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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: August 2023 | Where to Live

Nostalgia: Another Stress Reduction Tool

Douglas Denton Church


  • Focusing on positive memories in moments of stress can be a helpful resource for your mindfulness.
  • Prepare a catalogue of go-to memories you can always count on to bring you back to your center.
Nostalgia: Another Stress Reduction Tool
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It goes without saying that lawyers (even retired or semi-retired lawyers) experience stress at a level greater than the average person. I know you are aware of a variety of means of relieving stress, from meditation, to exercise, to adult beverages (not always recommended). But today I want to add a new method to your arsenal that you may not have considered before. I want you to develop a catalogue of meaningful and positive moments of pure nostalgia!

A reflection on some of the happiest and most meaningful moments of my life inevitably brings about a sense of calm and euphoria. I have developed a category of my “go to” memories so that depending on the circumstance that has produced the stress, I may have just one or two specifically capable of bringing calm to the moment. Let me give you some examples:

  1. The birth of my first child, not unexpectedly, was a stressful event for both my wife and I. Following the birth I was informed that I could “view” my new born daughter through a window into the nursery. It was a busy day for newborns at the hospital and there were a number of newborn babies and new parents or grandparents at the window when I arrived. Everyone was initially focused on their newborn but within a few moments we all began to look at all of the newborns on display. At the outset I need to tell you that my new daughter, Julia, weighed in at 10 pounds 10 ounces. At the viewing window there was a collective moment where everyone’s eye descended on Julia, who, by any account was the largest baby in the nursery! “Look at the size of that baby” someone said. My chest puffed out and I said, “That’s mine!” All the tension of the day was gone. The moment was funny and sweet at the same time. She was bigger than the rest but also stunningly beautiful with long dark hair and a dimpled chin. What a beginning! I can transport myself back to that place and time with no effort and have an absolutely clear recollection of the moment and the thought always brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart.
  2. Nature always is a framework for happy memories for me. My wife and I were on a trip to California to attend a wedding. We flew into San Francisco and drove to Yosemite National Park and spent the night at the Ahwahnee Lodge. I had rented a convertible for the trip and the next morning as we were driving out of Yosemite Valley with the top down it started to snow! AND, the local NPR station was playing Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto…my favorite! I turned the radio up to 10 and as the snow fell on us, we looked over the majestic landscape of the Valley and relished the music which seemed to be in sync with the scene below. It was a heart-stopping moment and always a memory that brings with it calm and a smile.
  3. Several years ago, a group of friends joined my wife and I for a raft trip through the Grand Canyon. We slept open to the universe on the banks of the Colorado River and we woke with the sun and went to bed as it set for the night. One morning at about 5:30 a.m. we were up and washing up in the river as the sun rose. Across the river we heard an amazing noise and looked up to see an entire wall of the canyon the size of three football fields crash into the river! Fortunately, we were in no danger. Our guide, Sally, was awe struck! She exclaimed, “And that is how this river was formed over thousands of years and you just got to see something that very few humans have ever witnessed.” As the dust settled, I tried to take in what I had just witnessed. It was a profound moment to understand the forces of nature at work in that remarkable place. I can still feel the cold river water on my feet, the pink morning sky, and the incredible sound of the wall of rock crashing into the river.
  4. It was my first visit to Washington, D.C., and I found my way to all of the usual tourist spots. Many were impressive, if not awe inspiring, but when I approached the Lincoln Memorial, I experienced a deep sense of reverence. I have read and collected books about Lincoln for years and the flood of thoughts about this incredible man who spent his early and formative years in my home state of Indiana, overwhelmed me. My thoughts spanned the years from Lincoln’s time to the present and how that place had become iconic for reasons beyond the memorialization of Lincoln. Part of the process of stress reduction that I get from this memory is the realization of just how small and insignificant we are in the Big Picture. Knowing what Lincoln had to endure including the death of children, the Civil War and all its bloodshed, and on, easily diminish any problem I may be experiencing. (I do have to admit that I was tempted to wade in the Reflection Pool ala Forest Gump!)
  5. My partners make time for a planning retreat every other year and we have chosen the French Lick Springs Resort as the place to host our meetings. After several days of reckoning with the issues that routinely confront law firms a few years ago, we finished up with a dinner at the Pete Dye golf course club house which sits on top of a hill overlooking miles and miles of trees. As the evening deepened, we gathered on the patio around a fire with wine in hand and soon as we appreciated the quiet of the moment, not a word was spoken. Our collective sense of that time and place was that we were in the presence of true friends, not just partners, enjoying collectively a moment of immense satisfaction. Watching the sun set and the moon rise over the hills of southern Indiana with the fire crackling and those great people around me brought a profound sense of calm and peace.
  6. The first time I entered Muir Woods north of San Francisco, I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the coastal Redwoods, the quiet, and the feeling that you were in a natural cathedral. As I bring into focus the memory, I can put myself on the path through those giant trees and the quiet and calm of that place descends on me. I have made that visit many times since then and it is always the same feeling. I have discovered that you can walk into Muir Woods at about 7 a.m. when there is no one else there and the chance to commune with nature in that environment can’t help but bring about a worshipful feeling.

These six examples are intended to illustrate the approach I have taken to create a catalogue of happy and calming memories. I have more and depending on the situation, I try to call up the best memory for the moment. As a matter of trying to help you with the process of identifying the nostalgic moments that will work for you, I suggest that you think of family and friend memories, trip memories, special event memories, memories of special moments in nature, and anything else that automatically brings a sense of calm and smile to your face. Be intentional. Polish the memory and know that it is there when you need it. Learn to stop the stressful situation long enough to engage your nostalgia catalogue! Take a deep breath and drill down on a happy memory. Better than alcohol. Doesn’t require any equipment or medication. I hope you create your own catalogue of nostalgic memories and that you find them useful tools in combatting the stress that is part and parcel of our professional lives as well as our world today!