Acres of flower fields stretch into the horizon as you frolic in the amber glow of the afternoon sun. After foraging for an assortment of plants, you return to your secluded cottage to bake a crusty loaf of sourdough bread and sip on a cup of herbal tea.
The worries of the pandemic seem a world away from this fairy tale dreamscape, and yet for many people, it has become a welcome escape from the drudgery of lockdown living during the pandemic.
Cottagecore, an internet subculture that romanticizes historical rural living, skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic, with millions logging into “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to create their own virtual gardens and listening to Taylor Swift’s nostalgic album “Folklore.”
Stress is triggered during periods of great change or upheaval, so it’s not surprising that people are turning to cottagecore during this time, said Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
“Longing for simpler situations, simpler time periods or simpler ways of living is an effort to balance out and to counteract the effects of high intense stress,” Batcho said.
Core elements of psychological well-being like visiting with family and friends were suddenly ripped away in March, with significant impacts on people’s mental health and stability.
Humans can adapt, Batcho said, but as the pandemic stretched on, the heightened uncertainty served as a catalyst for yearning for a less complicated life.
For some, that manifested itself in the form of cottagecore. People nursed sourdough starters to make homemade bread while others picked up a shovel to start their own gardens.
Nostalgia for a bygone era
This romantic dreamland is fed with a hefty dose of nostalgia but not necessarily from people’s own lives, Batcho said. Instead, it is likely created from historical nostalgia, she noted, which is a longing for a time in which people didn’t actually live.
Someone living in the city who wants to move to the country could be thinking, “I’m pretty sure that people who have lived that way have enjoyed life in a better way than I’m enjoying city life right now,” Batcho said.
The past is often gazed upon with rose-colored glasses, an idyll people build in their heads with information from movies and books they’ve consumed, she said.
While lost in the reverie of quaint cottages and rolling hills, the realities of country living can be forgotten, said Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California.
“Even something as simple as raising chickens might seem like an easy thing, but even chickens take tender loving care and maintenance,” Manly said.
Social media meets the wilderness
There are some people who are able to balance on the tightrope between illusion and reality. Rebecca Stice, a 34-year-old blogger and content creator, has been weaving her own cottagecore fantasies in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, since moving there from the United States over five years ago.
Her Instagram account @aclotheshorse is filled with photos of Stice exploring lush Irish forests and ruins, her red hair piercing through the untamed landscape. Most of her photos are taken within 10 miles of her home in Armagh County due to the various lockdowns the United Kingdom has imposed over the past year, she said.
A couple years ago, her followers began labeling her content as cottagecore, and the word stuck, Stice said.
During the pandemic, she launched a TikTok account filled with videos of her running through the Irish wilderness or identifying certain plants. In 10 months, she has amassed over 700,000 followers, which Stice attributes to people’s recent fascination with the romantic subculture.
Practicing cottagecore at home
As much as a life filled with gallivanting across the countryside picking berries and baking scones might sound ideal, most people have responsibilities at home.
There are ways to bring the magic of cottagecore into your daily life, Manly said.
She recommended looking at photos with the cottagecore aesthetic and making a vision board of your favorites. When you look at the pictures, you can transport yourself to a place that is less stressful, she said.
Stice said she finds beauty in creating images that bring some of the good of the past to others.
“It’s brilliant to be able to upload things and then people can escape into those scenes in nature, however briefly,” Stice said.
Manly is also a strong advocate of gardening. Her safe space she envisions in her head is a lavender field in France, and in her garden, she grows and dries her own lavender.
“If somebody is having a difficult time, I’ll tie a bow around a segment of it and give it to them as a reminder that I’m thinking of them,” Manly said.
Another way to escape the tough realities of today’s world is to slow yourself down throughout the day, she said. This can mean having a cup of tea in the morning instead of scrolling through your phone or going for a walk in nature instead of turning on the news.
In Stice’s village, she said most people who grew up there “are desperate to get out of it.” When she posts a photo on Instagram of her daily walks, she said she has had community members come up to her asking where she took it. Stice responds, “literally five minutes from your house.”
She said they didn’t realize the beauty around them “because they don’t really spend time appreciating it.”
Manly grounds herself with morning walks, which she said is an essential part of her self-care.
“When we appreciate something, we don’t take it for granted, and we do our best with what we have,” Manly said.