Article by Annie Daly — February 21, 2018

Think back to the last time you scrolled through your social media feeds (aka probably about 30 seconds ago). You probably saw a mix of strategically-placed smoothie bowls, people stretching their way into yoga poses you didn’t even know were possible, and a whole bunch of old photos of your friends when they were younger, rocking diapers or neon braces or flower-petal chokers from Claire’s.

Now about that last one.

While you’re probably already on Team #TBT—maybe post your own in honor of Instagram’s #throwbackthursday tradition or take a daily trip down memory lane with Timehop—what you may not know is there’s more to those ubiquitous #TBTs than cracking up about ridiculous ‘90s fashion trends. Experts say that revisiting old photos actually has major health benefits—so much so that you can use #TBTs as a form of self-care.

“Looking at old photos is a way to revisit and savor an experience we once had—and doing so increases our sense of purpose and overall wellbeing,” Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., Director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, California, tells Shine.

"Looking at old photos is a way to revisit and savor an experience we once had—and doing so increases our sense of purpose and overall wellbeing."
- Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

In fact, a 2012 study published in the journal Memory found that people who reflected on the past found more meaning in their current lives than those who didn’t. But why, exactly?

Researchers believe there are a few reasons a #TBT can work wonders on your psyche:


1. It makes you grateful for the people in your life.

friends-taking-selfie 925x

Chances are, when you wake up in the morning, you’re not thinking about your best friend from high school who was there for you when your first boyfriend dumped you. But that photo from Homecoming 2006 can serve as a visual reminder and make you feel more grateful for your friendship.

That’s a truth Timehop users know all too well. The app, which collects and distributes old photos and posts from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Dropbox, has millions of unique visitors every day—and Timehop exec Carissa Parrish says most of them work it into their morning gratitude routine. “It serves as this daily moment of gratitude and joy that helps set the tone for the day,” Parrish says.

2. It connects you with people.


Let’s go back to that same friend from high school. After you see a photo of her, you’ll probably feel grateful at first…but then what will you do? I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess that you may send the photo to her in a moment of pure joy.

In today’s digital world, remembering and sharing go hand in hand. Timehop has 7 million shares per month, meaning people reconnect over shared memories a whole lot—and experts say that social reconnection does wonders for your mental health.

Social reconnection does wonders for your mental health.

“When you see an old photo of yourself with someone in your life, you feel closer to that person—and that closeness prompts you to want to share it with them,” Rutledge says. “And through that act of sharing, you’re actually getting the mental health benefit of philanthropy, because you’re doing something with positive intentions—which is incredibly gratifying.”

Not only that, but your nostalgic exchange may just prompt you to rekindle your friendship and get together IRL, which, assuming she’s still great and cool, could bring you even more joy. Win win!

3. It helps you see past successes.


Let’s say you see that exactly one year ago today, you finished your first half marathon. Or you graduated from college. Or you got your first promotion at work. Actually seeing yourself do these things reminds you how capable you are, Rutledge says.

“As human beings, we like to see that we’re making forward progress and achieving competence,” she says. “When you see physical evidence of your accomplishments, you feel more competent and willing to take things on in the future, because you have evidence that you already have the tools to succeed—it’s incredibly validating.”

What’s more, seeing yourself succeed is much better than relying on others to validate you by liking your posts on social media.

"Seeing yourself succeed is much better than relying on others to validate you by liking your posts on social media."
- Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

“Seeing your past accomplishments reminds you of what YOU have done,” Rutledge says. “It’s much healthier than counting likes from other people because it’s internalized—you’re validating yourself.”

4. It reminds you how much you’ve grown.


As the one and only Ferris Bueller famously said, “Life moves pretty fast–if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” That line is overused, yes, but it’s just so true! And looking at old photos is the perfect way to “stop and look around,” because it helps you see just how far you’ve come.

“Timehop helps me realize just how fast my nephews are growing, which in turn is a measure of my life, as well,” says Parrish.

And beyond physical growth, you can see how you’ve grown emotionally, too. Some #TBTs can feel triggering—like a photo of a loved one who’s since passed away or a pic of toxic ex-partner. But those photos serve as a reminder of your resilience and ability to cope with the ups and downs of life. You can see how you’ve dealt with—or are still dealing with—a situation that at one point maybe felt impossible.

The next time you’re feeling stressed and out of sorts, don’t forget to look beyond the lavender bubble bath and the scented candles. One of the best forms of self-care may just be right there in your camera roll.

Read next: 5 Ways to Keep Happy Memories From Fading Fast