Have you ever been looking through old photographs or listening to a song and found yourself reminiscing and smiling at positive memories from your past? This scenario of recalling positive memories in order to re-experience happy events and emotions is an example of positive reminiscence.
Positive reminiscence has shown great potential in reducing feelings of agitation, depression, isolation and stress. In fact, as a therapeutic tool, positive reminiscence is often used in the treatment of people living with dementia to improve their mood and to reduce their feelings of loneliness.
Positive reminiscence can also be helpful for people who are struggling with their mental health. It can be used to strengthen our feelings of self-identity and self-worth, to re-establish control over our lives, and to recollect past coping skills or strategies that can be repeated if we are feeling distressed.
Reminiscence VS. Rumination
While reminiscing can be a positive experience, it can also be unhelpful if we find ourselves ruminating about a problem or a negative event from our past that is upsetting. If you have experienced this, then you will be familiar with how debilitating ruminating can be, particularly at night when you are trying to sleep.
Instead of solving our problem, or reducing our feelings agitation, depression, isolation and stress, rumination can leave us caught in a tangle of negative thoughts. If you find yourself ruminating, it can be helpful to distract yourself, for example, going outside for exercise, listening to relaxing music, playing a video game, speaking with supportive people, or watching a TV show.
Looking For Exceptions
Another way to counter rumination is with positive reminiscence, such as looking for exceptions: times when a problem could have happened, but it did not. Looking for exceptions can be helpful when we cannot think of past coping skills or strategies that can be repeated.
Working backwards, we can trace what we have done in the past, perhaps without realising, to relieve our distress, to solve difficult situations or to achieve our goals. Looking for exceptions can help us to recognise that we, in fact, have skills and strategies that we can mobilise to deal with present challenges.
This exercise can improve our feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy. It also reminds us that every difficult situation or distressing sensation is a temporary experience.