GAD Symptoms What Is Free-Floating Anxiety? By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 25, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Free-Floating Anxiety? Symptoms Diagnosis Causes Impact Treatment Coping What Is Free-Floating Anxiety? Free-floating anxiety is a general sense of uneasiness that is not tied to any particular object or specific situation. The term is often used to describe feelings of discomfort, nervousness, worry, and anxiety that appear for seemingly no reason. It often occurs with generalized anxiety disorder, but it may also be present with other types of anxiety conditions. It is important to note that free-floating anxiety is not a distinct mental disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). Instead, it is a term used to describe the non-specific feelings of anxiety that people sometimes experience from time to time as well as with conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder. Symptoms Free-floating anxiety is characterized by feelings of: Anxiety Concern Discomfort Dread Fear Jitters Misgiving Nervousness Panic Unease Restlessness Stress Worry It is important to note that these feelings may come and go and do not have an easily apparent source. This type of anxiety is most commonly associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is characterized by persistent and excessive anxiety about a wide variety of things. Other common symptoms of GAD include: Difficulty concentrating Fatigue Excessive, frequent worries about everyday things Irritability Muscle tension Restlessness Sleep disruptions Press Play for Advice on Coping With Anxiety Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to recognize and ease anxiety, featuring neuroscientist Dr. Jud Brewer. Click below to listen now. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Diagnosis If you are experiencing free-floating anxiety, your doctor may start by conducting a physical exam and performing lab tests to help rule out any medical conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms. Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, asthma, chronic pain, and substance use disorders are just a few examples of conditions that may play a role in causing anxiety. Next, your doctor will ask questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, including the nature of the symptoms as well as their frequency, duration, and severity. Based on your medical history and symptoms, your doctor may then diagnose you with an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or a specific phobia. Causes of Free-Floating Anxiety The exact causes of the free-floating anxiety that occurs in generalized anxiety disorder are not known. However, a number of different factors are thought to contribute to this condition including: Brain chemistry: People who experience anxiety may have differences in their brain structure or systems that contribute to the experience of free-floating anxiety. Neurotransmitter systems related to serotonin as well as a structure called the amygdala are both thought to contribute to feelings of anxiety. Genetics: People who have generalized anxiety disorder are more likely to have close family members with anxiety or other mental disorders. Experiences: Negative or traumatic experiences can also play a role in making people feel anxious, fearful, and worried. Upbringing: Children raised with parents or caregivers who modeled anxious responses may also be more likely to experience elevated levels of anxiety later during adulthood. Approximately 2.7% of adults in the U.S. experienced generalized anxiety disorder in the past year. The condition also tends to be twice as common in women as it is in men. Impact of Free-Floating Anxiety Free-floating anxiety can have a number of different effects on a person’s life. All of that worrying can raise a person’s stress levels, which can have a serious impact on overall health. It may make it more difficult to get a restful night's sleep, which can leave people with feelings of daytime tiredness and fatigue. Because people with free-floating anxiety spend so much time preoccupied with these general feelings of unease and worry, they have a more difficult time enjoying their lives and experience lower levels of overall life satisfaction and happiness. Feelings of anxiety can also contribute to other problems including depression, headaches, social withdrawal, substance misuse, relationship problems, and even thoughts of suicide. Treatment Fortunately, there are treatments for anxiety that can be very effective. If your symptoms are interfering with your ability to function normally and are causing significant distress, talk to your doctor. Some of the treatments that your doctor may recommend are listed below. Psychotherapy One approach known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. CBT focuses on helping people identify the automatic negative thought patterns that contribute to feelings of anxiety. Once they learn to recognize these thoughts, people can then work to replace those patterns with more helpful ones. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Medications Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help you manage your feelings of anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, are sometimes prescribed to relieve anxiety. An anti-anxiety medication called BuSpar (buspirone) may also be prescribed. Benzodiazepines may sometimes be used on a short-term basis to relieve feelings of acute anxiety. How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated? Coping With Free-Floating Anxiety While free-floating anxiety can be a sign of a mental health condition such as generalized anxiety disorder, it can also be something that people experience from time to time without having an actual anxiety disorder. Whether your anxiety is more persistent or if it comes and goes, there are things that you can do to better cope with these feelings. Some things you can do include: Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms: Turning to alcohol or other substances may help in the short-term, but will often create worse problems in the long-term. Eat a healthy diet: Some research suggests that nutrition may play a role in anxiety, so eating a healthy diet may help you feel better. Exercise: Studies have shown that staying physically active can be important for reducing symptoms of anxiety. Research suggests that exercise can be an effective way to release tension and reduce feelings of worry and anxiety. Practice relaxation techniques: Findings ways to lower your anxiety levels can make it easier to cope with worry and stress. Strategies such as meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and visualization may help take your mind off your worries and lower your overall stress levels. Stop smoking and limit caffeine: Caffeine and nicotine can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, so limiting these substances may be helpful. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments, such as St. John's wort, are sometimes used to treat anxiety. Some of these supplements may have serious risks, so you should always talk to your healthcare provider before you try any supplement or alternative treatment. For example, St. John’s wort has the potential to cause serotonin syndrome when combined with some antidepressants. A Word From Verywell Free-floating anxiety can be distressing and may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. If you are having feelings of unease and worry that don’t seem to have a specific cause, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Anxiety often grows worse over time and may eventually lead to avoidance behaviors that can interfere with your life and ability to function. Effective treatments are available, including online therapy options that may allow you to learn how to manage your anxiety using convenient apps, websites, and other online tools. If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders. Patriquin MA, Mathew SJ. The neurobiological mechanisms of generalized anxiety disorder and chronic stress. Chronic Stress. 2017;1:247054701770399. doi:10.1177/2470547017703993 Gottschalk MG, Domschke K. Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traits. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):159-168. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/kdomschke National Institute of Mental Health. Generalized anxiety disorder. Munir S, Takov V. Generalized anxiety disorder. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Murphy M, Mercer JG. Diet-regulated anxiety. Int J Endocrinol. 2013;2013:701967. doi:10.1155/2013/701967 Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017;106:48-56. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003 By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for GAD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.