What is Free-Floating Anxiety? Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Do you find yourself on edge all of the time for no apparent reason? As if your mind is inclined to be concerned about anything? To put it another way, you might be anxious, frightened, or afraid for no identifiable reason.

Anxiety is associated with fear and the activation of your fight-or-flight response system. (1) Fear is a natural and even beneficial emotion since this biological mechanism allows you to respond quickly to potentially dangerous situations. You would be far more likely to find yourself in risky circumstances if you did not experience fear and anxiety, and you would have a much harder difficulty responding promptly to those threats. (2)

When your dread is constant, intense, and out of proportion to the risk you are facing and sometimes in the absence of any apparent genuine threat, chances are you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorder is a very frequent mental illness. While anxiety may manifest itself in various ways, from generalized and social anxiety to phobias, one of the most prevalent is free-floating anxiety, which is characterized by a general feeling of unease independent of any person, substance, or circumstance. (3)

Free-floating anxiety is a disturbing feeling that might last for a long period. Therefore, it might be very complicated to comprehend how to cope with the anxiety that does not seem to be coming from anywhere.

There are several effective coping strategies and treatment options available to help you manage anxiety. But, before we get to it, let us take a deeper look at free-floating anxiety, its symptoms, and its causes.

What is Free-Floating Anxiety?

Free-floating anxiety refers to a broad feeling of unease that is unrelated to any physical element or incident. The phrase is frequently used to express feelings of unexplained discomfort, tension, concern, and anxiety. (4)

Often, this fear appears to be widespread and even random. You could be worried without understanding why. Alternatively, things might be going well, but you are still anxious. It is most common in people with generalized anxiety disorder, although it can also happen with other anxiety disorders.

It is worth noting that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, does not classify free-floating anxiety as a distinctive mental condition. (5) Instead, it is a term used to characterize non-specific anxious symptoms that individuals occasionally have and sometimes are accompanied by disorders like generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is a common and universal feeling that we all go through. It is frequently the outcome of a mix of anxiety and powerlessness. Anxiety might emerge for no apparent reason. One should seek therapy if this is the case since symptoms may be treated with the right help.

Free-Floating Anxiety vs. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term disorder that makes you apprehensive about various situations and problems rather than a single occurrence. People with GAD are nervous and anxious all the time. (6)

Although many of the symptoms of free-floating anxiety and GAD overlap, there are some crucial distinctions. A person must have experienced high-functioning anxiety for at least six months to achieve the diagnosis of GAD. (7) With free-floating anxiety, there is no set time limit. Furthermore, the anxiety must induce medical distress, implying that it interferes with other aspects of one’s life.

People with GAD frequently have problems at the job, school, or personal relationships. They could also suffer from a range of health problems. Free-floating anxiety can be one of the major symptoms of GAD. However, free-floating anxiety does not always imply the presence of GAD or any other mental health problem; it can also occur individually.

Signs and Symptoms of Free-Floating Anxiety 

Everyone’s experience with free-floating anxiety is varied, but most individuals experience some level of concern, discomfort, and distress. These feelings have no evident cause and can manifest at any time.

An individual’s anxiety symptoms might also vary in strength and duration. Free-floating anxiety may affect anybody, although it is more frequent among persons previously labeled with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety may manifest itself in various ways, including uneasiness, concern, and terror. The following are some of the most common mental and physical symptoms of free-floating anxiety:

  • Anxiousness.
  • Mood swings.
  • Tiredness.
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems.
  • Nightmares.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Muscular tension and headaches.
  • Nausea and diarrhea.
  • Nausea and diarrhea.
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightness in the muscles
  • Overthinking and negative thoughts.

It is necessary to keep in mind that these symptoms might come and go and have no obvious source.

How is Free-Floating Anxiety Different from other Anxiety Disorders?

Since it drifts from subject to subject, free-floating anxiety is distinct from other forms of anxiety. All other forms of anxiety have a specific objective; for a better understanding, consider the following examples:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): There is a clear and evident trigger for PTSD. It arises as a result of a traumatic incident or as a response to a traumatic event’s perceptions. (8) The resulting anxiety is neither general nor free-floating but rather quite particular.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD tend to have random thoughts, but these are the specific problem that creates anxiety. It might include a wide range of unpleasant, repeated thoughts and concerns, though the anxiety varies from person to person. The individual then changes their behavior, which helps to alleviate the anxiety brought on by these ideas. (9)
  • Phobias: Phobias can induce anxiety as well as extreme terror.  It is possible to develop a fear of almost anything, but there must be a reason for it.

Other than them, many types of anxieties revolve around a specific cause, for example, relationship anxiety, which is caused by concerns about relationship issues; eco-anxiety, which is characterized by excessive concerns about the environment; driving anxiety, which is induced by fears and difficulties related to driving, and so on. 

Free-floating anxiety is distinctive from all these types in that it does not have any specific cause, and the cause can stay unidentified.

Causes of Free-Floating Anxiety

The exact origins of free-floating anxiety are hard to determine. After all, anxiety is a natural reaction, and this feeling is most likely the consequence of a mix of hereditary and environmental variables.

Anxiety is commonly associated with other mental health issues such as depression or drug abuse disorders, and certain risk factors may enhance someone’s sensitivity to it. It is uncertain what causes the free-floating anxiety; however, a variety of factors are considered to have a role in this condition, including the following:


Varying brain systems in individuals who suffer from anxiety may contribute to the sense of free-floating anxiety. Anxiety is considered to be influenced by neurotransmitter systems.

Neurotransmitters are substances in the brain that carry communications between brain cells, neurons, and the rest of the body. An imbalance of neurotransmitters produces and can induce anxiety. Norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA are among the neurotransmitters that have been associated with anxiety. (10)


Anxiety may be passed down the generations, and certain genes might incline you to anxiety. According to 2017 research, if you have GAD parents, you are more than twice as likely to have the condition. (11)

Let’s suppose genes as light switches. Certain occurrences in your surroundings might cause those switches to be flipped, resulting in anxiety. Those switches become significantly simpler to activate if you acquire anxiety-related genes from your parents.

This is not to claim that family members are directly responsible for someone’s anxiety. However, this implies that mental health issues can be passed down across generations.

Brain Development

According to 2021 brain imaging research, individuals with free-floating anxiety have structural changes in their brains. (12) The neurons in certain areas may be quite dense while sparse in others. The density of neurons is directly proportional to the potential of those regions of the brain to interact. The regions of your brain that govern emotion, memory, and judgment may communicate effectively or poorly when you have free-floating anxiety.

These abnormalities in your brain can lead to a variety of problems, including:

  • When confronted with a threat, you may have a heightened threat response, in which your stress levels rise more abruptly.
  • It may cause you to become adversely biased and recall negative memories more readily than positive ones.
  • It can also make you hypervigilant, looking for potential hazards even in seemingly secure settings.
  • It may take longer for your brain to settle down.  It becomes easier to notice possible threats on edge, triggering the fight-or-flight reaction.

Your brain structure may make you more sensitive to your surroundings, making you anxious.


You may confront a variety of serious hazards to your well-being if you live in tumultuous, unstable, or chaotic circumstances. Fear is a natural reaction in these situations which can greatly contribute to free-floating anxiety. (13)

If you can not anticipate where the risk will come from, it is probably best to be prepared for anything. This level of attentiveness might give you a sensation of strength. However, if you stay in that hyper-aroused condition for too long, you may be stuck in that new normal. 

Monitoring risks might become a persistent habit even after the old threat has vanished. Instead of dissipating, your concern may just shift to a new focus. Your brain is not being obstinate; it is simply attempting to keep you safe.

Environmental causes behind free-floating anxiety are especially dangerous for children as they do not generally have much influence over their surroundings and have not acquired the coping mechanisms that grownups have.

Life Experiences

Certain life events might exacerbate anxiety. Experiencing a traumatic event may make you feel more worried or fearful; consequently, you may become more distrustful of your surroundings and hyper-sensitive while under stress.


Children require liberty and motivation to take healthy risks from an early age. However, if a parent is unduly concerned about their child’s well-being, anxiety and dread may be passed on to the youngster. They may become suspicious of themselves and their surroundings as a result.

How Does Free-Floating Anxiety Impact Daily Life?

Free-floating worry can have a variety of consequences in one’s life. All of these concerns can increase a person’s psychological stress, which can negatively influence their overall health. It may make it increasingly challenging to obtain a good night’s sleep, leading to feelings of exhaustion and lethargy during the day.

Anxiety may lead to various issues, including depression, headaches, social withdrawal, drug abuse, relationship issues, and even suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, individuals with free-floating anxiety have a harder time getting on with their lives and have reduced overall life pleasure and satisfaction levels since they spend so much time worrying about these broad emotions of uneasiness and dread.

How is Free-Floating Anxiety Diagnosed?

If you have free-floating anxiety, your doctor may first do a physical examination and order blood tests to rule out any medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.  Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, chronic pain, and substance use issues are a few of the illnesses that can cause anxiety.

Following that, your doctor will inquire about your symptoms, such as the type of the symptoms and also their recurrence, persistence, and intensity.

Depending on your clinical history and symptoms, your doctor may diagnose you with an anxiety condition such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or a particular phobia.

Ways to Cope with Free-Floating Anxiety

While you may not be able to completely eradicate your anxiety, you may learn to manage it using the following coping skills for anxiety. It will definitely necessitate effort and forethought; however, developing and practicing good coping strategies can help you feel more in control. It can also provide a feeling of affirmation. 

You can do activities to help manage free-floating anxiety symptoms, whether your anxiety is persistent or recurrent.


Mindfulness enables you to concentrate on the current moment rather than worrying about the future. When you feel overwhelmed, you may practice mindfulness for anxiety by including a specific meditation practice or focusing on your breathing. (14)


Spend some time participating in regular physical activity. Pick an exercise that you like and make it part of your daily routine, as exercise can greatly help with anxious feelings and uneasiness. (15)


Yoga has been shown to help with numerous anxiety symptoms in studies. Try engaging in a regular yoga class or doing a few stretches at home every day.


Music has a significant impact on your emotional state. According to a study published in 2021, listening to music might help lower stress hormone levels and boost happiness. (16)

Contrary to popular belief, classical music does not necessarily have a greater relaxing impact than other genres. When it comes to inducing calmness, the type of music may not influence all that much.

Stick to a Schedule

Even if things seem out of control, consistency may help you stay focused. Establish a  routine that you can follow every day – this is particularly useful if you experience greater anxiety in those specific times when you cannot decide what to do. 

Think Positive

Thankfulness might assist you in keeping the broader picture in mind. Try to think about all the good things in your life the next time you feel apprehensive.

Reach Out

Isolation can exacerbate anxiety. Take the opportunity to communicate with family and friends regularly and reach out to individuals who make you feel comfortable and supported. 


Eventually, we just need to accept that anxiety arises, and it is a natural part. You may discover that by naming and acknowledging the emotion for what it is, it loses its potency.

Treatment for Free-Floating Anxiety

In certain circumstances, adopting good coping skills, boosting self-care, or modifying particular lifestyle behaviors might make a major impact. Coping skills can be quite beneficial, but they are usually only a temporary fix. You should get expert mental health care to reduce your anxiety over time. A trained professional can assist you in developing a treatment plan that includes either psychotherapy or medication or both.


Psychotherapy might assist you in better understanding your anxiety. Your therapist may collaborate with you to identify various triggers and behaviors which will pave the door for new methods of coping and healing.

The most popular method for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is extremely successful. (17) Psychodynamic therapy, solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy are more well-known paradigms that can also be employed.


When used in conjunction with psychotherapy and other behavioral interventions, anti-anxiety medication can help lower the severity of free-floating anxiety symptoms. Remember that psychiatric medicine should only be taken when prescribed by a competent professional.


A pattern of prolonged worrying that does not land on any specific objective is free-floating anxiety. It can have various unanticipated effects on your health, ranging from changed sleep patterns to decreased productivity in the workplace or school.

There are a multitude of coping strategies that one may use, but if none of them work and your symptoms begin to interfere with your everyday life, seeking professional help is always a wise next step.  Do not be afraid to experiment with different treatment options until you find something that works for you.

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