Anxiety is on the rise. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders now affect over 40 million Americans. Maybe it even affects you. But, while anxiety is common, it doesn’t have to take over your life. We take a look at the causes of free-floating anxiety and what you can do to overcome it.
What is Free-Floating Anxiety?
Also known as General Anxiety Disorder, free-floating anxiety is defined as a feeling of nervousness, worry or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. At first glance, this seems quite natural—we all experience these feelings. Chances are you’ve felt anxious before an interview, a doctor’s appointment, or a big day at work. A little worry is ok, even perfectly normal in day-to-day life. But, when these small worries begin to take over your thoughts and start to affect your ability to live a full and enjoyable life, you may be suffering from free-floating anxiety. The earlier you address the symptoms, the easier it is to recover.
How do you feel day to day? Are you calm and centered, or do you feel your mind is constantly racing? Reactions to anxiety vary from person to person, but some of the most common symptoms are…
- Feeling nervous about nothing in particular
- Worrying about things that are unrelated to what you’re doing
- Having trouble focusing
- Irritability or short temper
- Excessive sweating or cold sweats
- Clammy hands
- Faster heartbeat
What Causes Free-Floating Anxiety?
Free-floating anxiety is a multifactorial disorder. A combination of factors conspire to make the perfect conditions for it to thrive.
- Lifestyle: Poor quality of sleep, lack of exercise, stress, and a diet high in processed foods can all contribute to feelings of anxiety.
- Environment: What happens in the world around you can have a dramatic impact on your mental health. Living in an unsafe community, being isolated from friends or family, and experiencing traumatic life events such as bereavement or loss are all factors that can lead to or exacerbate anxiety.
- Genes: These are the characteristics we inherit from our families. In much the same way as blue eyes might run in your family, you may also have inherited certain genes that put you at greater risk of suffering from anxiety.
- Brain chemistry: Anxiety is also caused by changes in brain chemistry, specifically low levels of serotonin. This important neurotransmitter is responsible for feelings of wellbeing as well as regulating mood, appetite and sleep. Low levels of serotonin are associated with low moods. However, the scientific community hasn’t yet agreed whether low moods cause a dip in serotonin levels or whether low serotonin levels cause low moods. It’s likely to be a combination of both, which is why it takes a multi-pronged approach to free yourself from free-floating anxiety.
Overcoming Free-Floating Anxiety
The first thing to recognize is that you can greatly reduce anxiety with simple lifestyle strategies. Your anxiety has grown and developed over the years, so it’s important to understand that it will take time to change. Be gentle with yourself; take it one day at the time, and gradually, you’ll find that you feel more calm and centered.
Move Your Body
The physical health benefits of exercise are well documented, but did you know that it’s also hugely beneficial to mental health? A review of studies published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that physical activity can help manage anxiety and depression in a number of ways. Aerobic exercise boosts levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, low levels of which are linked to anxiety and depression. What’s more, when you work out, your body releases endorphins in the brain, which, in turn, elevates your mood.
The best thing? Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym or putting yourself through a punishing routine (unless, of course, you enjoy that, in which case, go for it!). In fact, it can be anything you choose. Why not go for a walk? Or cycle to the shops instead of driving? You could put on your favorite music and dance like no one’s watching. Do a little bit every day; it’s far more beneficial to do 10 to 15 minutes regularly than to cram it all into one day. Whichever way you choose to, moving your body will do wonders for your mood.
Pen to Paper
What triggers your anxiety? As the name indicates, free-floating anxiety “free-floats” and often isn’t attached to one specific thing. It can be difficult to put your finger on what may be causing you to feel anxious, and this is where journaling can help. Writing about your day can allow you to see what sets off your feelings of anxiety or worry. When you understand the triggers, you can begin to find creative solutions. Journaling is also a wonderful way to take time out for yourself.
You probably have a very busy life. You battle through the commute to work, rush through your tasks, look after the children, help friends and family, do the shopping, and never have a spare moment to relax. This inevitably leads to feelings of anxiety. Do you take time out for yourself? Do you, once or twice a week, do something that makes you smile or helps you feel peaceful? This is particularly important for women, who are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders. Practicing gentle yoga, reading or listening to a book, having a candle-lit bath or simply sitting in silence are all ways you can take some “you time.” Even if the only time you can find is half an hour before going to bed, take that moment, and dedicate it to yourself.
Junk food doesn’t just affect your physical health; it affects your mood as well. What you put in your body will have an impact on your mental health. A diet high in junk foods like sugar, refined carbohydrates and trans-fats is detrimental to all aspects of health, including your mood. Indeed, research published by the American Psychological Association finds that consuming sugar can create feelings of anxiety due to its addictive nature. Be kind to your body, and give it what it needs to feel its best. Consider swapping processed foods for whole foods and following an anti-anxiety diet.
You do not have to be a prisoner of free-floating anxiety—quite the opposite! By making a conscious decision to begin taking steps to overcome it, you will free yourself from this debilitating disorder. Small changes can amount to a big difference. Going for a walk, taking time out to relax and meditate, and eating a diet high in natural foods are all simple things you can do to reclaim control of your mood.
How do you overcome your anxiety? Which situations are most likely to make you feel anxious? Do you have go-to strategies when you’re feeling worried? Feel free to share your tips! We’d love to hear about them in the comments.