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Defreezing Senior Citizens from Free Floating Anxiety

Free-floating anxiety refers to an ongoing sense of dread, fear, or restlessness without a specific cause
12:00 AM Mar 24, 2024 IST | Dr. Showkat Rashid Wani
defreezing senior citizens from free floating anxiety

Haleema, a retired college teacher, had lived a fulfilling life, balancing family, passions, and a successful career. However, as she entered her later years, she began to experience a sense of unease that lingered in her mind like a dark cloud. Unlike past worries tied to specific events, this anxiety felt different—it floated freely, casting shadows over even the simplest moments of her day.


Haleema found herself awake at night, heart racing with nameless dread, and struggled to concentrate during the day as worries about the future consumed her thoughts.


Her family noticed her change from vibrant to withdrawn, but Haleema hesitated to seek help, valuing her independence. Eventually, overwhelmed by anxiety, she reached out to a therapist. Through therapy, Haleema learned techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing to manage her anxiety.

She explored its root causes, addressing deep-seated fears and insecurities. Slowly, she regained control, finding solace in small moments of joy and connection.


Haleema made lifestyle changes, taking walks in the park and rediscovering her love for reading and writing. She published books to benefit students and visited her college to mentor scholars.


Embracing each day as an opportunity for growth, Haleema was determined to live free from worries, demonstrating resilience and a commitment to self-discovery.


Free-floating anxiety refers to an ongoing sense of dread, fear, or restlessness without a specific cause. Many times, this anxiety feels generalized and even random. For example, you may feel nervous without really knowing why. Or, things might even be going well, but you still feel panicked. Although it isn’t a specific diagnosis, free-floating anxiety often accompanies generalized anxiety disorder.


Symptoms of free floating anxiety in senior citizens:

Feeling Anxious for no Reason: Experiencing anxiety or worry without being able to identify a specific cause or trigger.

General Sense of Unease: Having a pervasive feeling of discomfort or nervousness that lingers throughout the day.

Physical Symptoms: Experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety, such as tension headaches, muscle aches, or gastrointestinal distress, without a clear external stressor.

Difficulty Relaxing: Finding it challenging to relax or unwind, even during times of rest or leisure.
Hypervigilance: Being constantly on edge or alert, as if anticipating something bad to happen, without any concrete reason for this heightened state of alertness.

Racing Thoughts: Having a mind filled with racing or intrusive thoughts that contribute to a sense of agitation or restlessness.

Sleep Disturbances: Experiencing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to an underlying sense of worry or tension.

Avoidance Behaviours: Engaging in avoidance behaviours to cope with the discomfort of free-floating anxiety, such as avoiding social situations or procrastinating on tasks.

Impact on Daily Functioning: Finding it challenging to concentrate, make decisions, or perform daily tasks due to the pervasive nature of anxiety.

Sense of Impending Doom: Feeling as though something terrible is about to happen, even when there is no logical reason to believe so.

How to Cope with Free Floating Anxiety

Handling free-floating anxiety in elderly individuals requires a compassionate and comprehensive approach. Here are several strategies that can be helpful:

Validate Their Feelings: Acknowledge and validate the senior citizens’ feelings of anxiety without dismissing or minimizing them. Let them know that it’s okay to feel anxious and that their emotions are valid.

Encourage Communication: Create a safe and supportive environment where the senior citizen feels comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Encourage open communication and active listening without judgment.

Identify Triggers: Help the senior citizen identify any potential triggers or stressors contributing to their anxiety. This could involve discussing recent life changes, health concerns, or other factors that may be causing distress.

Provide Reassurance: Offer reassurance and support by emphasizing their strengths, coping abilities, and past successes in managing anxiety. Remind them that they are not alone and that help is available.

Promote Relaxation Techniques: Teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or gentle yoga. These techniques can help reduce anxiety levels and promote a sense of calmness.

Encourage Physical Activity: Encourage regular physical activity tailored to their abilities and preferences. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being in senior citizens

Ensure a Healthy Lifestyle: Advocate for a healthy lifestyle that includes balanced nutrition, adequate sleep, and regular social engagement. Avoiding excessive caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants can also help manage anxiety symptoms.

Provide Social Support: Facilitate social connections and support networks by encouraging participation in social activities, group outings, or support groups. Social support can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can contribute to anxiety.

Consider Professional Help: If the senior citizen’s anxiety is significantly impacting their daily functioning or quality of life, encourage them to seek professional help from a therapist, counsellor, or mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based therapies can be effective in treating anxiety in older adults.

Medication Management: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage severe or persistent anxiety symptoms. Ensure that the senior citizens’ caretaker closely monitors medication usage and adjusts the treatment plan as needed.

Stay Connected: Regularly check in with the senior citizen to see how they are feeling and coping with their anxiety. Offer ongoing support and encouragement, and be attentive to any changes in their mood or behaviour.

By implementing these strategies and providing compassionate support, you can help senior citizens effectively manage free-floating anxiety and improve their overall well-being.

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

(Names may not be real.)