By Dr. Anthony Policastro

I hear many sermons at church. There is one from about 20 years ago that made such an impression that I still remember it. 

The topic was about people wasting their time saying things like “If only…” or “What if…” The idea was that “if only” things are gone. Holding onto them will not change them. The “what if” things may never happen. Therefore, they are pure speculation.

Recently, I attended the high school graduation ceremony of two of my grandchildren. Their school superintendent talked in a similar fashion. He said thinking about the past is depression. Thinking about the future is anxiety.

When you think about it, all of this is related and makes sense. When we face a loss, we go through the stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, mourning and acceptance.

A statement like “if only” suggests that there is still bargaining going on about a previous loss. The individual has not yet come to terms with that loss. Therefore, by obsessing about it, there is a thought that perhaps it might change.

That is not ever going to happen. Getting stuck at bargaining in the mourning process is in actuality a form of depression. The school superintendent may not have meant it exactly that way, but he was correct.

There are reasons to look at “what if” scenarios. Planning things sometimes require those kinds of situations to be addressed. However, worrying about things that are unnecessary for planning purposes creates unneeded stress.

For example, making contingency plans for the weather for an outdoor event makes sense. However, worrying about the weather for each and every upcoming event is unnecessary. That is especially true if the worrying begins when the 10 day forecast first comes out.

An early prediction of bad weather is likely to be incorrect. If that weather is not going to affect the event anyway, the weather report is of no value that far out. 

There are often situations where people spend their time and energy wondering about scenarios that are very unlikely to occur. As the school superintendent implied worrying about things that might happen only creates undue anxiety.

It appears that sometimes priests and school superintendents might be more introspective than the rest of us. We would all do well to learn from their advice.