel nostalgic all the time?

Research suggests that people are more likely to experience nostalgia if they are unhappy with their current circumstances.

What is excessive nostalgia?

Excessive nostalgia is an excessive yearning for the past, leading to less focus on a person’s present.

Although nostalgia can bring positive emotions, people may experience negative feelings too. According to researchers, these emotions may sometimes lead a person to feel more negative emotions, such as sadness. These negative emotions may then cause individuals to experience more nostalgia, which can, in turn, lead to more negative emotions.

There is no scientific or medical definition of nostalgic depression. However, a term for negative emotions due to nostalgia is nostalgic depression. These emotions may include sadness, loneliness, or worry.

There are strategies people can use to cope with nostalgic depression, such as mindfulness. Mental health professionals can also offer support for those experiencing depression.