"Quarantine Nostalgia" Is A Thing
Here’s what to do with all those feels.
Anyone who experiences quarantine nostalgia — a topic that has over 84 billion views on TikTok — admits that it’s strange to look back on such a stressful, traumatizing time in human history and kind of... miss it? March 2020 was one long scramble to buy toilet paper while you worried about family and friends. But then everyone fell into a rhythm as the lockdown went into place: We baked sourdough bread, learned TikTok dances, and took naps. We wore sweatpants, cheered for nurses, and waved to loved ones via Zoom. Of course, staying home also felt boring and bizarre — but when you look back, you might realize that so many things about it were actually kind of sweet.
Now that it’s three whole years later, all those memories from March 2020 quarantine hit different. We’ve had time to process and realize how unique it was, and thus it’s absolutely OK to feel a weird sense of nostalgia. “I have even felt it myself,” says Micheline Maalouf, LMHC, NCC, a trauma-informed counselor and founder of Serein Counseling. “We miss the break, we miss being left alone, and we miss having time to ourselves to do nothing and just be.”
On TikTok, videos about quarantine nostalgia focus on the simplicity of lockdown life — staying home, taking walks, and passing the time with cozy indoor hobbies. But they also mention how we all came together and how we didn’t know at the time that quarantine would continue and things would get so much worse. March 2020 almost felt like a cozy bubble. We really didn’t know what we had. If that isn’t a recipe for nostalgia, what is?
Here, therapists share their thoughts on TikTok’s nostalgia for quarantine 2020, plus what to do with all those feels.
What Is Quarantine Nostalgia?
Life before March 2020 was all about the daily grind. Then everything ground to a halt. We went from commuting, hustling, and working too many hours a week to staying home with no expectations to leave the house unless we were essential workers, Maalouf says. “It was the first time in our lives that it was acceptable to do nothing.”
Quarantining even made you part of the hero story that was everywhere that spring. While service and healthcare workers were helping outside the home, the rest of us helped stop the spread by staying in. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, life slowed way down. Soon enough, it became about filling that time, which is when homey hobbies we all remember — like making banana bread, cloud bread, or Dalgona coffee — took off on TikTok.
It’s also when so many of us got sucked into TikTok for the very first time. What started as a silly dance app for the youth became the go-to way to relax, pass the time, and connect with people in a really intimate way, especially if your FYP was getting it right.
“TikTok was a new platform where people found connections with strangers in ways that had never been done before,” Maalouf says. “It was exciting and unpredictable, and we were able to maintain connections with people deeply without leaving our homes.”
To experience a March 2020 flashback, all you need to hear is “Bored in the House” or “Death Bed” and boom, you’re transported back to slow, sleepy days on your couch. Even though we were stuck at home — and some of us were quite literally alone — quarantine made the entire planet feel connected.
March 2020 was also an introvert’s dream come true, so that adds a whole other layer to the nostalgia. “As the effects of the pandemic took over our lives, we were forced into a place of quiet retreat,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear. For many, this meant finally getting to say no to party invites without an ounce of FOMO.
Now that the world is starting to come out of lockdown, it’s time to put on real pants, go to an actual office, and attend get-togethers for the first time in years... which isn’t as easy as it used to be. “Although some people feel as if their lives are back to normal, many are reeling from the return to life outside the safe confines of home,” Manly tells Bustle. As you blink in the bright light of day, it’s only natural to struggle to adjust.
Of course, flashing back to March 2020 — whether it’s because you heard a TikTok song or took a bite of sourdough bread — also serves as a reminder of all the time that’s flown by. According to Manly, quarantine nostalgia could stem from a sense of mourning for the loss of those three years and whatever notable occasions took place during them. “This can give rise to feelings of depression,” she says.
All of that’s to say: If this is hitting for you, know that it’s completely normal to feel quarantine nostalgia. “It was a time when people felt connected, scared, and also hopeful,” Maalouf says. “Many of us feel nostalgic about the part of us that had no idea it would be as long as it was or take as many lives as it did. It was a time where we were still unsure and also more hopeful.”
How To Deal With Quarantine Nostalgia
If you find yourself down, depressed, or dreaming about a different time, that’s OK. “Feel your feelings, reflect on them, notice what's coming up for you and allow it to be,” Maalouf says. If that means lying in bed for a few hours while you scroll TikTok, so be it.
It might also help to revisit some aspects of March 2020’s quarantine days. “You may realize that you’re longing for more alone time, a slower schedule, or some other quarantine-related experience,” Manly says. “You can then use this information to make mindful, positive adjustments in your current life.” This can be taking time off work, restarting hobbies, and doing at-home workouts.
Maalouf says it can also help to connect with others who feel this way. “I think that's one of the reasons this is a trend: The popularity of these videos shows that we are really still feeling it,” she says. “Connecting, talking about it, or creating videos for it is a healthy way to process it.”
If you feel quarantine nostalgia or are struggling with the anniversary of March 2020, take it in stride. “Healing is relative and we will all need different periods of time to heal from this,” Maalouf says. “There is no set time of when you should be over it. If you're still struggling, you're not alone.”
Micheline Maalouf, LMHC, NCC, trauma-informed counselor, founder of Serein Counseling
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, author of Joy from Fear