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5 Steps to Find Peace Instead of Stressing About the Future

“If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.” ~Unknown

I was entering a completely new stage in my life. It could have been the beginning of something great, but it was entirely foreign to me. I could handle being productive, I could handle struggling to survive, but what was hard to handle was wading through the unknown.

After working for six months in Italy and six months in Brazil I was back in the US—floating. I didn’t feel any closer to having a career. I was without a car, job, and permanent housing. My boyfriend still lived in Brazil, and my friends were scattered around the globe.

I didn’t yet have the answer for who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do.

I had such high expectations for my return to the US. I had spent the last year working small jobs in Italy and Brazil like teaching English, being a personal assistant, and whatever freelance crumbs I could gather.

I was sure coming back to my home country would give me the luxury of landing a job I would love with an international company. No such luck.

So, for the first month I was helping my mom settle in her new apartment, and then I was on the other side of the country for two weeks to give some emotional support to my sister while she finished up her last semester of college.

I was helping people make it through their daily processes. So far, that’s all the direction and answers I had.

I was happy to be helpful and supportive of my loved ones, but to my goal-oriented mind, I felt like a failure.

I was having trouble sleeping at night. I found myself awake in the wee hours of the morning with 13 tabs open trying to research and apply for jobs, while emailing contacts and just generally having a panic attack.

The days were passing rapidly as I sat numbly pecking at my computer from dawn to dusk without significant results and definitely no peace of mind. I was busy, but not productive.

My mind was divided between trying to solidify my future and beating myself up for not having made a solid plan sooner. Would I ever be successful? What if I never found a job I liked? How could I live around the world and make money at the same time?

I didn’t have answers and it was driving me crazy. I was in uncharted waters and I felt totally lost. 

I felt like I was supposed to be getting a real job, supposed to know what I want to do with my life, supposed to be saving money to have a life outside the US.

Or was I?

Just because my life wasn’t fitting into my plans, was I doing something wrong?

Or, what if everything was going exactly according to schedule, but I was missing the beauty of it because I was stuck on what should be happening?

By rejecting my life as it was, I was missing out on the gifts of now—on helping my mom hang the pictures in her new apartment, on sitting with my sister while she did her American History homework, on seeing old friends and simply being present with them.

When I came to this realization, I decided to change. My anxiety about the future was making me miserable. I discovered that these 5 steps help me stop panicking and get back to the beauty of the moment.

1. Breathe.

Just stop and take a big breath. Then take another one. Continue doing this all day. It is amazing how much deep breathing has helped me to calm down when my mind is in a panic about the future or the past. As you breath slowly and deeply, it helps to slow your thoughts as well.

2. Be intentional.

When I tend to my true responsibilities, I feel much more at peace. When I am intentional about my choices, it is easier to live in concordance with my values and interests. To keep myself in check, I ask myself: What do I truly need to do but am avoiding? What do I need to at that moment?

3. Focus on abundance and not on scarcity.

It is often said that what you focus on expands. When I focus on scarcity, I will always be able to find things that are not perfect, areas that are lacking in some area of my life. When I focus on the abundance around me, my perspective improves and I am able to be grateful for what I have now. It even enables me to imagine more good entering my life in the future.

4. Take good care of yourself.

It is hard to be my personal best when I am neglecting my body. I found that I am better equipped to face challenges and uncertainty by getting centered first. If your body is feeling healthy and cared for, it will be much easier to take care of your other needs during times of transition and uncertainty.

5. Let Go.

Every day I need to let go of my expectations, my worries about the future, and my regrets about the past. When I am focusing on the past or fearing the future, it is difficult to have peace in the present. We often need to let go of what we think should be happening so that we can enjoy what is happening.

Letting go is not one-time step, but a process that needs to be repeatedly chosen moment by moment.

The truth is, our lives are encapsulated within each passing moment. The present is the only thing we can affect, savor, and fully dive into.

Life takes unexpected turns; we block ourselves from the beauty and lessons of life’s circumstances by resisting and rejecting our lives because they are not what we expected or planned on.

I still don’t have all the answers, but I am focusing on staying peaceful and enjoying the moments for what they have to offer. I choose to trust that all is well and that my life is happening just the way it needs to, even if I don’t know why.

Maybe you are in uncharted waters right now. Although it might not be fun or easy, it will definitely stretch you. Although we all like a happy ending, it’s the luscious middle that makes the ending meaningful.

There could be incredibly great things waiting for you to slow down, open your eyes, and let go enough to be present in the moment.

Photo by Justin Ornellas

Avatar of Lacy Edney

About Lacy Edney

Lacy is a travel writer, world traveler, and Italian travel consultant who lives in a triangle between Italy, Brazil, and California. She is obsessed with adventures and learning to let go and let God. Read her travel writing at lacyedney.wordpress.com and learn basic Italian at http://italiandreamtrip.com/.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1184004500 Joseph Mackay

    Insightful. Living consciously and focusing on the joy and simplicity of the abundance we have in gratitude is the very best way to begin to turn around a negative pattern. I am looking forward to reading someday, how the story ends.

  • Stephanie

    I’m floating right now and definitely stressing about what I “should” be doing. I’ve even written an article on a similar topic for Tiny Buddha, but I’m having trouble listening to my own advice…so I’m going to try listening to yours haha thanks, and I wish you the best of luck with everything!

  • boosh

    I am in almost the exact situation Lacy. After living in South America for 2 years I came back to the US and worked and lived with my mom (eek!) for about a year and a half. I couldn’t wait to travel again! I teach ESL so I decided to come to Europe to visit some of my former students and friends I met while teaching in the US. As soon as I got here I fell into a huge panic, just like you did. I am still here and even though I am seeing a bunch of cool things I am constantly stressed about the future, what am I going to do for work? Where am I going to live? When am I going to leave Europe? Where in Europe am I going to go next and where will I stay? I also feel like I should have accomplished more by now in my life, have more money, more stability. I have no plan. I don’t know what I want to do. I am totally confused and I feel badly because here I am in these awesome places and I can’t enjoy them because I am so stressed about what’s going to happen next. I am also freaked out about money, constantly. Fear breeds fear I know but I can’t shake this. I am also traveling alone which makes me feel even more lonely. Any more words of wisdom?

  • Sarah

    Lacy, I loved your post here! Quite inspiring and beautifully written. This article hit home for me and I thank you for the direction and encouragement. The BEST part was seeing your radiant smile in your photo at the end of the article. Simply amazing is the joy and beauty your smile brought to me! Keep smiling and sharing your strength through that smile! Thanks to Lori for posting this!!!

  • lilewok

    I feel exactly the same way. I made a huge life change a couple of years ago, and have focused on being present. I have used yoga and meditation to help me stay centered and present in my life. I enjoy where I am now, but am still wondering what the next 6 months will bring, or Aug, when my only daughter leaves for college. I stay positive in the fact that the right opportunity will present itself, if I stay present.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Thanks Joseph! It takes focus, but simplifying and being grateful for the way my life is unfolding has been the key to enjoying my life and being happy even when life doesn’t meet my expectations. I look forward to discovering where my story goes from here as well! :)

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    I’ve definitely struggled with my share of stressing and shoulds, in fact I still do from time to time. When I get into that place I read lots of articles in order to get myself back on track. It is normal to stress when we are floating, but I believe that amazing things are born out of transitional periods like this. Best wishes to you Stephanie. p.s. I would love to read your article on Tiny Buddha!

  • http://optimalternative.com/ Mark B Hoover

    Hi Lacy. I believe, as thinking beings, we are never going to be free of anxiety about the future. We are, by virtue of evolution, products of our environment and subject to constant change. Everything that happens to us on a daily basis triggers the need to respond. We are part of the flow and cannot escape into stasis, with the exception of cryogenics…and there is no certainty of suspension of thoughts even then.

    I also don’t have all the answers. I am thankful for that. It pretty much dovetails into the quote by Richard Bach, “Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.” Even so, when comes a point [or points] in life when we just sit back and enjoy the blooms of flowers we have planted? Your list allows for that. Learning to let go enables us to reorganize and prioritize our baggage. Although I am most apprehensive of complacency, I am working on allowing myself the luxury of just.letting.go. Perhaps I don’t need that extra suitcase after all.

    I am thankful for uncharted waters. Without them no islands can be found. No new frontiers. We are so caught up in immediacy these days that we fail to appreciate momentary uncertainty…to enjoy the journey. Even uncharted waters have calm times, giving us a chance to adjust our bearings. Still waters provide mirrors. That, in turn, offers a time for reflection. Nature, by its very nature, is never in a hurry. We do well to observe, appreciate and emulate.

    I wish you well on your continued journey, rest stops and all.

    ~ Mark

  • Renee

    Hi Lacy,

    Thanks so much for writing this. I am in a sort of opposite situation where I have a secure job and have been in the same city for all of my life, but I’m yearning to travel, write and work abroad. I am wishing for opportunities like you have had, to have a time in my life to ‘float’! What I dread is a future with no adventure, no experiencing new cultures or trying out different careers.

    This was a good reminder that when (if) I do have those, the anxiety will not necessarily go away. Uncertainty and certainty can both bring stress unless one is practising presence.

    Ah, I see you have already subscribed to my own blog! So, you will be an inspiration for me as I follow you on yours.

    All the best!

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    It sounds like you are definitely on the right track! Living with uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges in my own life, but I keep reminding myself that that uncertainly also leaves the door open for so many unexpectedly good things to enter my life. I wish you the best life has to offer :)

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Thank you Sarah! I was a bit nervous about sharing my writing, but it is amazing the abundance that comes when you can share your struggles and be vulnerable with others. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! :)

  • http://www.mccormickmurphy.com/practice-areas/colorado-car-accident-lawyer/ Denver Car Accident Lawyers

    #5 is huge for me. I have to let go, otherwise I’ll never be happy.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Me too! I have to keep choosing to let go. That is the only thing that will free my mind so I can be happy and present in the moment.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Hi boosh, I can definitely relate to where you are at. I’ve experienced all of those shoulds: that I should have accomplished more by now, should have more money and more stability.
    I truly believe you are on the right path! There is a plan for your life…even though you haven’t discovered it yet. From what you’ve mentioned so far, you really have accomplished a lot. You are rich in experiences and have seen more of the world than most people will in a lifetime.
    I understand the fears and anxiety about where to live, who to work for, and fears about money in general. That has been my life for just about the last year. I guess the biggest help for me was accepting my situation just as it was….and then taking it a step farther and being grateful for my situation just as it was. Being grateful for the good and the bad parts of it. Instead of frantically searching for the answers, I had to let go and really focus my attention on being present and appreciating my life for exactly what it was. How you feel and what you are experiencing right now is okay, it’s valid, and it might be just what you need to get to you to where you want to be.

    It has also helped me to remember that this stage is a piece of my life, not the whole pie.

    I wish you all the best on your journey. If you would like to keep in touch, you can also reach me on my travel blog.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Hi Renee,
    You are most welcome! I think that dealing with anxiety is a lifelong challenge. From my side of the situation (the floating, uncertain side) I would still recommend getting out there! The uncertainty is scary sometimes, but the adventures and wonderful experiences lie in this realm as well, and I believe it totally worth it!

    Thanks for commenting. You also reminded me that a stable job and security don’t necessarily provide total peace and happiness either. I believe true peace and happiness come from accepting ourselves and our lives just as they are so that we can be present in the moment and take that next right step!

  • http://twitter.com/cassandra_key Cassandra Key

    I love this: “The present is the only thing we can affect, savor, and fully dive into.” I need to write that down because it holds so much truth and peace. I’m floating too, but I’ve come to find this area between past and future so rich in beauty and knowledge, if we just stop long enough to look at it. I call it the sacred middle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vijay.mariappan Vijay Mariappan

    Amazing…

  • Nelsilya Huang

    Your post sounds familiar to me. Thank you for writing this beautiful post! Also, I want to add up something: Be present. Because the more present you are, the more certain you will be about what to do! And Lacy, are you still interested in teaching English? Maybe you want to try China, it’s a beautiful country and there are a lot of things to explore! I’m going to China next year and I’m not sure what will happen next, but I trust that everything will be just fine. Let me know if you’re coming! :)

  • http://www.sixsimplerules.com/ David Singer/SixSimpleRules

    Anxiety about uncertainty is common, and that has actually helped me feel normal when I have those feelings.

    Great post Lacy.

    Thanks.

    Best regards,

    David

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Hey David! Yes…anxiety about uncertainty is very normal, not fun, but normal! :) It’s good to know I’m not the only one. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    You are most welcome Nelsilya! I completely agree with you. Being present is an essential ingredient to knowing what to do next. I so often forget that important fact. China sounds interesting! Could you send me some more information through the contact page on my travel blog? Best wishes!

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it Vijay! :) Wish you all the best!

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    The sacred middle. I like that wording Cassandra! It is a floating in-between phase, but you are right…it can be enriching and beautiful if we will stop and see it for what it really is :)

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Hi Mark,
    Thank you for your excellent insights! I agree that it is natural for us to respond to circumstances and subsequent changes in our lives. That will never change, but we can change how we respond. At least for me, changing that response to one of centeredness and peace is a full time job!

    I understand your fear of complacency. I have the same fear myself. It propelled me forward, and I was afraid to be still or accept anything I did not want to have in my life. I equated accepting the unwanted thing with settling or being complacent. It was a real eye-opener for me when I learned that I must first accept what is, in order to move forward. It’s been a hard lesson and it still scares me from time to time, but being able to accept where we are at the moment (not permanently but just for the moment) gives us the freedom to move from that place to a better place.

    Uncharted waters are certainly scary. Good practice for our balancing skills! Like you said “still waters provide mirrors.” Uncertainty about the future does tend to bring my issues to the surface, and I thank God and the Universe for the opportunity to accept, love and then work on my issues. It has given me the opportunity for much personal growth (although that work is never finished! hehe) So yes, uncharted waters are definitely a gift in disguise.

    I’ve been frustrated with not having answers in my life, but I am starting to learn that it is a gift not to know. Those answers will be revealed when I am ready. Just like the quote by Buddha, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For now it is enough to enjoy the journey and the little moments of joy and beauty.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Lacy

  • http://goalsetting-workshop.com/blog/ Jorge Blanco

    “Life takes unexpected turns; we block ourselves from the beauty and
    lessons of life’s circumstances by resisting and rejecting our lives
    because they are not what we expected or planned on.” – This is very true. We must learn to accept this reality, that there are just things in life that we can’t control. You can plan things out, but you should also give room for possible changes.

  • Niki

    Lacey, I really enjoyed this blog. You see, I’ve been living overseas now for three years and as my last year in Italy approaches, the stress about what my next move will be, is beginning to weigh on me. Sometimes I feel as though I’m behind the curve when it comes to school and a career. As my friends are approaching the finish line, I am still undecided about what I REALLY want to do with my future. Sometimes it takes reading things like this to realize that life is about the ride; those unbelievable memories that no one can ever take away from me…Whether it be moving back home to SanFrancisco and finishing my degree closer to family, or finding new ways to study abroad, I should take a deep breath and be humbled by the experiences I’ve had at only 22 years old. Planning for the future is important, but I won’t let the stress of it all make me feel like a failure for moving away from home at eighteen to see and travel the world. Thanks for the reality check! ;) Auguri, Ciao!

  • @skdepestre

    absolutely loved this :)

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    skdepestre, I’m so glad you loved it! :) Best wishes to you.

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Good point Jorge. I think we open ourselves up to the beauty of the moment when we can let go of the shoulds. I have a natural tendency to want to control the course of my life, but I have to let go (daily) because life is not something that I can control…and I’m starting to believe it’s much more beautiful and exciting that way!

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    AUGURONI Niki! You are a brave girl for getting out there and starting to explore the world at age 18. From what you’ve mentioned, I think you are doing great for being 22 years old! Give yourself a little credit. :) Making big decisions that involve continent changes and careers is definitely stressful, but what a gift to have the opportunity to choose where you want to live and what you want to pursue. Sometimes I wish life would just give me less options (haha) but it really is a gift. I wish you all the best for the next chapter in your life adventures. Whatever you choice, it’s ultimately you that makes the experience. Don’t let people scare you into thinking you are behind. You are right on your own track, and there are great opportunities ahead. Keep me updated :)

  • vaibhav

    thank you very much Lacy Edney I thaught I was alone I”am completely lost and confused bout life havin lot of panik attacks Every mornin i woke up and i have nothing to do nothing at all I spent all of my day deciding what i wanna do and am left wid no answer one moment wen i decide wat i wanna do the next moment i decide to do somethin else in life nyways thanx a lot nd and I love the line “Just because my life wasn’t fitting into my plans, was I doing something wrong?”

  • http://twitter.com/LacyEdney Lacy Edney

    Vaibhav, you are most welcome. Deciding what to do can be very stressful and anxiety producing. You are not alone! You are right where you need to be to get where you want to go. I wish you peace and all the best as you move forward.

  • kiki

    Thank you for the post I’m trying to learn how to live in the present and not fear my future. Back in March a man I loved broke my heart after 3 years together he cheated on me with a former friend and decided they wanted to be together. Slowly but surely Im trying to adjust plus we have a small child together so I do feel pain and shoulda, coulda, woulda because this was a man I really loved and thought we would spend the rest of our lives together but I wanted to say the future does seem scary but ur reading helps