About the Aware Blog. Each month we will post an article on a range of topics relating in some way to Depression. A blog post may be the author’s personal experience, a reaction to public events, or views on how better we can support ourselves and others who experience depression or related mood disorders. Each of our posts will be from an individual viewpoint, this means that some blog posts may not reflect official Aware policy.
Blog Entry September 24th by Lara
What to do when faced with a regret that feels so big, it’s crushing you?
At this time of year, as the days shorten and the mornings take on that crisp autumnal bite, it’s natural to feel nostalgic. Holidays have ended, kids are back in school, and people are refocusing on their goals and accomplishments for the year.
The difficulty comes when all you feel is regret, either for mistakes made or opportunities missed. Regret is not in and of itself a bad thing; in small doses and within the right context, it can help you become a better person. But when regret becomes all-encompassing, you stop engaging with the present at the behest of an unchangeable past.
So what to do when faced with a regret that feels so big, it’s crushing you?
1. Grieve, but don’t dwell.
Regret comes from a sense of lost opportunity, and like any loss, deserves to be grieved. This is healthy. But once you start to dwell, regret proves toxic: you feel stressed and sad and find it hard to stay mindful, and this will affect your work, your relationships, and your physical health. By dwelling, you allow the past to have undue influence on the present. Acknowledge your pain, but also acknowledge that it is in your best interest to put it aside. Consider channelling your negative feelings into something creative, like writing or drawing, if those forms of expression help you.
2. Recognise the regret, and learn from it.
Regret is, fundamentally, a learning tool, exposing behaviours we don’t want to repeat, so parlay your regret into a crash course in getting to know yourself: Do you regret something you have done, or something you didn’t do? Even if that specific opportunity has passed, there is a good chance that other circumstances will arise to which you can apply what you have learned, and make your life better for it.
3. Forgive yourself.
Our circumstances can change so much from year to year, that the person you were five years ago can seem like a stranger to the person you’ve become. Life refigures our character as we live it, so it is impossible to apply what you know now to what you knew then. We try to do the best with what we have available to us at the time, and sometimes we make the wrong decisions. This happens to everyone. Forgive yourself. You are your toughest critic, and you need to be your best friend, and let your past enrich you, not hold you back.
Sometimes regrets have to do with the way we have treated others. If this is the case, and you think it would help, seek forgiveness from the person you feel you’ve wronged, too.
4. Solicit outside opinions.
If you are having trouble forgiving yourself, ask for feedback from your friends, family, or therapist. Their distance from the situation that caused your regret will help you see it in a new light, and their support and compassion can offer positive examples of how you should be treating yourself.
5. Move on.
Remember that every day presents us with new opportunities, and very few situations are as dire as they seem to us at the time. Mistakes are missteps on the road to self-discovery.
Own your regret, but don’t let it define you. Instead, live today, knowing where you have come from, and how that informs where you want to go.