Yearning For The Early COVID Days? Why Quarantine Nostalgia Is At An All-Time High

March 2020 was a weird month. Although the word "Coronavirus," was already part of our vocabulary and China had become the first country to enact any sort of lockdown just a month before, in the United States we were still going about our lives. But as March progressed, things started to get unnerving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a handful of COVID-19 cases in various states and cruise ships all over the world weren't allowed to disembark due to one or two COVID-19-infected passengers.

By mid-March, schools began to close, including the country's largest system, the New York City public school district, and the term "social distancing" became part of our vernacular. Masks were the "it" thing to wear if you dared to leave your house. When March 2020  ended, all non-essential businesses in most states were closed and almost everyone was at home. Some lost their jobs, while others had to learn how to work remotely. At the time, we couldn't have possibly imagined what the COVID-19 pandemic had in store for us in the coming months, particularly its death toll.

For that brief moment, we were all blissfully ignorant. Even if that ignorance included sanitizing groceries, fighting over toilet paper and peanut butter, and socializing via "Zoomtinis" and "Skypéros," and braless donning our favorite pajamas or sweatpants. We lived in unprecedented times and had no idea just how unprecedented as it was happening. And because we didn't know, there was a strange coziness to it, and an excuse to literally do nothing, to just be. Oh, the days of quarantine.

What is quarantine nostalgia?

Although the pandemic isn't over and people are still dying from COVID-19, quarantine is behind us — at least for now. Long gone are the days of sharing sourdough starters with neighbors you'd never met before, the nightly cheering for essential workers, getting to know the bizarre world of Joe Exotic, and weeks spent binge-watching "The Office." And while we never, in a million years, thought we'd miss those lockdowns, apparently, some people do.

Since 2021, "quarantine nostalgia" is a term that's been tossed around by both those who legitimately miss that time and by experts who have seen it in patients. With 84 billion views on TikTok, quarantine nostalgia has become something that people are experiencing. In March, April, and even part of May of 2020, no one really knew what to do with themselves, and although there was a sense of loneliness about it, there was also the realization that you weren't alone at all because the whole world was quarantining. Well, except Sweden and a few other countries. It was the opportunity to do nothing at all or get really weird and creative. A man in California spent hours making a paper-mâché Dorito chip to trick his girlfriend! Will we ever see such creativity again? Probably not.

Why is it happening so much now?

While there are those who've been nostalgic for quarantine for a couple of years, it's reached an all-time high because this month marks three years since worldwide quarantines kicked in. If you look back at your social media or your phone's camera circa March 2020, you'll likely see some pretty interesting stuff — stuff that was novel and even fun, before we all got a bit batty by July and August.

When we look at 2020 and consider how things evolved, all that's changed, and when it comes to where we are now compared to then, we can say we've come quite a long way. Even if some of that stuff was wacky, sad, or terrifying at times. We lived through quarantine and came out the other side, and enough time has passed for us to, well, miss it. We miss the opportunity to do nothing, be emotional, and lean into whatever we had on our mind all because we were living during a worldwide pandemic — and that's what one does!

These feelings could also be occurring now because, even if most of us are unaware, three is an important number for us humans. Shakespeare used the repetition of the number three to demonstrate impending bad luck, Greek philosophers considered three the ideal number because to them it represented understanding, harmony, and wisdom. According to the rules of Feng Shui, three stands for happiness and pleasure. Basically, good or bad, threes have their significance, and here we are at year three.

How to know you have quarantine nostalgia

If you want to know if you have a case of quarantine nostalgia, look down. What are you wearing? Soft pants? Can you remember the last time you put on anything but sweatpants or pajamas without being annoyed? That's a sign right there. Now, look over at your kitchen. Do you see a sourdough starter that you've been patiently waiting to rise or a few loaves of banana bread on the counter with your neighbors' names on them? That's another sign. Have you taken to TikTok to post about how much you miss quarantine? Yes? Okay, then you're definitely in the throes of nostalgia. But don't feel bad or judge yourself, as you're clearly not alone. Being nostalgic for days long gone is a reasonable thing to do. Even romanticizing something that was fairly traumatic for a lot of people is also normal. 

"It's a coping mechanism," professor of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience at Duke University Felipe de Brigard told The New York Times. "You have to carry your past with you. If a memory hurt every time that you recalled it as much as when you experienced it, that would be unbearable."

Even if you don't realize it, there's a good chance you're blocking out the fear that came with the uncertainty of those days, and because of that, you're missing only the parts your brain has chosen to remember — the good stuff.

How to deal with quarantine nostalgia

Wanting to be back in a very unique part of history makes sense. Since experts predict that we probably, emphasis on probably, won't see another pandemic of COVID-19 magnitude or that of the 1920 Spanish Flu, it's safe to assume our worldwide quarantine days are behind us. While that's good, especially for those who really mentally struggled, it can make anyone who fondly remembers the highlights nostalgic, as we know it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But just because it's over, doesn't mean we need to let go of all aspects of it.

If you find yourself daydreaming about quarantine, bring pieces of it back into your life. Bake, cook, create, have those Quarintinis with your friends even if they only live just a couple blocks away, and spend a whole weekend in your jammies. Don't try to fight your feelings or the emotions you have attached to COVID quarantine. We were all deeply affected in our own ways and how we heal, and bounce back is our own personal journey. If that journey takes you toward making a prom dress out of toilet paper, after pretending you fought for it at Duane Reade, then do it. There's no right or wrong way to make peace with something you'll never have again.