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Understanding and Coping with Free-Floating Anxiety

Understanding and Coping with Free-Floating Anxiety

Updated on Jan 29, 2024

Understanding and coping with Free-Floating Anxiety

Anxiety is pretty commonly felt by most people as they go through various stages of life. And anxiety, more often than not, has a reason for existing. It can be a situation, event, person, place, thoughts, memories, or anything at all that can trigger an anxious reaction.

But what happens when someone does not have a particular reason for their anxiety to exist? What happens when people just feel dread throughout their daily lives and routine?  This non-causal manifestation of anxiety, dread, and panic is usually known as free-floating anxiety

Free-floating Anxiety – Definition

Free-floating anxiety is a sense of uneasiness unrelated to anything in particular. It can coexist with other anxiety disorders or with general anxiety disorders.

Feeling anxiety or nervousness without any prominent reason is known as free-floating anxiety. It may show up without warning, without a trigger, or may even be entirely random. 

This type of anxiety may come and go throughout the day or may stay consistently present for some time of the day. The key here is that it is consistently present in the person’s life and it may start to affect how they think, react, and behave. 

What does free-floating anxiety mean?

People with free-floating anxiety have so much tension and nervousness in them that they spend most of their time worrying and generally staying in this anxiety-driven state.  It is being in a trigger-friendly state where anything can trigger an anxiety response in an individual. 

Staying in an anxiety-driven state can raise their stress levels and impact their physical and overall well-being as well.

What causes free-floating anxiety?

Free-floating anxiety is usually not triggered by the same thing in most people suffering from it. The nature of this anxiety is that it gets triggered by anything.

The common and guaranteed reasons for free-floating anxiety may not be known, but some factors contributing to this type of anxiety are listed below. 

1. Heredity: 

People who have a past family history of mental health disorders may also develop an anxiety disorder. As some diseases have a genetic predisposition, so do some mental health conditions.

The family line necessarily doesn’t need to suffer from the same mental health conditions, just the existence of one may leave someone vulnerable to  developing free-floating anxiety.

2. Experiences: 

Having experiences that are traumatic or negative can also add to the development of free-floating anxiety. Traumatic experiences leave a mark on people and they can cause free-floating anxiety as a response.

Negative events can be anything that can cause shock and harm to a person’s mental state, it doesn’t have to be a big event or accident. 

3. Brain chemistry: 

Different brain chemistry may exist between individuals who do not experience anxiety and individuals who do experience it. Serotonin and the amygdala are both responsible for the eventual feelings of anxiety.

The levels of serotonin differ from one individual to another, and the performance of the amygdala also differs from one person to another. 

4. Childhood & Upbringing:

If people have experienced anxious parenting, they may be prone to develop that anxious behavior as well. Having experienced high anxiety reactions at an early age might lead them to be normalized and accumulated in one’s personality and temperament. 

The parenting style and how they are brought up under basic life circumstances also shape the individuals’ adaptability and ability to deal with anxiety. Negative or strict parenting may lead to a person who deals with anxiety more often. 

Symptoms of Free-floating Anxiety 

Because of the generalized nature of this fear, the symptoms of free-floating anxiety cannot be traced back to one particular source and therefore they come and go in their own time.

Because of this general nature, it is also commonly associated with General Anxiety Disorder. 

Psychological symptoms 

The symptoms of free-floating anxiety can be understood through the similarities they hold to other anxiety disorders. The strength of the symptoms plays a vital role in determining the severity and the differences from other disorders.

A diagnostician will be able to differentiate between free-floating anxiety and other disorders based on these symptoms:

1. Anxiety 

The most prominent and easily understood aspect of free-floating anxiety is the anxiety that is felt by the individual. The individual feels cautious or panicked in daily life situations without any reason. The anxiety is random yet persistent and derails the person’s life or schedule. 

2. Fear 

An intense level of fear is experienced when someone is experiencing free-floating anxiety. They do not feel safe in the situation they are in and therefore a sense of fear takes over them.

Although in free-floating anxiety as there is no specific object or situation that one can be fearful about, it becomes worse as they become fearful in any situation and the intensity felt may hinder their progress for the day and their daily life. 

3. Dread 

Free-floating anxiety also manifests as dread. Dread may be felt by the unknown nature of their situations or maybe something else entirely. As there is no known source of the anxiety the sense of dread also becomes stronger, as they do not know where it is safe for them. 

4. Panic 

It is very easy for someone to get panicked easily with free-floating anxiety. The panic that is felt is a result of the situations and the stress they are in. The panic surfaces in them through physical manifestation as well.   

5. Jitter 

Jitters are felt throughout the body and a sense of uneasiness is felt. Free-floating anxiety creates a vacuum for someone to feel uncomfortable and nervous.

As there is no known source for this, the person goes through these feelings without knowing a cause and not having assurance about what a safe environment is for them. 

6. Difficulty concentrating 

With anxiety running around in a person’s mind and body, it becomes for someone with free-floating anxiety to concentrate. The mind loses focus when it is divided between the things that may possibly be going wrong and what is creating this feeling of nervousness.

With the mind so distracted, it becomes difficult for them to focus on their tasks and work, and therefore free-floating anxiety becomes a hindrance in their daily life. 

7. Nervousness 

Nervousness occurs when random things start giving people anxiety. The nervousness remains a constant in their life as they have nothing concrete to understand what is causing it.

Their natural state for most of their day becomes nervousness, which can harm their overall health and growth.

8. Excessive worrying about daily things

The generalized nature of the anxiety makes them excessively worried about their daily life and schedule. As their anxiety has no reason, they fall prey to more easily worrying about regular things or details. 

9. Irritability 

They get easily irritated as they are anxious without understanding the cause.  Being generally anxious all the time and being unaware of the reason for this anxiety may leave people in a constant high anxiety state and make them irritable.

Feeling any emotion for a prolonged period may make it so that the person cannot break out of it and becomes irritable with everything.

10. Insomnia

The free-floating anxiety takes up mental space and the concentration of the person going through it. Therefore, it becomes difficult to focus enough to get some proper sleep.

People may not be able to sleep at all if they are over thinking or feeling anxiety about their sleep the next day, or anything at all. Anxiousness and overthinking keep people up, thus making it difficult to manage a healthy sleep schedule. 

11. Concern

Because of anxiety and doubt, the person dealing with free-floating anxiety has concerns about everything. As the anxiety is generalized, the person feels concerned about a lot of things that are around them.

12. Discomfort 

People feel discomfort and uneasiness when they are suffering from free-floating anxiety. As their homeostasis is disturbed by having regular anxiety bouts, they may start to feel discomfort. 

13. Stress 

Stress is the biggest reason why people experience this type of anxiety. As there is no reason for anxiety in free-floating anxiety, the level of stress also increases and makes it difficult for someone to solve their problems, as they do not know what the source of their problems is.

14. Worry  

People worry when they get anxious. Their stress and uneasiness levels get high and they start to worry about everything. Worrying and overthinking because of it is a common feature of free-floating anxiety.

15. Negative self-talk.

People who are suffering from free-floating anxiety will showcase negative language about themselves. As they worry, overthink, and become cautious about their life, they also think negatively about themselves as they find themselves in such situations.  

Negative self-talk does not help their anxious train of thought and having anxiety also just affects their self-esteem. 

Physical symptoms

Free-floating anxiety also has physical symptoms that are showcased when someone is going through it. People feel these in different intensities and it may vary from one individual to another.

1. Muscle Tension

People feel the anxiety and the stress that builds up. That build-up bubbles up and transforms into tension. Staying anxious and stressed for a prolonged time may lead to muscle tension. It leaves the person feeling stiff and aching in some areas of their body.  

2. Fatigue 

Fatigue occurs due to overstressing and being anxious all the time over unknown triggers. The body feels stressed out and stressing out takes up the energy that one requires for their daily routine. This type of heavy anxiety and stress leads to fatigue of the mind as well as the body. 

3. Fainting 

Some people faint when there is constant anxiety and stress that is piling up inside them. The anxiety may also become too extreme for someone to handle and as a result, they may faint. 

4. Headache 

People can also get headaches from the anxiety being too overwhelming and the discomfort that they face while they are experiencing it. As the tension builds anywhere in the body, they may also get a headache because of it. 

5. Nausea

As is commonly experienced with anxiety, people also feel nauseous. The prolonged and deep-rooted nature of the anxiety can make someone feel nauseous. Anxiety also creates “butterflies in the stomach,” which gives rise to the feeling of nausea in the pit of their stomachs.

6. Tiredness 

Due to the ongoing nature of free-floating anxiety, the person suffering from it may feel tired. The energy that overwhelming anxiety and worrying can take is tremendous and it takes a toll on the people experiencing it. They always feel tired even after having regular meals and sleep. 

7. Sweating

As anxiety and worrying become their predominant way of dealing with their life, they are sweating most of the time. Sweating is a normal bodily function, but it becomes noticeable when it is too much.

When someone is having anxiety most of the time when they are seen, people will notice their profuse sweating, which may be mostly out of proportion for the situation they are in. 

8. Feeling choked up

As they are experiencing anxiety where they cannot explain the reason or find a trigger, they might get overwhelmed and choked up. Feeling too much of one emotion may lead to people feeling unable to express or understand themselves and their situation and hence feeling choked up about the situation they are in and how they are reacting to it. 

People also know that their reaction is not normal reaction to such situations, which may lead them to more choked-up emotions about themselves. 

9. Butterflies in the stomach 

People experience butterflies in their stomachs as they feel anxiety and nervousness in the pit of their stomachs. Prolonged or deep-rooted anxiety most often leads to butterflies in the stomach. 

10. Shortness of breath

People experience shortness of breath as they fear and become anxious. Anxiety provokes a reaction, and they feel panicked and out of breath. As a reaction to feeling like they cannot breathe because of the anxiety, they experience shortness of breath. 

11. Stomach Ache 

Stomach ache comes in through the manifestation of the anxiety that is felt. It can be a result of prolonged anxiety, which can lead to stomach pains. As the mind realizes something is wrong, it turns into a stomach ache to give attention to the worry that you are feeling so vividly. 

12. Diarrhea

Stomach aches and diarrhea become physical manifestations of the anxiety that one faces. The anxiety gets too strong and causes a reaction in the stomach which may lead to some people getting diarrhea. People often report upset stomachs or stomach aches when they are going through bouts of anxiety. 

Treatment of Free-floating Anxiety 

Even though the reasons for free-floating anxiety may never be entirely known and they may be generalized, it is possible to treat anxiety. It is important to get the treatment required at the right time.

People usually get treatment for this when it starts affecting their daily life or is causing significant distress.

The diagnostician will make sure that the free-floating anxiety is on its own and not related to other possible mental health conditions or as a result of medication or drug use. 

Some of the treatments include: 

1. CBT 

What cognitive behavior therapy does is, it locks on to the negative automatic thoughts that you have because of a situation that triggered you and rectifies it. It gives the clients the tools to identify them and then possibly change the negative thought process to a more reasonable one.

These are some common techniques used in CBT for free-floating anxiety:

  • Identifying negative thought patterns: In CBT, the therapist helps the individual identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their anxiety. The goal is to help the individual develop more realistic and positive thoughts.
  • Behavioral techniques: These are used to help the individual gradually confront and overcome their anxiety. This may involve exposure therapy, where the individual is gradually exposed to the situations that trigger their anxiety in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Relaxation techniques: CBT may also include relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to help the individual manage their physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Homework assignments: CBT often includes homework assignments, such as journaling or practicing relaxation techniques outside of therapy sessions. These assignments help the individual apply what they have learned in therapy to their everyday life.
  • Mindfulness: CBT may also incorporate mindfulness techniques to help the individual focus on the present moment and reduce feelings of worry and anxiety about the future.

2. Medication 

A diagnostician may also provide you with medication given the list of symptoms and their nature and extremity. They may prescribe anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, or short-term courses that alleviate your symptoms.

3. SFBT 

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on identifying and building on an individual’s strengths and resources to find solutions to their problems. SFBT is often used to treat a range of mental health concerns, including anxiety disorders like free-floating anxiety. Here are some ways SFBT might be used to treat free-floating anxiety:

  • Identifying strengths and resources:

    SFBT begins by identifying an individual’s strengths and resources, which can include things like supportive relationships, coping skills, and past successes. By focusing on what is already working in an individual’s life, SFBT can help build a foundation for finding solutions to anxiety.
  • Setting goals: 

SFBT works with individuals to identify specific goals for therapy that are focused on the future. For example, a goal might be to develop coping skills to manage free-floating anxiety in specific situations.

  • Solution-building: 

SFBT is focused on building solutions, rather than analyzing problems. The therapist and individual work together to identify small steps that can be taken to work towards the identified goals. This might involve identifying coping strategies that have worked in the past, or brainstorming new strategies to try.

  • Scaling questions: 

SFBT often uses scaling questions to help individuals measure progress toward their goals. For example, a therapist might ask an individual to rate their level of anxiety on a scale of 1-10 before and after trying a new coping strategy.

  • Celebrating successes: 

SFBT emphasizes celebrating even small successes along the way. This can help build motivation and reinforce positive behaviors.

 4. Narrative Therapy 

 In Narrative therapy, the approach is based on the idea that the stories we tell about ourselves, others, and the world around us shape our perception and behavior. By understanding the stories we tell, we can change the way we view ourselves and our experiences.

In narrative therapy for free-floating anxiety, the therapist works with the client to explore the dominant stories they have about themselves, their experiences, and their anxiety. The therapist helps the client to identify the language and metaphors they use to describe their anxiety, as well as the beliefs and values that underpin these stories.

The therapist then helps the client to create alternative stories that challenge the dominant narrative of anxiety. This involves exploring new narratives that better align with the client’s goals and values, and that offer more positive and empowering ways of understanding their experiences.

The therapist may also work with the client to identify the triggers that contribute to their anxiety and help them develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms. This can include techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and cognitive restructuring.

5. MB-SR 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a type of therapy that can be helpful for managing free-floating anxiety. MBSR involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-judgmental way, which can help the individual become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and learn to manage them better.

Here is how MBSR can be used for free-floating anxiety:

  • Mindfulness meditation: It is a technique that involves focusing on your breath and body sensations while letting your thoughts come and go without judgment. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. You can find guided mindfulness meditations online or through smartphone apps.
  • Body scan technique: The body scan is a relaxation technique that involves slowly moving your attention through each part of your body, noticing any sensations or tension. This can help you become more aware of how your body responds to stress and help you relax.
  • Mindful breathing: Focusing on your breath is a simple and effective way to become more mindful. Take a few deep breaths, paying attention to the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. You can also count your breaths or use a mantra to help focus your attention.
  • Mindfulness every day: It can be practiced throughout the day, not just during formal meditation. Try to bring mindfulness to everyday activities like brushing your teeth, washing dishes, or walking to work. Simply pay attention to the present moment and bring your attention back to when your mind wanders.

6. Music Therapy

This is a form of therapy that uses music to help individuals improve their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. It is a holistic and evidence-based approach that is used in various settings, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, mental health centers, and private practices.

During a music therapy session, a trained music therapist works with the client to create and play music using a variety of instruments, such as drums, guitars, pianos, or their own voices. The therapist may also use pre-recorded music or song lyrics to engage the client in the therapeutic process.

Music therapy can be used to address a range of issues, including free-floating anxiety, depression, stress, chronic pain, dementia, and developmental disabilities. The therapist may use music to help the client express and process emotions, improve communication and social skills, enhance cognitive functioning, and reduce physical tension.

Music therapy helps individuals with free-floating anxiety to improve their coping skills and develop new strategies for managing their anxiety. The therapist may work with the client to identify triggers for their anxiety and develop personalized music-based techniques for reducing stress and anxiety.

It is important to note that music therapy for free-floating anxiety should be provided by a qualified and licensed music therapist. While there are many resources online and in the community that provides music-based interventions, it is best to work with a trained professional to ensure

 safety and effectiveness. Some music therapists may offer sliding scale fees or work with insurance providers to make therapy more affordable for individuals who may not have access to financial resources.

Coping with Free-floating Anxiety 

Free-floating anxiety is a type of anxiety that lasts for a long time and is usually without a cause. It can be difficult to find the reason and work on it as most of the anxiety is generalized.

Therefore, lifestyle changes are what can be done to cope with free-floating anxiety. It is a reminder that these coping techniques are not a replacement for therapy but are rather to be used side by side as you are getting help.  

1. Avoid problematic coping mechanisms 

People should avoid developing problematic coping mechanisms such as alcoholism or dependence on drugs or other addicting negative substances or behavior. To get rid of the anxiety, if a strong stimulant is used to replace it or calm it, because of the nature of the anxiety, it may lead to being dependent on these escape substances and habits. 

So it is advised to be mindful about the habits and substances you use to deal with your anxiety. Healthy alternatives are what is useful in the long term.  

2. Exercise 

People need to exercise more to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Being physically active and having a routine to exercise might help people to develop better coping abilities. Having a good outlet in exercise can be helpful in reducing the free-floating anxiety. 

3. Meditation 

Meditation is a good way to control the thoughts that are overflowing. While beginning meditation is difficult to manage all the thoughts and concentration as the mind is used to dealing with anxiety and worry, you might be able to learn to focus on your clear mind little by little. 

Doing meditation gives way to having the ability to control your thoughts and focus when there is a random wave of free-floating anxiety. 

4. Breathing exercises 

The breathing exercises are helpful in having to deal with the anxious behavior that the body goes through. Breathing exercises help in centering and being able to overturn the anxiety symptoms that you feel.

Knowing different breathing exercises can help you feel more in control of the situation and help you get out of a stiff situation when needed. 

5. Limit caffeine 

Caffeine, as everyone knows, brings out anxiety symptoms. People feel sweaty, their heartbeats increase and even their stomach gets upset. These symptoms are a part of anxiety and they might get activated even more when you get coffee, making it so that you think you are having a free-floating anxiety episode. 

When you are generally anxious, it is better not to instigate the symptoms that you feel. Relying too much on coffee can have more negative effects than you can imagine, so it is better just to limit its consumption. 

6. Develop a healthier lifestyle. 

Having a healthier lifestyle will make it easier for you to deal with the symptoms of anxiety. As negative habits impact and aggravate the symptoms, it is better to practice and live a healthier lifestyle to balance out and have the ability to cope with it. 

7. Yoga 

Practicing yoga gives oneself the ideal way to get zen and destress. It should become a part of your life. Having the ability to practice it will give you control over your mind and body. It will take care of your concentration, focusing abilities, and your ability to breathe in a relaxing way.

This will give you a chance to work on the free-floating thoughts and reasons and will allow you to control your thoughts and emotions when you are going through them to avoid having an episode of free-floating anxiety as much as possible.

8. Nature Walks 

Going on nature walks is relaxing and good for the overall well-being and health of an individual. Being in nature allows you to breathe in the fresh air and be at peace in the quiet of nature.

Being exposed to the sunlight and the greenery also helps people be more relaxed in nature. Having a monthly or weekly nature walk would be efficient to de-stress and have a more relaxed time outside. 

9. Check your negative self-talk 

Having negative views about oneself and speaking them out loud may affect your relationship with yourself and others. Watching how you talk about yourself will give you an idea as to why you may be feeling such a way.

Dealing with negative self-esteem also will help you be more confident and therefore be less easily anxious regarding other aspects you are sure about. 

10. Accept the emotions  

Accept that you are feeling vulnerable, anxious, and nervous. Giving way to feeling such a way and having the ability to acknowledge it will go a long way. Accepting it will help you rather than hiding or denying it.

Denying or pushing emotions down only makes them worse and hence it gives way to experiencing free-floating anxiety. 

Summing up 

Anxiety is an extremely commonly experienced feeling and therefore you do not need to worry about getting help for free-floating anxiety. You can reach out whenever and do not need to wait until it gets overwhelming.

Getting help when you require it is the best recourse rather than trying to bear with it or treat it yourself. Do not try to indulge in self-medication and only rely on self-help techniques, it is always wise to get professional help for consistent conditions like free-floating anxiety.

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