Ever felt your throat dry up before approaching women? Do your hands shake every time you muster up the courage to pass a book down to that cute guy in your class? Are you still googling ‘how to not get nervous when talking to a girl’? Guess what, you could be a victim of approach anxiety. So, what is this condition? What are some signs of such anxiety and how deeply does it affect your dating life? Can you overcome it?
Read on, as we unearth the intricacies of this particular anxiety with the help of our expert psychotherapist and psychosocial analyst Dr. Aman Bhonsle (PhD, PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. We’ll not just look at the signs and causes of such anxiety but also help you find out effective ways to overcome it.
What Is Approach Anxiety?
Dr. Bhonsle says, “The fear of approaching someone new or someone who’s too attractive to approach, stems from deep-seated self-esteem issues and the fear of new situations. This is often due to the effort that one has to put in to break free from the shackles of age-old norms that we’re taught to abide by. Though it’s mostly seen in children and adolescents, approach anxiety can occur at any age. It’s not gender-specific either. So, women can be as affected by such anxiety as men.”
In men, it can manifest as the fear of approaching a woman. But Quora user M Burks believes women have it worse, as society expects men to make the first move for dates or relationships. So, the fear of romantic rejection can cause many women to stay away from approaching men. Likewise, this condition should not be confused with introversion. An introvert may not necessarily be anxious in social scenarios but may just be avoiding people because they don’t like being a part of crowds.
Signs of approach anxiety
So, what are some obvious signs of approach anxiety in a person? Here are some instances that show a person may be suffering from such anxiety:
- Refusing to be part of selfies: Dr. Bhonsle says, “Something as simple as the idea of clicking a selfie with a group of friends may cause a person with this particular type of anxiety to shy away.”
- Aversion to conversations: A person with such anxiety may not wish to be part of conversations, not even small talk. Even starting a conversation may be a pain for them. So, a soft “hi” or “hello” will seem too much of work for such people, and they would rather avoid people than talk
- Avoiding social situations: People with this condition may not wish to be part of events or social gatherings. Dr. Bhonsle adds, “Such people will stay away from even seemingly mundane social gatherings, such as birthday parties or office lunches.”
- Leaving the party at the earliest: Such people are the first ones to leave a party, be it a family gathering or a corporate party
- Overthinking: People suffering from this sort of anxiety may overthink about their probable interactions, much before they have occurred, leading to thought paralysis. Dr. Bhonsle opines, “They may think and re-think how to introduce themselves to people at a party or in social situations, leading to paranoia. Approach anxiety is thus largely a self-created condition.”
Why Do We Feel Approach Anxiety?
Now that you know how to find out if you’ve been suffering from this condition, are you questioning yourself “Why do I get nervous when talking to a girl?” Let’s unearth some of the root causes that are responsible for this condition. So, why are some people more prone to this type of anxiety than others? Is it genetic or is it caused by social conditioning? Let’s look at what can potentially lead to anxiety while approaching others:
1. Past humiliation or failures
One of the prime reasons behind approach anxiety is bullying or humiliation by friends in school or college. In fact, this can lead to a lot of difficulty in starting conversations later in life. Dr. Bhonsle adds, “Repeated humiliation by peers or even parents can contribute to an innate lack of confidence or fear of approaching people in general.”
Previous failures in relationships, social scenarios, or careers too can make someone feel insecure in new relationships and uncomfortable while approaching people. “People may have been at the receiving end of politics, or may have been shamed in a social situation. For instance, something as simple as being excluded from a selfie could trigger social anxiety,” adds Dr. Bhonsle
2. Rigid upbringing
People who have been raised by conservative parents, or have been to schools with rigid environments, may end up suffering from an uncontrolled fear of approaching people.
Dr. Bhonsle agrees, “Many schools have extremely rigid rules and often punish students for being different. Plus, a rigid upbringing can make the overall character of a person too rigid. In such cases, the person isn’t able to approach anyone or any situation that’s a bit more challenging or different. It’s because they have an innate affinity to their tribe and have feelings of anxiety whenever that status quo is challenged.” Some instances of such rigidity are as follows:
- Rigidity of speech or conduct: People who grew up pleasing teachers or parents by following ‘rules’ to appear to be ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ are more prone to suffer from such anxiety. Such people probably grew up hating small talk that’s required to network and focused more on pleasing the immediate superior
- Treating elders in a certain way: People who are taught that elders are always right tend to find themselves lost when they are in the company of people whose ideals clash with theirs
- Rigid morals: Dr. Bhonsle feels, “If you’ve grown up believing that ‘good’ women don’t smoke or that one should be home by such and such time, anything out of the ordinary in your sphere will make you anxious.” So, a person with such rigid morals will suffer from anxiety when he joins a college or a new job. This can also lead to the fear of approaching a woman or getting close to a girl who a man feels is out of his league.
People who are born into well-known families or have high achievers, such as movie stars or award-winning academicians, as relatives, can face anxiety when approaching people. Dr. Bhonsle thinks, “They are constantly hounded by the feeling of not being enough. This could mostly be self-created, but it’s also true that society often compares children or siblings of famous or high-achieving people with them. And when one falls into this comparison trap, it creates a lot of pressure.”
4. The pressure to perform
In the modern rat-race, there’s often an immense pressure to perform. Dr. Bhonsle says, “Right from his formative years, a man is driven to get a girlfriend, do well in extracurricular activities, rank in competitive exams, have a social circle, and be on social media. All of this creates a burn-out, which may then manifest as social anxiety.
“Added to this is the social pressure of bravado that most guys face. So, as if academic pressure isn’t enough, peers and friends often push guys to score a pretty girl at a party or in college. He may not wish to live up to those expected acts of bravado and may just want to have a hot meal and go to sleep. But, at the end of the day, he is expected to live up to a macho image or to be a man.”
Related Reading: 15 Signs A Guy Is Nervous Around You And 5 Reasons Why
5. When people aren’t allowed to be original
Dr. Bhonsle feels “The greatest cancer in society is the inclination to follow pre-existing norms. If people aren’t encouraged to be original or to question rules, they may prefer to stick to their mundane lives and may suffer from approach anxiety whenever they are thrust into challenging situations. They will then look for a safe shelter in things that they have been told to believe in.”
This can include:
- Relying too much on things that aren’t scientifically proven, such as destiny or fate
- Depending a lot on cultural traditions or religious dogma
6. Lack of real-life exposure
People who aren’t used to mingling with real people a lot and are hooked on to the virtual world can feel anxious when approaching new people. For instance, a friend of mine, Amy, would shut herself in her hostel room and play video games, be glued to her smartphone or Kindle, or watch Netflix, instead of interacting with her peers at her institute. When she had to present to an audience at a conference, she was shaking with anxiety.
There are many introverts who don’t like interacting with people, but it’s not anxiety unless it prevents you from being functional or from participating in an event you like. Introverts can flirt, work, and have healthy relationships, but people with approach anxiety can’t.
7. Non-growth mindset
Picture a teacher’s pet who pleases the teacher by doing something as ordinary as rubbing the blackboard. When people grow up being rewarded for something bland, they don’t wish to grow beyond their set boundaries. And this can lead to anxiety when they need to approach new places or people.
Related Reading: 11 Expert Tips On How Not To Be Nervous On A Date
Dr. Bhonsle believes, “Positive reinforcement for doing something ordinary in life can lead to anxiety while approaching challenging situations. People who are happy with measly salaries in boring jobs, without the need to experiment, are the most appropriate example of this kind.”
8. Bottling up emotions
When people aren’t allowed to show their emotions or be themselves, approach anxiety can creep in. Dr. Bhonsle says, “We often say men aren’t able to express their emotions, but women in our society, too, are often asked to tone themselves down and are blamed for everything from laughing too loud to sitting in a certain manner. This results in bottled-up feelings, which could make them suffer from this type of anxiety.”
11 Expert-Backed Tips For Overcoming Approach Anxiety
Now that you know what makes you anxious when you try to approach others, we will look at some expert-backed solutions to eliminate anxiety. So, here are 11 tips on how to overcome approach anxiety:
1. Restructure your situation objectively
Wondering how that beautiful woman might react if you approach her? Most people with this condition feel things might go bad if they approach other people. Instead of focusing on what might go wrong, think of it as an exercise or a practice session to hone your communication skills. This will also help you communicate better in relationships in future.
Related Reading: 9 Ways To Deal With Relationship Anxiety – Tips From Experts
2. Address your self-esteem
Try asking yourself why you feel the way you feel. Why does meeting people make you nervous? Do you feel you’re not good enough? Is it because of a broken home or a divorce? These are signs of low self-esteem. Instead of projecting past disappointments or failures on your future interactions, address the real problem and work on your self-esteem.
3. Engage in networking
People can be encouraged to go out to events, to talk to people, participate in workshops, or attend hobby classes to counter anxiety. Networking to make quality connections improves social skills like magic. Dr. Bhonsle feels, “Such people can be asked to network or do anything that helps them get over their fear of approaching people.”
Related Reading: 12 Ways To Cope With Dating Anxiety
4. Participate in public speaking
This is a great way to overcome the anxiety of approaching people in the formative years. Public speaking activities, such as elocution contests or even open mics, can be highly effective. In future, the lessons learned can be implemented to approach women or men in dating scenarios. This can help them improve their communication skills in their relationships too.
5. Join support groups
Support groups, where one can feel comfortable and communicate with like-minded people, can be of great help in such cases. In fact, this can be a great exercise in starting conversations. Dr. Bhonsle agrees, “Such groups can provide empathy and show it’s not a disease but just a limitation.”
Related Reading: 26 Love Yourself Quotes to Build Your Confidence
6. Focus on what you can bring to the table
Do you get clammy hands when you think of approaching beautiful women? Worried that the guy you fancy at work is too handsome to be approached? Do you suffer from anxiety before meeting someone you like?
Fret not. Focus on what you can bring to the interaction or conversation. Make them realize your worth. So, she’s pretty, but you’re a film buff who knows why Barbie has beaten Oppenheimer in the box-office race. He’s from an Ivy League institute, but nobody in the whole world can beat you in the piano.
7. Forget about what other people think
Wondering how to calm nerves before a date? The best dating coach will probably ask you to pay less attention to the opinions of strangers or even friends. It’s your life! So, go ahead and take the plunge. Be confident, maintain eye contact, and speak your heart out. Be prepared for any outcome, but don’t let other people ruin the fun.
8. Move away from familiar situations
If your family isn’t supportive of your growth or creates situations not conducive to your growth, consider moving to a new city. Likewise, if you’re stuck to a particular neighborhood or a job for years and are scared to interact with people apart from your known circle, the same suggestion can be followed. Dr. Bhonsle states, “Breaking away from known templates is necessary to deal with this sort of anxiety.”
9. Indulge in fun approach anxiety exercises or tasks
People with social anxiety can be included in fun experiments or encouraged to ask ice breaker questions to people. Dr. Bhonsle talks about the Train Project, which he had implemented to cure a 20-something guy of such anxiety. Dr. Bhonsle recalls, “The guy had severe anxiety and would be scared if someone else’s shadow crossed his. He came from a family where his needs were neglected and had grown up seeing bitter arguments between his parents.
“I asked him to go to his nearest train station and reach out to 5 random strangers. All he would have to do was to walk up to them, offer them some tea, ask them 3 generic questions, and initiate a discussion. While he was initially scared, he later approached these people with confidence. One of the strangers was so pally that he even offered to pay for this fellow’s tea.”
Related Reading: 26 Love Yourself Quotes to Build Your Confidence
10. Limit your expectations
Sometimes, reactions of people around us aren’t in our control. If you think you’re too anxious to date someone, start by jotting down what’s in your control and what’s not. Focusing what you’re capable of doing, without thinking of how people might react, could cure such anxiety. For instance, you can approach the woman of your dreams with all the confidence you have. But how she reacts will not be up to you. So, let it go! This will also help you manage expectations in relationships later.
11. Seek professional help
Finally, if you’re failing in getting over approach anxiety even after a lot of effort, try consulting a counselor. There is no alternative to therapy. Dr. Bhonsle feels, “Exposure therapy is the best way to deal with this situation. A person who’s scared of water is advised to first get into a bathtub and then visit a water park and then a beach. Likewise, there should be a gradual, step-by-step exposure to the cause of the anxiety.”
- If you suffer from anxiety when approaching people, it can ruin your dating life too. But this isn’t a serious ailment and is completely normal
- Some of the signs of this sort of anxiety are avoiding social events, aversion to click photos with people, overthinking, and shying away from conversations.
- Such anxiety can have many deep-rooted causes, such as rigid upbringing, lack of a growth mindset, repeated humiliation, failure in relationships or social scenarios, and the pressure to perform
- Some ways of overcoming approach anxiety are by being objective, joining support groups, engaging in public speaking and confidence-building experiments, networking, and resorting to therapy
Approach anxiety is nothing but your fear of reaching out to people beyond your known circle. It’s not something that is frequently addressed, because most people don’t own up to suffering from it. But remember, you can’t turn into a confident man or woman overnight. One has to address one’s feelings of inadequacies and the inability to adapt to new surroundings. Here’s hoping after reading this article, you’re no longer wondering, “How to overcome approach anxiety?” So, what are you waiting for? Approach your crush with confidence!