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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a condition marked by pervasive and excessive anxiety, with its central symptom being "free-floating anxiety" – an ambiguous and persistent sense of anxiousness not anchored to any specific situation but rather floats through all aspects of daily life.
Free-floating anxiety appears to be ubiquitous when perusing my social media feeds. When a person has anxiety, they have a sense of dread for an anticipated event. When a person has free-floating anxiety, they have a sense of dread for unanticipated events that can happen anytime and anywhere.
Free-floating anxiety is the primary state of the metacrisis, which points to our interrelated crises and their potential catastrophic outcomes. Global supply chain collapse, AGI misalignment, WWIII springing up from the world's regional conflicts, and many other hellish scenarios cause a collective vulnerability, leaving no obvious course of action to guide one's behavior.
Many on the internet are dreading doomsday scenarios, with shot nervous systems, coping with sensationalist tweets about how bad things can get. When anxiety is a constant presence, feelings of hopelessness are often close at hand, and doomscrolling becomes a new pastime. I am not interested in doomscrolling toward greater hopelessness. Instead, I am fostering a "free-floating hope," nurturing a generalized sense of hope that floats throughout my life.
Once a respected theological virtue, hope seems unfashionable these days, viewed as naive, pollyanna, and uncool. While this view is mistaken, it is possible to have misguided hope. Hoping that tomorrow's lottery ticket wins big or that the Israel and Palestine conflict will be solved overnight is a foolish application of hope. Hoping for particular circumstances to turn out well when it is unrealistic for them to do so leads to hopelessness.
Instead, it is wiser to hope more generally, with a strong sense that good will emerge, especially when the good will show or what it looks like is unknown. We do not know what the good will look like; only dorky ideologues pretend to. Hope is the spiritual muscle we need to exercise to sensefully direct our focus toward a wholesome unknown.
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