Contact me for psychotherapy, counselling & coaching in Sydney or online | [email protected] | M: +61 427 357 607

How unresolved regrets increase your stress levels

acceptance regret stress May 09, 2022

 There is enough to stress about in life without adding the stress of regret. Regret is a normal emotional experience which arises when you are dissatisfied with an outcome, when you perceive that a better outcome was available to you. Another way of considering regret is that it is a painful emotion, accompanied by actual or contemplated violation of internal values and rules in any given situation. Regret is also known as self-blame regret, which describes where the emotion is directed, towards the self.  


Believe it or not, research shows that the negative influence of regret is far greater than that of anxiety in terms of its impact on a person’s mental health.


Increased levels of self-blame regret is linked to higher levels of depression.


In my practice I see a lot of conscientious adults who blame themselves for not making better decisions, behaving better or blaming themselves for not feeling more content because they have achieved most of what they set out to achieve.


Just yesterday a client commented, “What’s wrong with me? From the outside looking in I have it all, yet I am miserable. I should be happy.” And yes, maybe someone else would be however my client has a number of regrets that have gone unacknowledged and have been hidden by busy-ness for many years. And she wouldn’t be alone.  


While self-blame regret is linked to depression it is also a powerful motivator for learning and change. To reduce the amount of regret you are holding on to, you can leverage current research from Daniel Pink and the World Regret Survey and take action. The results from the study are from more than 19,000 responses, from over 105 countries.


4 Types of regret

According to the research conducted by Daniel Pink and the World Regret Survey, there is more to regret than meets the eye. It is a multi-layered internal structure with 4 categories: foundation, boldness, moral, and connection. Each category has a lesson which you can act upon to reduce your regret.  


1. Foundation regrets

These regrets recognise your failure to be as responsible, conscientious, or prudent as you hoped you would and could be. Often, they leave you thinking, “If only I had done the work.”


Self-sabotage activities would fit into this category. For example, drinking too much at a function and behaving inappropriately, or not saving money when you had the chance to.


The lesson in these regrets is to plan ahead, put in the effort and start today.


2. Boldness regrets

This one relates to action not taken or opportunities you didn’t follow up. This could be in relationships, career or acquiring new skills. It could even be a possible sliding-doors moment. Often boldness regrets leave you saying to yourself, “If only I had taken that chance.”


Interestingly, according to the survey, inaction regrets outnumber action regrets by 2 to 1. Working with clients, there’s something empowering in being able to acknowledge what you want and sharing it with others, rather than dismissing it with rational thought. Afterall, what's the worst that can happen? If they say no, you are no worse off and you have acknowledged yourself! Experience tells me that dismissing your inner voice only leads to great trouble later.


The lesson in these regrets is to ask him/her out on a date, take the trip, start the business, or speak up on behalf of yourself or someone else.


3. Moral regrets

This regret reflects choices you made where you could have taken the high road, yet you chose the low road.


Moral regrets account for the least number of regrets in the study. According to the study only 10% of regrets collected fall into this category. However, while they may account for the least, they are the most varied and often, the most individually painful. They leave you reflecting, “If only I had done the right thing.”


The lesson in moral regret is when faced with a difficult choice, always take the high road. While it might be hard at the time, the pay-off is that you will experience less pain the long term.


4. Connection regrets

These regrets emerge when you neglect the people who matter to you most and who, when you are connected to them, help you to establish your sense of wholeness.


Connection regrets make up the largest category in the study, showing humans have a massive amount of regret about fractured or unrealized relationships. If you have connection regrets you may be saying something along these lines to yourself, “If only I had reached out.”


Connection regrets are either “open door”, i.e., you can still do something about it, or “closed door,” in which the circumstances are impossible to change. Closed door circumstances could be true when a person has passed away or is too ill to connect with you.


With ‘open door’ circumstances, you may often thwart your own attempts at relationship repair with flawed thinking. Flawed by hugely overestimating how awkward or bothered the other person will feel and underestimating how positively they may react to your attempt.


The lesson to be taken from a closed-door regret is learn from it and do better next time. If it’s an open-door regret, do something about it now before it becomes a closed-door regret.  


Regrets of adults over 65 years

If you need a different way to consider your potential regrets, Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist, who with his team interviewed 1,500 people over 65 about their biggest regrets and compiled this list.  

  1.  Not being careful enough when choosing a life partner
  2.  Not resolving a family estrangement
  3.  Putting off saying how you feel
  4.  Not traveling enough
  5.  Spending too much time worrying
  6.  Not being honest
  7.  Not taking enough career chances
  8.  Not taking care of your body


If you can recognise a few of these regrets in your list, it may be time to acknowledge and process them before they negatively impact you physically or emotionally. 


Holding on to regrets can increase your resting stress levels, making it harder to deal with your day-to-day stressors. If that is the case, you may be experiencing unexplained crankiness, disrupted sleep or an up-tick in negative self-talk. These are often the first symptoms my clients experience when they have not acknowledged or overcome their regrets.


The good news is that regrets can be overcome through acceptance and self-compassion which can sound terrifying if you are used to berating yourself for improved performance. With a trained counsellor or psychotherapist, you can overcome your regrets and learn healthier strategies so that you continue to develop and become a better version of yourself.


If you would like to address your regrets, book in a confidential call with me where you can explore the impact of your regrets and we can develop a plan together to overcome them.


50% Complete

Download my eBook: Strategies for Managing Your Emotions