Free-floating anxiety refers to a mental disorder in which an anxiety or panic attack is brought about without a specific triggered situation or object. Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is the common medical term often used to refer to free-floating anxiety.
More than 6 million people in the United States suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Of those sufferers, 60 percent are women and 40 percent are men. It is estimated that 8 to 9 percent of U.S. citizens will develop GAD at some point in their lives, and over 10 percent of people treated in mental-health clinics are diagnosed with the condition.
General anxiety disorder is caused in part by abnormal levels of brain neurotransmitters, which are responsible for delivering signals between nerve endings. Anxiety is associated with neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid. The locus ceruleus, which is located near the brain's fourth ventricle, stores and produces norepinephrine. Anxiety is caused by an increased activity in the locus ceruleus. Higher levels of GABA and serotonin are effective in relieving anxiety.
Some factors that contribute to free-floating anxiety can include school, work, finances or relationships. Sometimes genetic make-up predetermines a GAD diagnosis. Other factors can include sleep deprivation or a poor diet.
Free-floating anxiety can include multiple symptoms such as depression, irritability, chronic fatigue, sleep deprivation and/or a lack of focus. Many patients report feelings of chronic fear, apprehension and tension. Often a patient will describe an overwhelming feeling of impending doom. Most cases of GAD develop during adolescence, yet most treatments are not sought until adulthood.
GAD is generally treated by combining psychotherapy and prescribed medication. Drugs that effectively treat free-floating anxiety are benzodiazepines, antidepressants, beta-blockers and buspirone. The patient is prescribed a certain medication based on potential side effects and treatment effectiveness.