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Moving past regrets to live a healthier life

As a Geriatrician, I have found that living in regret can have damaging effects on the mind & body and can accelerate the ageing process…

As a Geriatrician, I have found that living in regret can have damaging effects on the mind & body and can accelerate the ageing process especially when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps people from engaging fully with life. If you get stuck blaming yourself and regretting past actions, this could turn into depression and damage your self-esteem.

Nothing is more heart breaking than seeing people at the latter part of their lives who have lived in a pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking that led to depression, mental health problems & an unhealthy painful (for them & their loved ones) old age.

It is important to make every effort to live a happy fruitful, fulfilled life that supports graceful ageing.

Constantly living in regret and ruminating:

• Damages your mind: it causes increased stress and depression.
• Damages your relationships: by building walls between you and the people most important in your life.
• Damages your health and can lead to premature aging and other medical conditions including cancer.
• Sometimes, damaging your career, spirit, and future happiness.

Does this daily recrimination and rumination in regret have any advantage? Well apart from helping you to make better choices and do better in the future, No, it doesn’t.

You CAN move past your regrets though and here are some tips about how to do this:

Do your best to repair what is broken. Is there any way you can make amends?

Since we can’t change the past, we can focus on transforming the present moment and positively impacting the future. If you have hurt someone, can you repair that relationship, for example? Focus on what you can control about your regret today.

“If there is nothing you can do to the situation especially if the situation is past, let it go”

Accept that you are human and all humans are fallible beings: All humans make mistakes and mistakes are how we learn, so you are not alone! Your regret shows that you care and that is a good thing. Prolonged regret, however, can interfere with all areas of your life – relationships, career, and health as described earlier. Prolonged regret is detrimental to healthy aging. It must be stopped in its tracks before it takes hold of your life. So accept you are human and that all humans make mistakes!

Put it into perspective: As powerful as you are and as much as you want to take all responsibility, you are not the most powerful being in the universe. Sometimes you have to accept that a greater being is in control and hand it over.

Stop the “I should have” or “I should not have”: Stop revisiting the unchangeable past! “If there is nothing you can do to change the situation, especially if the situation is past, pray about it & let it go. Seek out your mantra. Recite it to yourself and believe it. For example, “I am only human. I make mistakes. I am a wonderful human being. I am far wiser now” etc.

Oppose all negative self-talk: Listen to what you say about yourself and do not accept anything negative as a fact. Saying “I was really stupid to have done that” will only result in shame but if you are intentional in challenging such thoughts you can change it to something positive like “ I really could have done better and I will do it differently next time”. This changes the statement from shame to empowerment and releases you from the victimhood of regret.

Recognise what sets you off: These are called triggers. What triggers the shame, the negative thoughts, and the feelings of regret? It could be certain situations even certain people! Well, to be forewarned is to be forearmed! So arm yourself ahead of time with your positive statements and your mantra, or better still avoid those situations and those people until you feel empowered and strong enough.

Practice gratitude: Get a notepad and pen and write down at least three things that you are grateful for each day. Focus on positive things. You’ll notice a gradual shift in feeling calmer, freer, and happier.

Love yourself: Who am I and how do I want to be? Everyone has positive qualities. What are yours? What makes you special? Look for these things and embrace them. Cherish yourself. That makes it easier to forgive yourself, cast aside regret and move forward.

Apologise to anyone affected and forgive yourself: Do not allow yourself to be in a prison of resentment or bad feelings. Always remember that as a human being you are not perfect. This will help free your mind from guilt and regret.

Ask for help: If all else fails and you are still struggling, you could seek professional help from a counsellor or if there is someone in your life that you trust, you should try opening up to them. Sometimes a different perspective can help you to move on from where you currently are or a counsellor can help you to see that different perspective. Either way, do not stay stuck in that regret situation. It could end up damaging your life.


Dr. Olutoyin Ajala MBBS MRCP(UK) CCST(UK) is CEO & Lead Consultant Geriatrician, JBS Medicare Services. She also works as a frontline Consultant in the NHS in the UK

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