Nostalgia, what are its symptoms?

This article will give a detailed view of nostalgia. It will explain what it is, how the concept was created, and how it has transformed over the years. Aside from that, the article will explain what signs and symptoms someone is experiencing nostalgia, and what are indicators that nostalgia might be starting to become a problem.

When was the concept of nostalgia created?

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The first mention of nostalgia came from the late 1600s, around 1688, from a Swiss medical student called Johannes Hofer. He noticed that his patients who were living away from home usually expressed a yearning to go back to their place of birth to a point that they became physically ill, sometimes even fatal.

The word came from a junction of the Greek word nostos, which means homecoming, and alga, meaning pain. So nostalgia, in the beginning, was a longing to go home. When people experienced nostalgia they could go through the loss of appetite, fainting, and sometimes even hallucinations and suicide attempts.

During that time, sending people t who were afflicted with nostalgia home was the best cure. But in the 1700s other forms of dealing with nostalgia were looked upon. 

They were people offering aggressive ways to deal with it, such as burying alive people experiencing nostalgia or using leeches to try and such the melancholy out of the person.

From the 1900s, doctors stopped treating nostalgia as a medical condition, they rather started looking at it in similar ways as it is seen nowadays, as well as a romanticized connotation expressed by poets back in that time.

So what is considered nostalgia nowadays?

Nowadays nostalgia is not seen as a medical condition anymore. It is rather thought of as an emotional state that is characterized by a wistful notion and appreciation of the past.  

It can happen as a person is in touch with something, could be a song, a photograph, a fragrance, or a person that causes them to remember a former experience. It is a yearning for the past and the possibilities one could have had then, or events that happened. 

It’s a way someone is regarding their personal life. It could be that a person sees a picture of their childhood and is instantly transported to that moment in their lives, the smells, the people that were part of it.

What are the signs someone is experiencing nostalgia?

Feeling nostalgic is a normal event in a person’s life, everyone will go through it at some point in their lives, it might happen quite frequently. And there can be many emotional benefits from experiencing nostalgia.

When a person is remembering their past, it can improve their mood, causing them to feel a rush of well-being. This happens because they might think of places or events that hold a positive emotion in them. It can be remembering their grandmothers cooking, or time spent with loved ones.

This can show them how many positive connections and experiences they went through in life, causing a rush of joy, and helping them cope with bad experiences they might be going through.

Remembering those good events can also increase a person’s sense of connectedness, showing them how they were part of a community that was supportive and caring. 

This can help a person to keep open to social interactions, since they have such pleasure from previous ones, they might feel it is beneficial to keep doing it.

Nostalgia is also something that makes the person feel better about themselves, differently than people that rarely experience nostalgia, those usually are more self-centered.

And lastly, experiencing notalgia can cause a person to give better meaning to their lives. This indicates that they have a better understanding of why they are living, and for what, than people that don’t experience nostalgia.

What are warning signs that nostalgia is becoming a problem?

Although nostalgia is often a beneficial experience, to some people, or at some point in a person’s life, it can start to create some problems. It can happen that a person, when going through a troubling period in their life, might look at what has been with an intense longing that makes them lose hope in what they are living at the moment.

This is a situation in which nostalgia might start to become a problem. It is an issue every time that the past starts to feel a lot better than what the person is living in the present, causing them to avoid dealing with life in the present. 

They can start to worry a lot more and ruminate about what was and what could have been. Because of that, the concept of Nostalgic Depression was coined. It refers to when a person experiences such intense nostalgia, that impacts how they view their life in the moment, which is often seen negatively, without hope or purpose. 

It can cause a person to isolate themselves, since they trust the only positive connections they had were in the past, causing them to also feel intense loneliness and loss from the people that are not in their lives anymore.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): What are the symptoms of nostalgia?

What nostalgia causes a person’s brain? 

Nostalgia has a great impact on physiological resilience. According to a study done by Oba and colleagues in 2015, it was shown, through neuroimage, that nostalgia activates the pathways of memory and reward in the brain. 

When the women in the research were shown visual stimuli related to their childhood, their brains showed activities in the hippocampus, in the substantia nigra/ventral area, and the ventral striatum. This shows why people usually experience positive emotions when they become nostalgic.

What triggers nostalgia?

Nostalgia usually comes from the sensory stimuli the person goes through. It can come from a smell, a conversation the person is having, or even a self-directed memory. 

In that, it is possible to say that nostalgia can come from unexpected things and beyond a person’s control, or sometimes a person may revisit a memory, and from that, nostalgia kicks in.

In the first situation, it might be that a person is passing somewhere in the street and senses a perfume. That can cause them to remember something from their past, and they can experience nostalgia.

On the other hand, when a person, for example, can remember a family member that has passed, and because of that, they might become nostalgic about what they lived through, talked about, and shared in life.

What is the difference between personal nostalgia, anticipated nostalgia, and anticipatory nostalgia? 

Personal nostalgia is when a person is missing what they already lost. For example, a person missing something that happened in their childhood. When we are talking about anticipated nostalgia, we are discussing how a person predicts or expects to be nostalgic about something in the future, while they are living it in the present.

This form of nostalgia can be felt by friends when they think they will miss, in the future, what they are living at this moment.  Differently from that, anticipatory nostalgia is related to a person’s thought and imagination of missing what has not been lost yet. 

This can be understood when a person imagines how their life will be without a determined person or a situation. For example, a person can imagine how they will miss their job once they change it in the future.

Are there different types of nostalgia? 

According to Svetlana Boym, there are two types of nostalgia, the restorative type, and the reflective nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia is the one when you think of the past and act upon making it real again in the future. A good example is someone being nostalgic about an old girlfriend they are trying to get back.

As for Reflective nostalgia, it is about that trip down memory lane. You don’t feel the need to bring those events back to your life nowadays or in the future. Your satisfaction comes mainly from having gone through those experiences in the past.

What are ways that I can trigger nostalgia?

As you know, nostalgia can be triggered by memory and also by a stimulus. If you want to trigger nostalgia in your day if you don’t want to go down memory lane, try to find a good stimulus for you.

You can choose songs that remind you of another period in your life. The songs you listened to between your teens and early twenties are ones that usually stay in your memory because they were an important part of your formative time.

Another way to trigger your nostalgia is to look at old pictures, be they physical or digital ones. This will make you extremely nostalgic about events that happened in your life, which can give you a sense of comfort. 

Cooking or having some comfort food is also a way to trigger nostalgia. It can be a great recipe that was part of the family tradition, or a dish your grandmother used to cook for you. This can give you a feeling of belonging that will warm your heart and soul.

Can I run out of tears?

People have many questions about crying. They are usually scared of letting their feelings out through that, and that it may make them look weak. Some people are scared that once the tears start they won’t stop, or even that they might run out of tears. 

But it is important to know you won’t run out of tears. Because, even when you are not crying, your eyes are still producing it to get your eyes moist. 

What can happen is that aging and other health matters can cause a person’s amount of tears to decrease. This happens especially to women when they are going through the hormonal changes brought on by menopause.


This article detailed the experience of being nostalgic. It showed what it means to feel nostalgic, how it can happen, and what symptoms nostalgia can bring to a person. The article also explained what are the signs for a person to be aware that nostalgia might start to become a problem, and what can be done about it.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write in the section below. 


Noriuchi M, et al. Memory and reward systems coproduce ‘nostalgic’ experiences in the brain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Jul;11(7):1069-1077.

Verplanken B. When bittersweet turns sour: Adverse effects of nostalgia on habitual worriers. Eur. J Soc. Psychol. 2012; 42: 285-289z

Oba K, Noriuchi M, Atomi T, Moriguchi Y, Kikuchi Y. Memory and reward systems coproduce ‘nostalgic’ experiences in the brain, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 7, July 2016, Pages 1069–1077,

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