Anxiety itself is a healthy condition. While the term refers to anxiety disorders, anxiety is a biological mechanism that helps you react quickly to dangerous events. Without anxiety, you'd often find yourself in dangerous situations, and you'd have a much harder time responding quickly to those dangers.
But when you experience that anxiety when no dangers are present, and it seems to occur without anything triggering it, you may have what some refer to as "free-floating anxiety."
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Introduction to Free Floating Anxiety
Free-floating anxiety is anxiety that cannot be pinned to any specific issue. Free-floating anxiety goes by another name: generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. To learn more about your anxiety and whether or not you have GAD, take my anxiety test now.
Since free-floating anxiety is not a medical term, there is no specific difference between the two conditions, but in general, most people refer to free-floating anxiety as anxiety that tends to come and go at random.
Mental vs. Physical Symptoms
Anxiety itself has many severe physical symptoms, and some people experience more physical symptoms than mental symptoms. This is one of the least widely known parts of anxiety. There are those that experience nearly only physical symptoms, giving the impression they suffer from a health problem and not a mental health disorder.
But free floating anxiety usually refers to mental anxiety - thoughts that cause you to feel anxious. Sometimes these thoughts are about something specific, like worrying that your son or daughter is going to get hurt at school even though there's no reason to think it's about to occur.
But many other times it can be this general feeling like something is wrong, almost as if you fear something but aren't sure why or what it is. It's this later one that is most often linked to free floating anxiety. This differs from other anxiety disorders, including:
- Panic Attacks Often with panic attacks, the fear is based on health, or simply fearing the panic attack. While often the first panic attack comes out of nowhere because of stress, recurring panic attacks are very often physical sensation related.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder OCD tends to have thoughts that occur out of nowhere, but these thoughts are the specific problem that causes anxiety. Behaviors are then modified to reduce the anxiety of these thoughts.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD has a clear cause. It occurs as the result of a traumatic event, or the perception of a traumatic event.
In some cases, generalized anxiety can have specific worries as well, although it's still considered generalized anxiety because the worries tend to come for no apparent reason.
Causes of Free Floating Anxiety
Scientists are not entirely clear what causes free floating anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. They know there can be a genetic component, and they know there can be an upbringing/experiences component, but they're not sure how much of one there is and how to figure out which is which.
It's likely that free floating anxiety is caused by any or all of the following:
- Neurotransmitters Anxiety causes and can be caused by a poor balance of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals, like serotonin, which send messages to the brain. Several neurotransmitters have been linked to anxiety, including norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA.
- Life Experience Life experience can also lead to the development of anxiety. There's no way to know exactly how, but it's possible that it's a combination of upbringing, confidence, bullying, parenting, and reinforcement depending on how you've acted in various situations.
- Stress Significant, long term stress can also create anxiety disorders. Again, it's not clear how this occurs, but the likelihood is that stress changes your hormone production semi-permanently, which in turn changes how your brain can process and handle anxiety.
- Diet and Exercise Finally, both diet and exercise can and do lead to anxiety in many people. Diet tends to be less common, although low levels of vitamins like magnesium have been linked to anxiety, as has dehydration. Exercise has a known anxiety link. Without exercise, the body's excess energy isn't regulated, and that can lead to the physical stress and anxiety disorders.
In almost every case it is likely a combination of many of these factors, and the exact origins are unlikely to be known. Regardless, all of these can create a feeling of anxiety that does not seem to have a specific cause or trigger.
How to Fight Free Floating Anxiety
The keys to combatting free floating anxiety are the same as combatting all other types of anxiety conditions. The best choices are, of course:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT is a great tool for reducing anxiety. Behavioral therapy has received a considerable amount of research and psychologists have found effective ways to combat generalized anxiety disorder.
- Medications Medications are not recommended, but if you have no other option, there are several prescription medications that can help regulate neurotransmitters and create a feeling of relaxation.
- Exercise Exercise is extremely valuable as a tool for combatting anxiety. It releases neurotransmitters that create a calmer mood, burns off excess energy and stress hormones, and should regulate your hormones and tire your muscles in a way that creates a better feeling of relaxation.
Still, the best strategy to combat anxiety is to make sure that you're using a system that is tailored to your specific anxiety symptoms.
I've helped thousands of people with "free floating anxiety," and generalized anxiety disorder. Start with my free 7-minute anxiety test to help look at your symptoms and propose valuable solutions.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 04, 2017.