Can I tell you a secret? It’s one you already know—but I bet you have no idea that your 95th watch of The Office is actually helping your mental health every time you watch it. Wait, what? You read that right! Re-watching, re-reading, and re-listening to your favorite media is a powerful mental health super-tool that can help you regulate your mood when things feel like they’re spinning out of control.
Keep reading for an in-depth dive for the mechanics of nostalgia and exactly how this familiar indulgence can provide you with comfort and familiarity to support your mental health today.
Why (and how) it works
In some ways, returning to the media that offers us familiarity is like returning to a simpler time in your life. Exposure to those familiar experiences offers a controlled regression where you can more comfortably fall into a headspace that doesn’t feel as volatile as whatever you’re experiencing in the here and now.
Other times, it’s simply a matter of routine. Whether you incorporate that one playlist from 10 years ago into your morning routine every day or you’re adding it into the nighttime wind down, routine takes many forms. Even if these familiar re-runs aren’t a part of your everyday life, there is often space for a quick binge that balances the brain enough to move forward with a sense of rightness.
The comfort and familiarity become a mental health super-tool by the virtue that it never changes. You know exactly what to expect when you sit down to watch that episode of Golden Girls and you relish that reliability. When other aspects of your life become unpredictable, returning to comfort can be the stabilizing force of a world in flux.
Do you have a copy of that one book you just can’t have? For avid readers, the idea of re-reading may be something that doesn’t appeal on a large scale. But even those readers tend to have that one story, whether it’s a standalone or a series, that they keep tucked away just in case they need a pick-me-up.
The unique qualities of music have other health benefits that we already know and love—but did you know those perks extend to your mental health too. Anxious? Crank up the stereo! Stressed out? Hey Spotify, you’re looking good. Even YouTube visuals set to music can help you drift off.
Classic songs remain in circulation because they offer a similar dose of soft nostalgia on a broader scale. Some people ground their emotional interpretation of the world to a relationship with music.
Those relationships may look like a tie to a particular artist, song, or album. Perhaps every time you’re excited, you’re pulling out that old Huey Lewis and the News song everyone knew back when. Maybe when you’re feeling afraid or uncertain, it’s the Rachel Platten anthem for strength. Regardless of what shape your musical super-tool takes, the power remains in returning to the sonic of security when you need it.
There is a particular draw to the nostalgia of comic shops, and a hit of adventure for illustration-based novels from around the world. As comic culture rose in the late ’90s and continues to boom today, many millennials experience a similar sense of comfort from comics to graphic novels and beyond.
Immersing yourself in the adventure of another can cultivate a world outside the life you must live. This is a form of escapism, but in a different manner than many other forms of media. Graphic novels give you the story and dialogue- a bridge between book and screen- but still create space for your own improvisation.
Whether it’s the experience of walking into a comic shop on release day, collecting the first edition, or re-reading a familiar series to steep yourself in the magic of possibility, illustrated novels of all forms are an incredible source of comfort for those who find their solace in brilliantly inked pages.
What’s the film you know line by line? The one you can always return to after a rough day or a good cry, a hard laugh, or just a reset switch. There are lists upon lists arguing for the most rewatchable film of all time because this form of comfort and familiarity is just that- familiar.
Films offer a set time of escape and a return to a familiar place that may bring you on a whole journey with an action-packed plot or an entire lifetime condensed into a couple of hours of watchable cinema. Alongside that, films also offer the reliability so loved in re-watch potential. Each time you watch it, you can safely dive deep into the emotions it evokes while understanding the risks you’re taking and the rewards you’ll reap. Each time, the journey will be the same. There is so much value in that.
Do you remember that time Netflix took Friends off their catalog and the entire internet went up in arms? The intensity of response at the prospect of this click and watch loss of an iconically re-watchable show speaks volumes. For so many, this is the form of media they return to when they need a mental health super-boost.
The most rewatchable shows often span into seasons upon seasons of predictable plot twists and characters you love to hate. We all know the theme song to one or ten of them, and networks know better than to test the loyalty of a well-watched show by changing it. Some shows will run for seasons on just the fumes of nostalgia, and it’s easy to see why.
Television shows are perfect for an anytime boost of serotonin, from scene snippet pick-me-ups to entire season binges, they can evolve to fit the time you have. Sometimes, we all just want to escape the anxiety of work or the crush of a global pandemic with a quick trip back to our favorite fictional world.
Use your comfort super-tool
No matter which comfort media feels best for you, or the mental health bumps that bring you into the orbit of needing their nostalgia, you should never shy away from using the tools you have to self-soothe. Being able to provide yourself comfort, re-frame your thoughts and stop the overload of an anxious mind or stressful day is an empowering experience you should be having as often as you need it.
Even though we can create support networks (and these characters and fictional places are undoubtedly a part of those), it feels really good to be able to say, “I did it myself!”. This mental health super-tool offers you both support and the validation of being able to do it yourself, any time you need. So if Netflix wants to know if you’re still watching, or the listening hours in your Spotify Wrapped have your eyes wide, pat yourself on the back for your creative comfort and the safe navigation of achieving it.