How Not to Catch Free Floating Anxieties

| October 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Mrs. Freud

The first time I heard it during psychology training I thought that the term “free floating anxiety” sounded like something one could catch – like a cold. While they are not contagious from one person to another, I believe that we can “catch” free floating anxieties from various things that surround us. We are all different in how much negativity we can withstand and how our environment affects us. Anything that gets our adrenal glands going can make us feel nervous, worried or anxious. We might lose our patience quicker, have fewer creative thoughts, become more negative, remember unpleasant memories: we feel out of balance, not being able to name any certain reason for it. We might assume that we are under the weather, since there is no particular reason for our mood. This can be free floating anxiety.

It is difficult to spot as well as to deal with, since it cannot be linked to any known specific object, situation, or event; and yet, it can influence our quality of life in a very negative way. Depending on its severity and prevalence, it can affect every aspect of our life. We might rather stay home than go out and have a good time. We spend time worrying rather than planning our future and don´t trust a good time when it is here. We can´t sleep well, experience difficulties concentrating, or even heart palpitations, sweating and difficulty breathing. While diagnosable as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), even mild levels of it can already influence our life and it is well worth preventing.

Think about the things that get your stress level up. Often we pile our plates too full. When we drink a lot caffeine to cope with stress it adds to the emission of adrenaline in the body. Not enough sleep, little exercise does the same. Stressful images like we see on the news also add their part to free floating anxiety. Images of people in distress can trigger any of our own hidden fears that we have: fear of dying, not having enough, getting sick, being betrayed or ambushed.

While we are watching, we get anxious as we relate to what we are seeing. It is important to take responsibility for our own sense of ease and safety. Anything that we notice that adds to that sense is an asset, a valuable resource. It can be used whenever we notice that our temper gets short, when we get grumpy, or short of breath. It is best if we know our own symptoms and are continuously on the lookout for them. Whatever we learn that increases our adrenaline level, we add it to the list of things to avoid and limit.

As an example, I recommend to clients a media fast for a week and encourage them to notice the difference in how they feel: about themselves, and about their outlook in life in general. On the long run it is sometimes better to read the news as opposed to seeing the moving images on TV. Our own imagination can always only go as far as what we know and what is safe. The television images, however, leave no room for that. Be the gatekeeper of what enters your own mind.

Some anxiety is healthy for us to survive, to assess serious, potential dangers. But beyond that, free floating anxiety narrows our horizon of the possibilities and abilities that enhance our lives. Sometimes we have been with limitations for so long that we think it is part of our personality. Still, it can be left behind by applying the above mentioned and maybe with the help of a mental health professional. The courage to take a look at it will give any anxiety the boot, because anxiety cannot reign where courage acts.

Author Sabine Starr is a psychologist licensed in Vienna, Austria, currently living and working in Mission Hills. She has written numerous articles for professional psychology journals. For further information, visit and follow her blog at

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