Have you ever experienced a feeling of dread that doesn’t seem to have an apparent cause? Maybe you feel something terrible will happen, and it’s hard to pinpoint what or why. You start to wonder if your anxiety is just paranoia, but the feelings remain. This is known as free-floating anxiety.
Everyone experiences anxiety, often more than they would like. However, free-floating anxiety is one form of anxiety that not many people know about. You can feel anxious all day, or maybe only during specific situations. Whatever it is, it’s essential to realize that you are not alone. Free-floating anxiety affects most people out there, and it doesn’t have to be a debilitating thing. That’s what this guide is for — to debunk free-floating anxiety for you, so you know how to deal with it.
What Is Free Floating Anxiety?
Free-floating anxiety is a psychological condition characterized by a constant state of unease or restlessness without any identifiable cause. More simply, anxiety does not stem from a specific stressor or event but is often characterized by chronic and unexplained bouts of intense worry and nervousness. It may be unconsciously triggered by cues, reminders, or thoughts that remind you of past trauma or worries.
Various psychological disorders may result in this type of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), panic disorder, and phobias. However, free-floating anxiety is often related to generalized stress or depression.
So, What Are the Symptoms of Free Floating Anxiety?
Some people experience this phenomenon as an overwhelming sense of impending doom or dread, while others feel like they’re on edge or “on pins and needles.” Still, others report the sensation that their heart is racing or pounding. Whatever the manifestation, free-floating anxiety is often accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
- Chest pains
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on other tasks
Free-floating anxiety can make people feel like they are about to experience a panic attack. Some people with this anxiety may also suffer from panic attacks but not realize it because their symptoms are not as severe.
Diagnosis of Free Floating Anxiety
Free-floating anxiety is a diagnosis of exclusion. A medical professional will not diagnose the patient with free-floating anxiety until other potential causes have been ruled out. The doctor will try to find the root cause of the anxiety, even if it seems unrelated or nonsensical. This can help rule out other potential causes before making a final diagnosis of free-floating anxiety.
Since anxiety is often caused by an underlying mental disorder and can cause the patient to experience symptoms like panic attacks and constant worry, a doctor will do a physical exam to look for the underlying causes of the patient’s anxiety. The doctor will likely perform a psychological evaluation to determine an underlying reason for the patient’s free-floating anxiety.
The mental health professional administering this evaluation might ask about family history, previous treatments, and current. Based on all the tests and health records, your doctor may diagnose.
What Are the Causes of Free Floating Anxiety?
Researchers are not sure what causes free-floating anxiety. However, several factors likely contribute to the development of this disorder. Said that there are many causes of free-floating anxiety, including:
Moving to a new city or job, graduating from college, getting married, and having children can trigger anxiety. People who have previously dealt with the stress of moving away to attend college or who have experienced other significant life changes may be more prone to developing free-floating anxiety in the future.
Experiencing a traumatic event such as rape, robbery, or combat can increase a person’s chances of developing free-floating anxiety later in life. This can also develop due to watching someone else go through a traumatic event or experience. People who have experienced any traumatic event may more likely develop this form of anxiety later in life.
Family history is another major contributor to free-floating anxiety. If one or both parents suffer from an anxiety disorder, it increases the likelihood that their child will also suffer from it later in life.
A chemical imbalance towards developing an anxiety disorder can also increase the chances of free-floating anxiety.
Research suggests that a stressful childhood can predispose someone to develop free-floating anxiety in adulthood. People exposed to a lot of stress while growing up may have learned to associate the stresses with certain situations, causing them to feel anxious when those situations arise in adulthood. Genetics could also play a role since researchers have found that some people may be more sensitive to their environment than others and experience stress more deeply and intensely than others.
Treatment for Free Floating Anxiety
Free-floating anxiety can significantly impact your psychological and physical health, but it’s not easy to treat. What works for one person might not work for another. Treatment will vary based on your symptoms’ severity and what you deal with. In general, treatment for free-floating anxiety is similar to treatment for any other anxiety disorder.
For example, the therapist will likely begin by helping the patient understand his feelings and why. He may suggest relaxation techniques to help the patient cope with stress and insomnia. If co-occurring depression is present, the therapist will likely prescribe antidepressants or other mood stabilizers. In summary, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and lifestyle changes can help reduce this condition’s symptoms.
Regardless of your chosen method, be sure to find someone who specializes in treating this issue and has experience helping others overcome it. You’ll need plenty of support from friends and family as well. And if your anxiety gets worse before it gets better, be sure to tell your doctor so they can adjust your treatment plan accordingly.
How to Cope With Free Floating Anxiety?
You can take many steps on your own to cope with free-floating anxiety. Well, first things first — breathe. It sounds stupid and simple, but breathing does help. It relaxes your body and mind and makes everything stop for a second so that you can think about what’s going on without getting carried away by emotions. It helps you figure things out and make good decisions instead of freaking out over every little thing.
It can be relieved by keeping yourself busy and participating in activities that make you feel happy, like listening to music or going out with friends. Some people find that yoga or meditation also helps to relieve their anxiety. Exercise can also help reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, brain chemicals that help improve your mood. Physical activity also improves sleep quality, which is pivotal in overcoming anxiety.
For many of us, anxiety has become a part of everyday life. It’s in the pit of your stomach, the racing pulse, and the sweaty palms you feel every time you leave your house. Treating free-floating anxiety is about finding ways to live with it. It will go away slowly, but you can find ways to manage it to feel less anxious or at least reduce some of the symptoms.
The first step to treating free-floating anxiety is accepting that it’s there. One of the best ways to control anxiety is not to let it control you. Going through your day trying not to think about how anxious you feel will only worsen things. It’s how we deal with our feelings that matter most. The more we ignore our emotions, the more powerful they seem.
Instead, acknowledge your feelings and work on understanding them. When you can identify and understand your feelings, it’s easier for you to face them and deal with them without letting them control you. Practice mindfulness by sitting down for a few minutes each day and identifying how you feel physically and emotionally. Understanding what’s causing your anxiety will put it into perspective and help you figure out what works best for you when dealing with it.
- Gottschalk, M. G., & Domschke, K. (2017). Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traits. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 159–168. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2017.19.2/kdomschke
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders