Don't Let Dating Anxiety Keep You from Dating
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Dating anxiety is a form of social anxiety. Social anxiety involves feelings of apprehension, self-consciousness and emotional distress in anticipated or actual social-evaluative situations, while those unpleasant feelings are limited in dating for dating anxiety.
If you suffer from dating anxiety and you find out it often interferes with your willingness and intention of experiencing nice moments through dating, a first important thing to remember is that the fear of the prospect of negative evaluation and rejection is common to all of us. The difference for the people with dating anxiety, is that it may be more difficult to manage and control this fear.
But what are you actually afraid of? Let's explore it...
There are quite a few fears underlying dating anxiety : ridicule, humiliation, contempt, embarrassment, loss of potential affection and acceptance, and negative evaluation. The ultimate imaginable consequence of negative evaluation is fear of abandonment; however dating anxiety is also driven by a deep fear of the unknown.
There are indeed many concerns that may bother your mind prior to dating: What first impression will I make on them? Will I like them in return, or will this be in vain again? Will we get along during our date, will we have a fun time together? Will I say the right things, will they be “right” for me? These are only a few of the questions that may arise inside you and get you paralyzed at the prospective of dating someone new.
Remember: it is only human to be nervous in a new situation with a new person!
Therefore some level of anxiety is reasonable and realistic to expect during this rather stressful experience. Dating may seem intimidating and potentially threatening, because of all the expectations, interpretations and fears around it; in which case the default response is anxiety. This is especially prominent to those who are more sensitive to anxiety and easily get flooded by negative emotions.
The reason you are probably reading this article right now is not because you don’t know what dating anxiety is, but probably because you would like to find out ways to cope with it and be free of its destructive effects. Right? However, shedding some light on what underlies dating anxiety will surely help you understand it better, even understand yourself better. If you are willing to try out some techniques in order to manage dating anxiety, you are already on the right path!
The first and perhaps most important step to change is awareness of a problem existing, followed by the intention to change. The second step just after your intention to create change, is making a conscious decision to not allow your dating anxiety to control you and jeopardize a potentially pleasant dating experience for you.
Your belief that You are in control of your dating anxiety, rather than the other way around, is not simply desired but actually essential. If you establish the mindset that you are perfectly capable of gaining control over your dating anxiety, then indeed you are (or you will be, eventually). Like with anything else, it all starts from inside; from your own choice.
Dating anxiety might immobilize you both before and during your date. "Anticipatory anxiety” -the anxiety we experience during anticipation of exposure to our stressful triggers- is usually on much higher levels than the anxiety experienced during frightening events.
This can be explained to a great extent by our fear of the unknown being activated right then, as we don’t really know exactly what to expect and how it will be like, and subsequently a chain of negative thoughts is produced, usually combined with a set of destructive “what-if” scenarios.
That is the reason why emphasis should be given to managing your dating anxiety prior to dating, as the feelings of overwhelming anxiety are expected to be dissolved or at least significantly reduced once you actually meet your date.
So let’s start from the moment you are still at home. Some ways and techniques to make you feel better, more confident and calmer will be explored below.
Pre-dating tips and techniques
Be cautious with labeling your anxiety, and become the observer
Your views and beliefs about dating play a role in your dating anxiety. Thus, if you view dating as difficult and anxiety-provoking, then so it will feel. Try re-labeling it as a fun experience with lots of unexplored possibilities involved, and the results may surprise you. Moreover, avoid labeling anxious thoughts as “bad”, or perceiving them in a self-defeating way. Break the cycle! Does anxiety arise? So be it! Try to become the silent observer of it rather than an active participator in it. This way you will avoid getting caught up in a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and you detach from the anxiety- it’s a small step towards not allowing it to control you. This too shall pass, tell yourself. For every anxious thought that appears, come up with a positive one.
Trick your mind: It’s all about where you let it focus on!
Ok, so you feel anxious and apprehensive prior to dating. This is undoubtedly unpleasant, but ask yourself: is it the ONLY thing you feel about dating in the here-and-now? Let me answer that for you: definitely NOT! Because if it would be, then you simply wouldn’t have arranged the date in the first place. Therefore, think of what other emotions are there active, possibly overshadowed behind this overwhelming anxiety? This is a chance to brainstorm! Maybe even write things down, it always helps to clear the focus of our minds. You will probably find excitement, curiosity, thrill, hope, sense of adventure, new potentials. Focus on those, be enthusiastic about all the possible positive outcomes that may arise out of this evening!
Use anxiety to your favor: Rationalize about past experiences
Think back to other anxiety-provoking experiences that you were nervous about, that actually went well for you. Examples may include job interviews, other dating experiences, going to a party with lots of people you didn’t know, etc. This will help bring you in touch with reality, that anxiety is just a response of your mind in the face of potentially threatening situations, but that it doesn’t need to have so catastrophic consequences.
Be more socially active in your everyday life
Take small steps with strangers to help overcome shyness, insecurity and intimidation. This technique may seem irrelevant to the dating anxiety per se, but it does add up in the bigger picture of you being more confident towards a stranger.
Use reality reminders
The upcoming date is only a small part of your life. You have been through lot worse probably. Make a reality check with regards to your anxiety! Why wouldn’t you be able to go through it? Be confident, you.can.do.it!
Engage in physical activity
Any form of physical activity (e.g. a round-the-block jog, yoga, cycling, aerobics- anything) helps release precious endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and adrenaline in your brain, relaxes your muscles and boosts up your energy levels, resulting in a significant improvement of your mood. Create a more positive setting for your brain by engaging shortly in some form of activity on a regular basis and before your date. This way you can use your brain to your favor through exercising.
Cognitive rehearsal: Having a vague plan of your date in mind
Part of your anxiety about your date may be about what you will do, what you will talk about, whether you will “click” or not, if he/she will find you interesting and attractive, etc. Though you can’t really control some of these factors (whether you will make a connection and whether you will actually make a match), you can work on the things you can control to help diminish your anxiety levels a little bit. Think of potential topics to discuss, what interests you, what do you feel comfortable and confident talking about. Writing those down is always recommended, and it will give you an increased sense of control about your date.
More advanced steps to encourage this technique are the following:
Think through the situation in advance
Identify possible automatic thoughts that may cloud your mind at that moment, and possible behaviours you will engage to
Modify the negative thoughts by making a Thought Change Record (Thinking alternatives and examining the evidence for each negative thought that comes to your mind about your date: How true it actually is? What is an alternative to it? How can you act to cope with it?)
Rehearse the more adaptive way of thinking and behaving in your mind
Implement the new strategy
Request social support
If things get too overwhelming, don’t hesitate to ask for support! Make a short phonecall to your best friend, explain the situation and that you feel a bit overwhelmed, and allow them to encourage and support you. Knowing you have someone to turn to is always a big relief in moments like this.
Put attention to where you will meet your date
Social anxiety (and subsequently dating anxiety) is most severe at places that include excessive social interaction, for example crowded and noisy places (e.g. bars, clubs, parties). These places may not only invoke more stress in you, but also don’t really encourage substantial communication and conversation between strangers. If you think things could get even harder for you at such a place, maybe devote some time thinking about alternative dating locations. Show interest in your date and inquire them about their interests; for example, perhaps you are both into ice skating or hiking, and that would also make a great and innovative first date location!
Use positive self-talk
As emphasized previously, positive affirmations do have great power. Therefore you can contribute in how you view yourself with brainstorming a bit about all the positive qualities you can think of about yourself. Be realistic; this does not aim to make you arrogant and narcissistic prior to your date, but to make you realize you do have strong positive attributes that may be attractive to many, therefore you don’t even need to worry too much about your date. There’s a good chance things will go great, but even if they don’t, it doesn’t really matter: you deserve to be happy, so if this date doesn’t work out, one in the future will!
Focus on the date activity and the present moment!
A great percentage of dating anxiety consists of your worry about whether things will go well between you and your potential date. What if you like them a lot and you want to see them again? How will you create the ideal conditions to meet again? What if you like them more than they like you? Well… These questions are not really serving your best interest, because they direct your attention to the Future rather than in the Present. That's what worry does. Instead, bring your focus on making this date a fun experience for both of you, rather than creating expectations about whether and how it will work out long-term. Stay in the Present moment, don’t run into the Future! All you have is Now; and now is an opportunity to have a very pleasant experience meeting someone new. What will turn out of this, you simply don’t know; thus there’s no point in worrying about it. In any case, expectations are a huge set-back in all sorts of new situations; though it is admittedly hard to proceed without expecting. But guess what? When nothing is certain, everything is possible! Expect nothing, and be open to everything. For now, the only thing that should matter is both of you enjoying the date. Focus on the NOW!
If you are an anxious person, then you are likely an expert in catastrophizing. Catastrophizing means making very negative and catastrophic predictions about the future and worrying about worst-case scenarios. With this technique, you are actually encouraged to catastrophize and think of all the things that may go bad, with the uttermost goal to actually diminish your worries. Take a pen and paper, this one is yet another exercise that works best if you write things down!
Take a moment to think and write down all the things you worry can go wrong. What’s the worst outcomes you can imagine about your upcoming date? What would be so terrible about not having much to discuss about? Try to challenge each and every one of those catastrophic predictions. For example, you worry you will be so nervous that you will not know what to say, or that you will embarrass yourself. So, you really don’t have anything to say? They don't like you back in return?
Try to answer these fears realistically, and immediately you will find out things are not as bad as you imagine. If they don’t like you, then eventually you will find someone who will. It wouldn’t work out if you’re the only one involved anyway. If you say something silly, then it is not the end of the world. You may have just an embarrassing moment out of a whole amazing evening. Think of everything that could still be ok, despite of things going wrong. That will help diminish your fears, and also prepare you in case they come true. Nothing is really as bad as we fear it will be. With this technique, you can build confidence you can actually manage feared outcomes and situations.
Taking you higher
So soon enough you will meet someone potentially special- what would you mostly want in this case? Right, presenting your best possible Self to him! Therefore, it’s extremely important that you feel as good as possible with yourself just before setting off for your date. What do you normally do to get in a good inmood? That can greatly vary across different people, but some examples are listening to your favorite uplifting music, dancing around the house, singing alone, playing with your pet; you name it. What is important is to take yourself higher and feel happy and confident just before you leave the house. What makes you feel attractive and comfortable? Wear clothes that promote your attractiveness and in which you feel mostly in contact with yourself. You may also want to use the power of positive affirmations: write down 3 positive qualities about yourself, and focus your attention on those. This will instantly make you feel better about yourself and prepare you to be good to go.
Ground yourself before leaving the house
If your anxiety levels are still overwhelming, then the last thing you should do before leaving the house is a short breathing relaxation exercise. Focus on your breathing, take deep breaths abdominally while slowly exhaling the air for around 10 minutes. Notice how your muscles relax during this exercise, feel the calming effect of your breathing everywhere in your body. If you find it challenging to bring yourself in this state without assistance, then you may find countless guided short breathing sessions even on youtube. When you have completed the relaxation exercise, repeat some positive affirmations to yourself, pump your mind with confidence, wear your best smile and off you go!
As we said earlier, the toughest part is probably your anxiety prior to the date. Hopefully with the techniques and strategies discussed above you will be able to deal with your anxiety on a satisfactory level before going to the date. However, it is normal that meeting your date in person is an event to be accompanied by some degree of anxiety as well, so learning how to manage anxiety during your date is also crucial. Below a few tips about handling your anxiety on the spot will be discussed. Get ready, steady, go!
During-dating tips and techniques
Reminder of positive affirmations
If a wave of panic arrives, calmly tell yourself that you are on top of the situation. You are capable of conquering your anxiety, you are stronger than it is! Regard yourself positively: You Are Here Now, which means you already took the risk of arranging and coming to the date, instead of letting your fear win over by cancelling or avoiding to set it up altogether. Consider this as an accomplishment, and allow yourself a mental reward about it. Since you made it so far, you can definitely go through the whole experience successfully.
Use humor and laugh!
Laughter is an instant mood booster and an ice breaker! Should you find yourself in an uncomfortable position, think of a joke or just laugh at yourself. The latest also conveys the message that you are comfortable with yourself. Remember: humor connects people!
Stay in the Moment
Be present Here and Now! This is a guaranteed way you can tune out all the pointless chatter in your head. Let assumptions, worries and judgments aside. Wondering about whether they are the One, whether you will manage to meet again, how is it going to turn out etc. is just meaningless right now, plus it does not benefit you. You only have Now, so make the most of it! What will happen tomorrow is a mystery, therefore only stay in the present moment, absorb it fully and enjoy it as much as possible!
Become the observer
Become mindful of your anxiety. When you take notice of an anxious thought, simply recognize its presence (“Oh, I’m freaking out right now. That’s OK!”) and then begin your attempt to conquer it by focusing on your breathing and repeating to yourself some positive affirmations such as “I can handle this, I am defeating my fears and everything will be fine”. Don’t interact with your negative thoughts, don’t give food to the vicious cycle of anxiety. Accept it is happening, and move forward.
Let go of high expectations of yourself
No-one is flawless, and that of course does not You leave out- neither your date. Therefore your worry of appearing less than perfect is groundless, because in essence… you ARE imperfect! Deal with it! Celebrate the opportunity to be yourself, relaxed and natural. If you are busy striving towards some high expectations of yourself (like worrying about saying something silly) then you actually promote anxiety in your mind. Why? Because you would be making an effort to restrain yourself, to be you! Be free, be you: it is with You they may actually fall in love, so what’s the point in trying to be anyone else but that?!
Don’t be afraid of silences
Most of us don’t really know how to deal with silences; thus we named them “awkward silences”. However, they really don’t need to be regarded this negatively. Silences are going to occur at one point or another, during any given social situation. We often feel compelled to “fill the gap”, because of an underlying fear and insecurity that there’s nothing to talk about or that the other does not feel interested or intrigued enough.That is unnecessary. Should an “awkward silence” appear during your date, resist from the urge to change it! Silences happen for a reason (like anything else), therefore allow yourself and your date as well to restructure your thoughts, think of what to talk next, calm yourself down a bit, distract yourself by observing the space around you. There is nothing wrong with silence; it is just an opportunity to give you both a break and continue with better and fresher ideas. It’s a chance for reflection and recollection. Give your silence some time!
Be open-minded and optimistic
Absolutely avoid making fast judgements or negative evaluations about your date, in the same way you probably wouldn’t like it if they did that towards you as well. Try to remain as open, accepting and non-critical as possible. First impressions do matter greatly, nobody said the opposite; but they are not everything. Once again, try to leave your great expectations out of your date and appreciate the person sitting across you as much as possible. Try to understand and “see” behind the surface, Who is this person? Try to bring your attention on whatever positive characteristics you see about them. If you expected Prince Charming on the white horse and this one looks like just another regular guy, still give them a chance. After all, it is all about focusing in the Present. How does it feel to be around them?Do they make you laugh, listen to your stories, maintain eye contact? Does it feel comfortable to be where you are? Trust your gut feeling, and remember that an ordinary guy/girl may actually eventually surprise you positively. Even if you don’t feel really comfortable or are unsure about whether you like them, that’s also ok- focus on having a pleasant time for now, it won’t last that much longer!
Focus on your date more than on yourself
Across you, you have another human being, with their own life story, struggles, fears, likes and dislikes. Use the opportunity of this date to find out as much as possible about this other person. Often we listen in order to reply, not in order to understand. This time, try to do the opposite: when they speak, truly listen. Really be present. Be attentive and practice your listening skills. If you show genuine interest, you will probably be rewarded with the same in return.
Sharing is caring!
This one may look difficult, but if you feel like your anxiety is crippling you, it’s better to not be shy about it. What’s important is to be yourself during your date, and that also includes being honest about this part of yourself. Admit that you are a bit nervous during an overwhelming moment to your date, there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t lose you points, but actually the opposite. This will not only ease off the pressure you may be feeling on that moment, but it will also transfer the message that you are authentic and brave enough to share it with them. Honesty and openness are milestones of creating a meaningful and true connection. Your date will definitely appreciate your honesty, and besides, they may be nervous as well; therefore admitting it may increase a feeling of connectedness between the two of you.
These are only a few tips and ideas on how to handle your dating anxiety. Exploring and discovering the combinations of these that fit best to you is a personal choice. Practice makes perfect! So the more you date, the better you will become at it, and the more your anxiety will gradually diminish.
As a conclusion, the most vital part of your dating experience is to keep it in mind as a lesson. If you are willing to learn something new out of every dating experience, be it about yourself, about your date as a unique individual, about your anxiety- anything, then no date will ever be in vain for you.
Lastly, if you remain consistent in your efforts overcoming your anxiety, sooner or later you will be able to witness the fruits of your persistence. It all just needs just a little faith in yourself. Best of luck in your dating endeavors!