As finding love becomes more and more complicated, the chances of people finding themselves in the throes of dating anxiety are also growing. While the prospect of dating can bring on feelings of anxiety in anyone, the likelihood is a lot higher in people who already struggle with anxiety disorders.
Does that mean having to choose between your mental well-being and the prospect of finding a partner? Not necessarily. With the right techniques and guidance, you can learn to manage these anxious feelings effectively and stop dating anxiety. With the help of Shambhavi Agrawal (MSc. in counseling psychology), who specializes in anxiety, work-life balance, depression, grief, and life transition issues, let’s give your love life a new lease on life.
What Exactly Is Dating Anxiety?
Statistics suggest that 18% of the adult population in the US today suffers from anxiety disorders. As per the findings of another study, app-based online dating culture is directly linked to deteriorating mental health outcomes. More than 28% of users on these apps reported a dip in their self-esteem and extreme dating anxiety owing to their bad experiences with online dating.
The fleeting nature of romantic encounters, fear and pain of rejection, and a constant sense of being scrutinized by potential partners are some of the underlying triggers of this form of social anxiety. It is natural to feel somewhat anxious before a date. You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach. You find yourself playing out elaborate scenarios about how the date may pan out, which further fans your nervousness.
However, extreme anxiety occurs when these feelings are heightened manifold, leaving you unreasonably unsettled by the prospect of meeting someone new and you go into the spiral of overthinking relationship anxiety. So much so that you start thinking of reasons and excuses to bail out at the last minute, distance yourselves, and may even cancel a date. This sense of anxiety is especially pronounced ahead of a first date. But it can last throughout the initial phase of a relationship when everything is new and uncertain.
This uncertainty about how the other person feels about you and their expectations from the relationship can become unbearable for someone who struggles with anxiety about dating. The feeling of anxiousness can become so overwhelming that it starts affecting the way you behave on dates. In certain cases, it leaves some people with a trail of bad first-date experiences, which further fuels their skepticism about the whole thing.
Is first-date anxiety normal?
Dating when you have anxiety is no joke. The fear can become so crippling that some people swear off dating altogether, even when they want to be in a relationship. When a date doesn’t go as expected and leads to yet another rejection, the anxiety only builds up further. And that’s exactly what makes way for the awful first date jitters. Here’s what a person with first-date anxiety goes through before meeting a potential partner:
- Becoming extremely nervous and restless
- Sweating profusely
- Being jittery
- Not being able to make eye contact
- Can’t seem to strike a conversation
- Rapid breathing with a pounding heart
- And a head full of negative thoughts, analyzing what might go wrong on the date
Now, this overthinking relationship anxiety might be okay to some extent. We all have a few ominous thoughts come and go before a date we are very excited about, such as, “What if they leave from outside after seeing me?”, “What if I say something stupid and chase them away?”, “What if I spill something?”, “What if they don’t like the way I dress?”, and a series of other ‘what if’s that leave us feeling anxious.
Related Reading: Dating For 3 Months? What To Expect And Things To Know
As long as these thoughts don’t overpower you to an extent that you are unable to go through with your plans or stay in control of how you behave, you are good. If it comes down to a point where these apprehensive feelings wreck your romantic life and you experience anxiety about falling in love, perhaps you should take your mental health condition rather seriously.
How to calm first-date nerves?
Dating with anxiety and depression is not exactly a walk in the park, we agree. And online dating doesn’t make it any easier. A study by Cambridge University Press shows that people with higher social anxiety are less likely to be in romantic relationships.
Speaking of what can be done to manage the struggle of first-date jitters, a Reddit user says, “Think of it this way, you’re not going on a date. You’re going to whatever place with this new person with whom you share some similar interests. You want to see what else you have in common to start building a friendship. So, you have no pressure to act any particular way; just be how you are around your friends.”
Here are a few quick-fix techniques to beat the stubborn anxiety about dating:
- Listen to some upbeat music or pamper yourself with a spa treatment before the date
- Perhaps shop a little something or pick a bunch of flowers for your date
- Don’t let the voices in your head take charge and convince you that this date is the worst decision of your life
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to impress this person
- Rather go with an open mind hoping to have some fun
- Prepare your cheatsheet of first-date questions to ask so you don’t run out of topics to talk about
- Breathe in, breathe out – try to focus on the present moment. You got this!
Dating With Anxiety: What Causes It?
Unfortunately, it is hard to pin down a single dating anxiety cause. These feelings of anxiousness can be triggered by a host of reasons. These include underlying anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, and fear of judgment or rejection. Shambhavi elaborates on a few possible reasons why you end up telling your best friend, “Dating gives me anxiety, I can’t ever have a nice first date.”
- A viable explanation could be if you’ve had bad experiences with dating in the past
- Perhaps a few dates went extremely bad or you’ve heard one-too-many stories about a date gone wrong
- A lot of times, anxiety can also be hereditary
- If you have experienced things like relationship gaslighting, or maybe dealt with a toxic partner in the past, you’re bound to be anxious about starting up a new relationship
- If you already struggle with anxiety disorder, where the prospect of anything new makes you anxious, you’re definitely going to struggle with starting something new with another person
It’s okay to feel a little worried about what a new person is going to think of you, so a few sweaty palms and nervous thoughts probably won’t have you worried about a diagnosis of anxiety. But when every date suddenly looks harder than having to climb Everest, it’s a cause for concern.
5 Signs Of Dating Anxiety
Have you ever thought “dating gives me anxiety” before or after meeting someone? Because you are not alone. The nature of dating these days, especially dating apps, has made it a worrisome and harrowing experience for some. So what sets anxiety about dating apart from a normal sense of nervousness? If it is normal to be nervous and anxious ahead of a date, how do you tell when these feelings border on unhealthy? These 5 clear dating anxiety signs hold the answer:
1. You expect your date to be a disaster
One of the unmistakable dating anxiety signs is that you go in expecting the worst. The pent-up negative feelings leave you trapped in a vicious cycle where you expect things to go awry. Then, feel a strange sense of validation when that comes to pass. If you’re certain of being rejected ahead of every first date, pay attention to your behavior patterns. This conviction that things may not work out can cause you to self-sabotage any relationship prospects.
Related Reading: What Men Notice About Women On Their First Date
2. You ditch your dates often
The prospect of going on dates or meeting someone new can be so crippling for a person with anxiety that they end up bailing out more often than not. Have you come up with the most random excuses to cancel dates? Or run away from a date with or without giving a reason? Have you stood up a date because you could neither go through with nor cancel? If you’ve answered these questions in the affirmative, there is little doubt that you are grappling with anxiety about dating.
3. You can’t be yourself
All the negative thoughts whirling in your head, coupled with low self-esteem, don’t allow you to show your true self to the other person. While it is natural to be on your best behavior on a first date – or even the first few – you find yourself trying too hard to be someone you’re not. If you’re struggling with online dating anxiety, your profile might have a few questionable things on it (for most, it’s the 6-feet-tall they put up on their dating apps).
You might be trying too hard to come up with the best pick-up lines to impress someone on a dating app, or might just be uploading heavily touched-up photographs of yourself. It’s a classic case of anxiety getting in the way of your being able to make a connection with a potential romantic partner.
4. You overanalyze everything
From the way you are sitting to how your hands are moving, the way the other person responds to your words, their body language, and their reactions – feelings of anxiousness make you overanalyze every little detail. And you often end up drawing conclusions from the most inconsequential things. Yup, dating when you have anxiety makes you scrutinize the smallest things. For instance, if you say something and your date doesn’t quite get it and asks you to repeat yourself, it can lead to thinking that they’re not interested.
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5. You struggle with post-date anxiety
In the rare event that you not only show up for a date but it also goes smoothly, you still cannot shake off post-date anxiety. You find yourself fretting over whether there will be a second date. Or whether the other person will call as they promised. This is a case of extreme anxiety about dating where even if things are going well, one seems to be troubled by what could go wrong.
Even the slightest delay from their end is enough to convince you that they’re not interested. Often to save yourself yet another rejection, you may even take a step back and abandon the idea of ever seeing them again. You may end up ghosting the other person at the slightest hint of a lack of interest on their part (real or perceived), leaving them grappling with the effects of dating someone with anxiety.
Has reading all the signs of dating anxiety got you drawing parallels to your life? Are you worried you’re never going to be able to overcome dating anxiety to woo your date? Don’t worry, it’s all quite fixable with the right steps. Let’s take a look at how to calm dating anxiety and everything you can do to make sure you never back out of a date again.
12 Ways To Cope With Dating Anxiety
Dating anxiety can prove to be a real obstacle in your pursuit of finding a partner. When the entire experience of meeting someone new is tainted by fear and worry, the prospect of enjoying such encounters is slim. If left unattended, the anxiety about whether you’re falling in love too fast, starting a new relationship, or even dating casually can begin to interfere with your vision for the future.
Besides, it can significantly dent your personality, your mental well-being, and your social life. This can leave you wondering if it is possible to get over dating anxiety. Well, even if you cannot free yourself from it completely, it is possible to manage it effectively so that it doesn’t interfere with your ability to lead the life you desire. These 12 ways to cope with dating when you have anxiety will help you embark on a path of transformation:
1. Beat dating anxiety with optimism
The first step toward countering your tendency to be gripped by crippling anxiety ahead of a date is to fill your mind space with positive, optimistic thoughts. Don’t go in thinking the worst or be sure of the fact this is going to be yet another disastrous date. At the same time, it is important to stop overanalyzing things and drawing negative conclusions. In short, you have to make a conscious effort to not let your thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions cast their shadow on how the interaction will pan out.
“Relationship anxiety, in general, is based on very unreasonable beliefs. Beliefs that have been drilled into our minds but are not backed by any facts. When you try to question your fear and reframe those fears in more affirmative sentences, you can begin making sure that you’re never dating with anxiety again. You can tell yourself things like “This date will go well”, or “If the date doesn’t go well, I will be all right. I will give my best and that is all that I can do”,” says Shambhavi.
2. Shift your focus on them
One way to get out of your head and get over dating anxiety is to focus on your date instead of yourself. Rather than fretting over how you look, what they think of you, or whether you are saying the right things, be a good listener and pay attention to what your date has to say. Focus on their body language, eye contact, touch, and smile. You will realize that the other person can become a welcome distraction that can make you forget all about your perceived flaws and shortcomings, albeit momentarily.
“The more you accept others, the more you’re going to feel that others are accepting of you. At the end of the day, when you have a more accepting and appreciative attitude toward the people you meet, you’re more likely to believe that they feel the same way about you. The ‘need’ to be accepted can hence be substantially reduced. Try to reduce your people-pleasing attitude, and focus on your date instead,” Shambhavi tells us.
3. Channelize your curiosity
Everyone we cross paths with has a unique perspective to offer on things big and small. These perspectives are a reflection of the person they are. As they say, appearances can be deceptive. You may find yourself intimidated by their good looks or charming nature. But deep down they may be the most soft-hearted, kind person with their share of fears and vulnerabilities.
So, now that you’re sitting across from them, you might as well make the most of your time together. Channelize your curiosity to learn about their life, experiences, beliefs, and values. Bring up some nice first-date topics to make the conversation flow. Once you see them for who they are, they may not seem so intimidating after all.
Figuring out how to calm dating anxiety doesn’t really have to be a complex process. It can be as straightforward as humanizing the person in front of you, the person you made a near-perfect image of in your mind. When you get to know that they feel anxious from time to time as well, you’re going to feel a lot better.
Related Reading: 8 Rules Of Texting While Dating
4. Anxiety about dating is universal
Be it online dating anxiety or a case of the jitters before stepping into the restaurant, everyone – no matter how confident or together they appear to be – feels nervous and anxious. Dealing with dating anxiety is not an experience unique to you but something that people often experience in their romantic encounters.
Yes, as someone who struggles with dating anxiety, your feelings are likely to be a lot more pronounced even if you’re looking for casual dating. The idea is not to discredit the way you feel. But being mindful of the fact that the person may be experiencing the same emotions as you, even if less intensely, can help you calm down.
And if you haven’t met your date yet and are having trouble dealing with feelings of anxiety, Shambhavi says that talking to a friend or someone you trust can help. “Being vocal about your anxiety is very helpful. Talk to people you already know and trust. Pouring your heart out to someone who is going to motivate you and keep you at your best can significantly help reduce your dating anxiety symptoms,” she says.
5. Be involved in planning to curb dating anxiety
Yes, we know this may sound like a bit of a reach. Here you are struggling to bring yourself to go out on a date and we’re telling you to be more proactive in planning it. But hear us out. This one could really help stop dating anxiety. To stop being so afraid, one needs to view dating in a positive light and turn it into something one looks forward to. And you can do that if you are in control!
When those feelings of anxiety begin to build up, small little uncertainties like what will the ambience be like, what’s the right outfit for the place your date has picked, what is the parking situation, and how expensive will it be can leave you overwhelmed. But when you’re involved in planning the date, you already know the answers to these questions and you can pick out a place that is right in your comfort zone.
So, the next time, instead of bailing, try to come up with some nice first-date ideas. If you feel nervous about going to an unfamiliar neighborhood, suggest meeting somewhere nearby. If formal settings make you uneasy, suggest going to a café for a first date, with a casual, laid-back vibe.
6. Keep things light and upbeat
One smart way to get over dating anxiety – or at least rein it in – is to keep the conversation light and upbeat. Avoid broaching tricky topics that can bring on dramatic responses, trigger traumatic memories, and make the whole vibe heavy with a sense of negativity. These outcomes will only add to your feelings of anxiety.
Shambhavi suggests that being open to new ideas can help. “The way to be open to new experiences is by telling yourself something like “Even if this date doesn’t turn out to be the absolute best, there’s nothing wrong with that”. At the end of the day, it can always be a learning experience. Try not to let early dating anxiety put you in a box of the same-old patterns, have new experiences,” she adds.
The goal for the first few dates should be to have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. Deep explorations are best left for when you have achieved a certain comfort level.
7. Talk yourself up
Low self-esteem, which is a prime dating anxiety cause, can lead to people viewing themselves in poor light. It is quite possible that you feel anxious about going out on dates because you can’t think of anything that makes you desirable or attractive to the other person.
However, everyone has their share of good qualities, assets, and strong suits. One way to mitigate your feelings of anxiety is to explore what makes you unique. Project this positive side to yourself on dates rather than trying to cover up what you perceive as your drawbacks.
Related Reading: 12 Best First Date Tips For Girls
8. Establish a rapport before going on dates
Meeting a stranger can be especially stressful for someone with grapples with anxiety about dating. A great way to counter that is to establish a rapport with the person before going on a first date after meeting online. Whether you’ve connected through a dating app or are being set up by mutual friends, start by texting and then graduate to speaking on the phone.
It is nice to have some rapport beforehand so you might have an idea of what you should be expecting on the actual date. Take the step of going on a real date only when you feel like you know and understand each other somewhat. At least, then there won’t be many elements of surprise coming your way to trigger your anxiety.
9. Practice relaxation techniques
If you experience anxiety about dating, chances are that anxious feelings impact other aspects of your life as well. As such, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation for healing, progressive muscle relaxation, journaling, and guided imagery can be extremely beneficial in helping you cope with these overwhelming feelings.
Ideally, you should make these a part of your lifestyle to cope with anxiety more efficiently. These techniques can also be particularly helpful in calming yourself whenever you feel overwhelmed to a point that you want to cancel a date because of anxiety.
Related Reading: Negging – How To Spot It In Dating And Get Away
10. Come clean about your anxiety
Once you have established a certain comfort level with your date or a potential partner, confide in them and let them know that you struggle with anxiety about falling in love or dating. This will help them understand your reactions and behavior better. Even if you are not yourself on a date or end up saying or doing something that may come across as a red flag, they’d be able to appreciate the fact that it is the anxiety and not you.
11. Cut yourself some slack
If despite doing your best, a date doesn’t go as planned, don’t beat yourself up about it. Or let it dent your resolve to put yourself out there. When dealing with mental health issues, some setbacks are to be expected in your path to progress. Take every experience as a lesson. Pat yourself on the back for being courageous enough to step out to meet someone new. See what you can take away from a less-than-desirable experience and use it to work on yourself.
12. Seek professional help
“Understanding where the fear is coming from can definitely help. The famous quote from John Green, “We accept the love we think we deserve”, tells us all we need to know about dating with anxiety. The most plausible reason can be low self-esteem, which leads you to think that you’re not deserving of love, hence accepting the love you think you deserve..
“Understanding why you’re thinking the way you are and figuring out how to tackle it is almost vital. The best way to do that is through counseling. A professional counselor can help you understand your patterns and triggers and tell you how to challenge them,” says Shambhavi. If you’re tired of living with anxiety and are looking for help, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonbology’s panel are here for you.
- Dating anxiety is a common form of social anxiety which makes people extremely nervous before meeting a potential partner
- It may stem from past trauma, toxic past relationships, low self-esteem, and insecurities about your financial status or appearance
- As a result, you tend to cancel dates, feel jitters, expect the worst-case scenarios, and struggle with post-date anxiety
- One way to deal with it is to shift your focus on your date from yourself, listen to them, ask questions, and take an interest in their life
- Don’t put yourself through the pressure of impressing them on the very first date
- Keep the conversations light, practice some relaxation techniques, and try to enjoy their company
Dating with anxiety and depression is tough. Sometimes, you may find yourself alone in your struggles. With no one to understand how to feel or steer your efforts in the right direction. However, it is possible to turn things around and manage your feelings of anxiousness. All you need is some self-awareness and the will to break your patterns.
The article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated in 2022.
The fleeting nature of romantic encounters, fear, and pain of rejection, a constant sense of being scrutinized by potential partners are some of the underlying triggers behind dating anxiety.
Learning different coping techniques to rein in your feelings of anxiety can help you continue to date. Seeking the help of a counselor for your struggles with anxiety can also help you get to the bottom of what’s causing it in the first place.
Yes, the uncertainty about the other person’s feelings for you and the future of a relationship can cause some level of nervousness and anxiety in almost everyone.
Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, journaling, and guided imagery can be extremely beneficial in helping you calm anxiety.
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