How to Deal With Regret

Kristin Hall

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Rachel Sacks

Updated 12/31/2022

When was the last time you thought, “I wish I had…” or “If only I had…”? One “fun” part of being human that we all get to deal with is regret. If you’ve been on this planet for any number of years, there’s a very good chance you have regrets.

Feeling guilt is a normal human response and we may hold on to our regrets, even if they’re from years ago. Sometimes regret can help us. But holding on to guilt and regret isn’t always a good thing for our mental health.

This guide can help you learn how to deal with regret and guilt so you can move forward and lead a happier and healthier life.

To learn how to deal with regret, a good first step is understanding what regret is.

Regret is a negative emotion focused on blaming ourselves for a particular outcome, feeling sadness or loss over what might or could have been or wanting to undo a past choice.

Regret is considered a type of counterfactual thinking, or the kind of thinking that results in you imagining how your life could have turned out differently. Counterfactual thinking can be positive and felt as relief (feeling thankful you avoided disaster) but often involves feelings of regret or disappointment.

Or we might feel negative emotions when thinking about poor decisions made in the past or how we were treated or how treated others. 

For instance, studies have found that women are more likely to have regret over past romantic relationships than men.

We’re also more likely to regret actions we didn’t take further back in the past (over long periods), like missing out on a relationship or making a wrong choice for our career path.

Painful experiences can often lead to painful emotions. We might feel negative emotions if we’re focused on the belief that a past event could have been changed for a different outcome.

One of the reasons regret feels as bad as it does and causes guilt is that part of regret involves self-blame or blaming ourselves for the choices we made. Maybe if you had made a different choice or taken a different action, you could have avoided a painful result (or created a more favorable one).

Regret and guilt can have negative effects on mental and physical health if you continuously ruminate on what could have been. Repetitive, negative thinking is often a symptom of depression — whether regret or this mental health disorder causes it.

Holding on to regrets can also negatively affect your physical health, resulting in chronic stress and impacting your hormones and immune system. 

When we keep replaying past events in our head or are constantly thinking “could have, should have, would have,” we keep ourselves from properly recovering and moving on with life.

But there can be a positive aspect to regret in that people see regret as a more favorable negative emotion. Research has found that regret was useful in helping people:

  • Make sense of the world

  • Gain insight

  • Avoid future negative behaviors or future regrets

  • Improve ability to approach or achieve what we want

When used well or when we learn from our past choices and regrets, we can better understand how to achieve what we want or avoid future regrets.

Knowing how to deal with regret and guilt can allow us to move past any lingering negative feelings, as well as avoid future regrets. 

Keep reading to learn how to deal with guilt and regret.

While regret may be a universal feeling, learning how to deal with guilt and regret can help you move forward with your life.

As we mentioned above, regret can be used as a functional tool to learn from your past and avoid future regrets. 

Research has even found that both a regretful experience and anticipated future regrets can influence you to make better decisions in the present.

Acknowledging what you’re feeling and embracing your emotions can help you accept what’s going on with you. Certain types of therapy — like acceptance and commitment therapy — work to help you deal with what’s causing you distress by learning to accept inner emotions.

If we’re constantly thinking about the past, we may be struggling to let go. But letting go can help us move forward, especially if there’s nothing you can do to change regretful actions that may have caused harm.

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Regret is a normal human emotion that we all experience. Whether looking back at past bad choices and wishing we’d done something differently or having career regret about our path (or regret about everything in between), regret and the guilt that might come with it are powerful emotions.

But learning how to deal with regret and guilt can be beneficial for us in many ways. By embracing our emotions as they are, learning from our past and forgiving ourselves, we can make healthier choices and avoid future regrets.

If regret or guilt is causing you severe emotional distress or constantly ruminating on the past interferes with your daily life, talking to a mental health professional could also help.

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Greenberg, M. (2012, May 16). The Psychology of Regret. Psychology Today. Retrieved from
  2. Counterfactual thinking. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from
  3. Roese, N. J., Pennington, G. L., Coleman, J., Janicki, M., Li, N. P., & Kenrick, D. T. (2006). Sex differences in regret: all for love or some for lust?. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 32(6), 770–780. Retrieved from
  4. Roese, N. J., & Summerville, A. (2005). What we regret most... and why. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 31(9), 1273–1285. Retrieved from
  5. Inability to shake regrets can have effects on physical health. (2011, March 1). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from
  6. Learning to Use Regret. (2010, May 1). Kellogg Insight. Retrieved from
  7. Joseph-Williams, N., Edwards, A., & Elwyn, G. (2010, September 23). The importance and complexity of regret in the measurement of ‘good’ decisions: a systematic review and a content analysis of existing assessment instruments. Health Expectations, 14(1), 59-83. Retrieved from
  8. Shpancer, N. (2010, September 8). Emotional Acceptance: Why Feeling Bad is Good. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kristin Hall, FNP

Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership. 

She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH

Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare. 

Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.

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