Living with regret is complicated and can affect your mental health. Finding ways to cope with it can help you move forward.
Life is full of possibilities, and you might experience regret based on some choices you make. Regret is a negative emotional response related to what you could have done differently.
You might wonder what could have resulted from other options or if you could have avoided unfortunate occurrences. But you’re not alone. Studies show that people regret nearly one-third of every decision in one week.
Living with regret can feel unbearable, but there are ways you can cope with experiencing it.
Sometimes regret is fleeting, but there are ways you can stop living with regret, including the following:
1. Forgive yourself
Regret often stems from the inability to cope with thing you did or didn’t do. You might think you deserve the self-criticism and negativity, but that’s not true. Instead, forgiving yourself and practicing self-compassion can encourage self-improvement.
When you notice regret creeping in or experience ruminating thoughts, you can ease it with self-soothing talk. For example, you may tell yourself you’re still worthy of love and will engage in self-love, even if you believe you’ve made a mistake.
2. Try mental contrasting
Mental contrasting involves vividly imagining how things could have been if you made a different choice. You can take some time to envision what your life would look like now, allowing you to experience it mentally.
Then, you can consider what it would take to carry out that scenario now and determine if you can overcome the obstacles. If you think you can’t make it happen now, try to focus on acceptance and releasing thoughts of what could have been.
When reflecting on past decisions, try not to idealize the paths you didn’t take — telling yourself that things would be better if you made a different choice.
It’s not possible to know how life would have gone if you took a different path, but your journey isn’t over. Try to focus on the paths ahead of you that positively impact your well-being.
3. Make amends
If your regretful behavior hurts someone, it can be difficult to develop a positive relationship. Consider making amends by offering a genuine apology to the other person.
Try to listen to what the other person is saying and allow them space to express their feelings without judgment. This may help you understand the root cause of their emotions.
If you’re the person who was hurt has passed away, consider writing a letter expressing your regret. After writing your letter, you can either tear it up or burn it as a sign of release.
4. Don’t avoid or wallow the feeling
It can be difficult to experience unwanted thoughts and feelings, which can lead to engaging in activities that may distract you from the present moment.
If you notice that you’re looking for ways to avoid feelings of regret, try to take a moment to experience sensations and emotions that arise. This can be achieved by practicing mindfulness daily or speaking with a trusted mental health professional.
5. Find the positive aspects of your current situation
You might experience regret because your current situation isn’t working how you hoped it would. But finding some positive aspects may help you shift your mindset. The positive aspects you look for could be small experiences that help you feel better.
Living with regret can impact your mental health. Some of the impacts include:
- Depression and lower life satisfaction:
Experts indicatethat regret can contribute to decreased well-being. It can lead to depression and overall lower life satisfaction.
- Increased anxiety: Studies show that regret can contribute to anxiety and feeling stuck. Not knowing what life could have been like can lead to fixating and overthinking.
- Lowers self-esteem and confidence: Dr. Joann Mundin, MD, explains, “Regret can also affect an individual’s self-esteem and confidence, making it difficult to move on from the past and engage in new experiences.”
- Lacking motivation and feeling hopeless: Regret can prevent you from working toward your goals, leading to a lack of motivation. Mundin explains that “living with regret can lead to a lack of motivation and a sense of hopelessness about the future.”
Living with regret can impact your life, affecting your physical and emotional health.
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings due to regret, consider options, such as practicing forgiveness or focusing on positive aspects of your life, to help you cope
Everyone experiences regret, but it doesn’t have to consume your thoughts. You can change how you view the options you didn’t take and learn to focus on your values.