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|Rachel Dack • 4/12/18|
If you experience social anxiety that negatively impacts your dating life, you’re not alone. Researchers estimate that Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million adults. Symptoms include avoiding common social interactions, fearing you will be judged, and worrying about being humiliated. It’s also common to experience physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, and dizziness.
Your anxiety will most likely cause you to avoid dating. Even if you want to date, your anxiety is telling you to run the other way, creating an inner conflict. It’s essential to utilize healthy strategies to manage your anxieties, increase self-worth, and decrease social isolation, so anxiety doesn’t hijack your love life.
Whether your social anxiety is mild in nature or a diagnosed mental health disorder (it exists on a spectrum), the eight strategies below are geared toward helping you face your dating fears and feel less overwhelmed by your anxiety. It’s also worth noting that treatment, such as psychotherapy and psychiatric medications, are powerful tools for easing anxiety and increasing life satisfaction.
Here’s what I like to tell my anxious clients when it comes to dating: The goal isn’t zero anxiety.
The goal is to accept and expect that you will be anxious sometimes — and not let this fact hold you back. It’s about making anxiety feel more tolerable, so it doesn’t interfere with your goals and leave you feeling powerless and hopeless. It’s about finding ways for anxiety to not hold you hostage and believing you can get through it.
Telling yourself you shouldn’t feel anxious, putting yourself down for feeling anxious, or expecting zero anxiety when you’re facing a huge fear isn’t helpful.
Simply put: Expect that you will be anxious, and don’t let this stop you.
I can pretty much guarantee your anxious mind will try to convince you to give up on dating. While avoidance is a common symptom of anxiety, it’s important to go the opposite direction and make a commitment to confront your anxiety head on — so it doesn’t deter you from living a high-quality life. In fact, if you give into avoidance, it’s likely your anxiety will get worse (despite temporarily feeling better).
Exposing yourself to your anxiety triggers will make them less powerful over time. When your anxious mind tries to persuade you that giving up on love is the cure to your anxiety, choose to stay aligned with your dating and relationship goals instead. Know that dating may be challenging, but you can handle it and survive even the most anxiety-provoking, awkward dates. That’s how you can begin to heal.
If you want to feel more comfortable in dating situations, start small. Pick dates that are short and have a low level of commitment such as meeting for coffee or a drink. There’s no reason to force yourself to agree to a first date that involves multiple locations (dinner and a movie or an afternoon snack and a museum) or involves being picked up or taking the same car, which may leave you feel trapped (and, in turn, more anxious).
You will feel better knowing you can leave when you want and you’re not stuck doing multiple activities over a long period of time. By starting small and allowing yourself to have an escape plan, your anxiety will feel more manageable.
Socializing with friends of friends can reduce your risk of social isolation and increase your chance of meeting someone great at the same time. Smaller group settings will most likely feel more comfortable to you than crowded clubs, parties, and loud, busy hangouts. Push yourself to join a friend at his or her friend’s house to meet new people in more quiet and calm situations.
Join a club or group that speaks to your interests, such as hiking, cooking, or yoga, and make it your mission to make eye contact and smile at others in the group. Say yes to invitations that involve small groups of people you know and trust.
It’s common to put pressure on individual dates, especially if you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone — but having really high expectations for your date is going to further exacerbate your stress and anxiety.
Instead, go into each date with an open mind and a willingness to confront your anxiety, learn something new, and become a better dater. Practice is an essential aspect of dating success because it helps increase comfort and confidence and prepares you for the moment when you meet the right person.
If your anxiety strikes mid-date, take a deep breath and focus on being present. A simple trick is tuning in to your five senses and concentrating on what you taste, hear, smell, see, and feel in the present moment. When you’re intentionally focused on being mindful and present, your brain won’t be able to give attention to your anxiety.
It’s natural to have to shift your mind back to the present when you’re anxious, but you have the power to redirect your thinking. This technique will get easier with practice.
Treating yourself with kindness will help combat anxiety and leave you feeling more empowered, so be sure to engage in self-care practices in your daily life (especially before and after dates). You’ll naturally feel better going into dates if you’re more relaxed, have realistic expectations, and are gentle with yourself.
For example, exercising before dates can be a valuable stress reliever and help release anxiety. Also, if you tend to overanalyze social interactions, understand that you may also feel anxious post-date. Treating yourself with compassion and kindness is key. Try not to beat yourself up for any awkward moments, things you wish you didn’t say, or signals of rejection.
Recognize that you aren’t giving up on your goals. You are intentionally choosing to date despite being socially anxious. This is a huge accomplishment and victory.
Unfortunately, dating can be a roller coaster, and what’s most important is how you handle the twists and turns as well as the accompanied anxiety. You’re well on your way to tackling your anxiety, and, regardless of your current relationship status, there’s a lot to be proud of. Remember that!
It’s challenging to meet someone and keep up with dating when you’re socially anxious — but if you’re willing to put yourself out there and not avoid dating altogether, you’re not only conquering your anxiety, but also increasing the probability of enjoying the dating process and finding love.