How To Deal With Free Floating Anxiety
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Dutil
When uncomfortable feelings of tension, worry, and nervousness seem to come and go for no reason at all, that’s sometimes called free-floating anxiety. It can be a distressing experience, and it can keep happening over months or even years. So, how can you deal with the anxiety that doesn’t seem to have a discernible source? Here are some of the things you can do.
Find Out Why You Have Free Floating Anxiety
If you have unexplained anxiety, there’s a possibility that it’s due to a medical condition. So, many people who have this symptom start by having a physical checkup. Then, you can move on to the next step if you get a clean bill of health, if you have no medical conditions that might make you feel that way, or after any possible medical cause has been addressed. Then, you can look further to find out why you have free-floating anxiety.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Free-floating anxiety is a symptom of many different types of anxiety, but it’s especially common for people who have a generalized anxiety disorder. Other symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Excessive worry
- Muscle tension
- Feeling on edge
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Being easily startled
When you have a generalized anxiety disorder, you might have unrealistic thoughts or views about the problems you’re facing in your life. You might automatically assume the worst anytime you’re unsure of where someone is or what’s going to happen next. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, you might find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, distressing events, or upsetting conversations.
Other Anxiety Disorders
Free-floating anxiety can be a symptom of many types of anxiety, including social anxiety. If you have a social anxiety disorder, you might experience anxiety symptoms whenever you’re with other people, especially strangers, or even thinking about being with other people. In other anxiety disorders, your symptoms might seem tied to a specific object, event, or fear. But if your anxiety becomes free-floating, it no longer seems to come from these particular triggers. In fact, you might have more than one type of anxiety disorder at the same time. For example, someone with social anxiety who also has free-floating anxiety may have a generalized anxiety disorder as well.
Getting A Diagnosis
To be sure whether you have generalized anxiety or some other mental health issue, you need to talk to a licensed mental health provider to get a diagnosis. They typically ask you about your medical, family, and mental health history. You’ll get a chance to discuss your experiences, your symptoms, and how your anxiety has affected your life. If your mental health expert gives you a diagnosis of generalized anxiety, you might feel a momentary sense of relief. After all, you now know that your problem has a name and that there are treatments and other ways to deal with a generalized anxiety disorder.
Recognize The Symptom When It Happens
Because free-floating anxiety seems to come from nowhere, it’s essential to recognize if what you’re experiencing is a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. It’s natural to try to find an explanation for uncomfortable feelings. You might find yourself wondering if something disastrous is about to happen, for example. But just knowing that anxiety is a symptom of a mental disorder can help you avoid jumping to negative conclusions.
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Another way to look at the question of why you have free-floating anxiety is to consider what the causes are of generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers still don’t know the complete story. In one study, people with generalized anxiety and people who didn’t have an anxiety disorder were interviewed to learn about their family history. The researchers found that people who had generalized anxiety disorder were more likely to have family members who had trouble with anxiety but not with other mental health problems. So, it seems likely that generalized anxiety disorder is possibly genetic.
Another cause might be brain chemistry. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, some nerve cell pathways that connect the areas of your brain associated with thinking and emotions might not be functioning optimally. One researcher noted that people with generalized anxiety disorder have problems in regulating neurotransmitters gamma-Aminobutyric acid, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This is an essential detail for a psychiatrist who might prescribe medication for a generalized anxiety disorder to improve the way these neurotransmitters work.
Environmental factors, like traumatic events, significant losses, or abrupt changes, can also contribute to generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes, the home environment you were raised in can play a part. If your parents showed signs of being fearful, anxious, or avoidant when faced with a threat, you might pick up that tend to do the same. And, if your parents had a low tolerance for uncertainty, you might learn to react the same way. These environmental cues from your environment might have been a part of the reason if you developed generalized anxiety disorder later on.
Check Your Self-Talk
Just about everyone talks to themselves. You might speak to someone else about yourself, but at the same time, those words affect you, too. You might also talk to yourself through the thoughts you choose to hold onto about yourself. Sometimes, self-talk consists of the things you say and think about situations you’re in or people you interact with. But when you have a generalized anxiety disorder, your self-talk can increase your symptoms of anxiety. To deal with free-floating anxiety better, try the following ways of improving the way you talk to yourself.
Notice Negative Thoughts
The first thing you can do about your self-talk is to pay attention to your thoughts and notice any unnecessarily negative thoughts in your mind. Indeed, there are some sad or distressing things in life. But, many people with generalized anxiety disorder have negative thoughts that are inaccurate or based on faulty assumptions.
You also might have negative thoughts that are based in reality, but don’t help you do what you need to do. For example, you might dwell on the time when you got stuck in an elevator at a time when you need to use an elevator to get to an important meeting on time. You did get stuck one time, but it isn’t helpful for you to think about that right at that moment. As you wait for the elevator to come, your symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder might intensify.
Some negative thoughts have an element of truth in them but are so exaggerated that they provoke symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. This might happen if the weather is stormy, for instance. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder, you might be very worried that you will get caught in a tornado, even though the weather report said it would be a mild thunderstorm. While your thought that the weather is stormy is true, your idea that a tornado is coming might be out of proportion to what’s really happening.
Noticing these negative thoughts and understanding that not all negative thoughts are true and helpful can help you deal with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. The reason is that you are self-aware enough to try to avoid telling yourself things that don’t help with your generalized anxiety disorder.
Talk To Yourself Kindly
Sometimes self-talk amounts to putting yourself down when you have a generalized anxiety disorder or other mental health problems. Saying bad things about yourself, whether you tell them to someone else or just think them, can make you feel incompetent to handle the things you fear. One thing you can do to feel better when you have a generalized anxiety disorder is to use kind self-talk. There’s an old saying that fits this idea perfectly: don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone you love.
Put A Positive Spin On Your Thoughts
Have you ever heard someone say that you always look for the worst in everything? It can be hurtful when someone says that, but there might be an element of truth in it for people with a generalized anxiety disorder. For example, if you have to ride the bus, you might be nervous if you’re focused on the fact that one person was attacked on the bus yesterday. Instead, you could put a positive spin on it. How? You could remind yourself that hundreds of people rode the bus yesterday, and almost all of them got to their destination without being harmed.
Don’t Read Too Much Into Your Anxiety Symptoms
If you have free-floating anxiety, you might worry about what’s causing it. And it’s natural to try to make sense of the bad feelings you’re having. But, trying to make sense of the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can be a fruitless exercise. If the anxiety is coming and going for no apparent reason, it can be helpful to remember that these are just symptoms of the disorder and don’t indicate that a crisis is about to happen.
Try Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a first-line treatment for generalized anxiety disorder as well as many other mental illnesses. The following are some of the things you and your counselor might do in your sessions of CBT for anxiety treatment.
Your first session might include a time to talk about the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, which of them you’re experiencing, and when and how often they appear. As you discuss the types and severity of your symptoms, your therapist gets a better understanding of how anxiety is affecting you as an individual. With this information, they can work with you to create a treatment plan that is tailor-made to your specific needs.
Identifying Negative Thoughts And Thought Patterns
CBT starts with identifying specific negative thoughts. You have to single out ideas that are anxiety-arousing so that you can take the next steps in the process. You and your therapist might also explore negative patterns in the way you typically think. Some of the most common negative thought patterns include black-and-white thinking, catastrophizing, and overgeneralizing. For people with generalized anxiety disorder, catastrophizing can be a way of life. It’s important to recognize these patterns so you can work towards developing healthier ways of thinking.
Deciding Whether Your Thoughts Are Helpful And Accurate
After you have listed the negative thoughts, the next thing you do is to decide whether those thoughts are accurate, helpful, and worth holding onto or not. Some ideas might be inaccurate, entirely, or at least to some degree. In the situation where you worry about the weather, it might be accurate that the sky is dark. But if your next thought is that a dark sky always means there’s going to be a devastating storm, you might decide that thought isn’t entirely accurate. Some ideas might be reliable but not helpful, like in the situation in which the thought that one person was hurt on the bus cause anxiety.
Choosing The Most Beneficial Thoughts
For many people with mental disorders, the idea that you have the option to choose what thoughts you hang onto is an unexpected relief. When you realize that you have the power to select any of your thoughts, you can take charge of your thinking. Your therapist will guide you as you explore the new thoughts you might choose about your problems so you can select the thoughts that are most beneficial for you.
Changing Your Behaviors
The behavior part of cognitive-behavioral therapy refers to putting your new insights into action. During treatment, you might make plans for behaviors like doing something you fear, journaling about your feelings, or making different thought choices when you’re feeling anxious.
Starting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
There are several ways to start cognitive-behavioral therapy. You could go to your doctor and ask for a referral to a CBT therapist where you live. Another way is to contact a local CBT trained therapist directly and ask if they are taking new patients.
You could also have CBT anxiety treatment from a licensed counselor online at BetterHelp. Online therapy provides you with the help and the psychological tools you need to deal with anxiety and other mental problems. You can have treatment without leaving your home, or from anywhere you choose to be. Therapy is private so that you can freely discuss any fears or worries that might be causing your anxiety symptoms.
Medications can sometimes help with free-floating anxiety. Many people with generalized anxiety disorder take medications. Many take meds like antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications only until they learn how to deal with their symptoms by thinking and behaving differently.
Take Care Of Your Body
One more thing you can do to deal with free-floating anxiety is to take good care of your physical health. Getting enough sleep can make you feel more relaxed during the day. Exercise can help you feel more in control and invigorated. Consider avoiding stimulants like coffee, nicotine, chocolate, and tea as long as you’re having anxiety symptoms.
Dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder or any other mental illness for that matter can be difficult, to say the least. However, having a therapist to help you can set you on a different course. And, when your symptoms begin to fade away, you might discover that the journey of learning how to deal with your free-floating anxiety is well worth the effort. Your life can become more peaceful and rewarding, and you can feel more comfortable doing the things you need and desire to do.