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How to Cope with Regret

Almost everyone makes mistakes in life. Whether your regrets are large – such as passing up a job opportunity – or on a smaller scale like saying something unkind to someone in the heat of the moment, developing the capacity to learn from and then letting go of regret is important.

Lingering regret can impact both your physical and emotional health. Physical symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, muscle pain and stress.

Constantly ruminating on past regret can lead to anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, poor self-esteem, and a sense of helplessness.

What causes regret?

Whenever a choice is present, regret is possible. Regret is a negative emotion that results when an individual believes that if they had changed a past action or behavior, it could have led to a different outcome.

Control and chance can play a role in whether you experience regret. The less control you have over an outcome, the more likely it is that you won’t experience regret. But when different options are possible – your chance of feeling regret may increase.

Here are some tips for letting go of regret:

  • Do not fixate over past mistakes. Scolding yourself for past mistakes will make it harder for you to move forward. Instead, use your mistake as an opportunity to learn and be motivated to make new and better choices.

  • Focus on creating new goals. Instead of fixating over past mistakes and making yourself feel bad, consider setting a new goal or plan for your future. Celebrate your accomplishment as a way to create positive reinforcement in your life.

  • Practice self-compassion. Extend the same kindness to yourself that you would give to a friend who made a mistake. You are not your mistakes. Remind yourself of all your positive traits, talents, and accomplishments. Use positive language when referring to yourself and confront your inner critic.

  • Stay active. Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety and depression. If you feel stuck in a cycle of regret, guilt, and shame, it may be a good idea to participate in some type of physical activity such as walking.

  • Take back your power. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings about your mistake gives you the opportunity to recognize and reframe the experience and put yourself back in the driver’s seat.

  • Practice mindfulness. Being present with your feelings allows you to learn how to accept unpleasant sensations. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to manage emotions fueled by anxiety, especially if you’re someone who struggles to acknowledge past mistakes.

  • Do something you enjoy. Reach out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take part in a hobby you like. Get going on that long-planned project that you set aside a while back. Positive distractions are helpful because it means you’ll be less likely to ruminate over past mistakes if you’re too busy enjoying yourself.

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