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Dating can be challenging enough, but when you struggle with anxiety, it can make your search for Mr. Right feel virtually impossible. There’s good news for anxiety sufferers, however. Anxiety is one of the most treatable mental health issues that exist.
With hard work, determination, and perseverance, you can get to a point where you are in control of your feelings as opposed to the other way around. You can learn to navigate the social milieu with ease and confidence, thereby increasing your odds of dating success and enjoyment.
I wanted to start off with a few tidbits that I think are important for you to know about anxiety before I delve into the tips.
So what’s a single guy to do if he wants to have a fulfilling dating life without letting anxiety rob him of the experience? Below are a few suggestions for conquering the little gray monster known as anxiety:
To avoid letting your social anxiety get to a disabling level, enroll in psychotherapy services with a licensed therapist or counselor who specializes in anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an evidence-based treatment protocol that has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, and your counselor will teach you a variety of coping skills that will help you get a handle on this problem.
Finding some kind of physical outlet for your anxiety has a way of soothing it to more manageable levels and can cause a feeling of relaxation.
Before going out on that first date or going to the bar with your friends for a night out on the town, engage in physical exercise to get your heart rate pumping and discharge that stress. Get in a workout at the health club, jog around your neighborhood, try your hand at yoga, go dancing. Even masturbation can be a helpful release.
Neuroscience and psychology have helped us understand that whenever we experience anxiety, our bodies go into fight-flight-or-freeze mode as an instinct to protect ourselves from real or perceived threats. They’ve discovered that our minds actually go “offline” when we’re stressed so that the body can mobilize energy to fight, flee, or freeze.
This means that any logical thinking goes out the window during these moments. This is why your mind goes blank, and you can’t think of anything to say if you’re nervous on a date because your fight-or-flight response has kicked in.
The only way to cope effectively with these moments is to find ways to self-soothe to allow the body to relax, which will then allow the mind to go back “online.” Then your cognitive functions will return and permit you to problem-solve and use insight/logic. Until your body is in a relaxed state, you’ll be unable to access your executive functions.
Read up or take classes in a variety of relaxation techniques to help you achieve these important relaxed states, such as meditation, yoga, diaphragmatic breathing, visualization, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation.
It may be helpful for you to take out a notebook and keep a “thought log” by writing down all the negative, anxiety-producing thoughts you have when it comes to dating, so you have some personalized data to work from in combating your negative thinking.
You’ll likely have common themes or patterns to your thoughts that you will want to challenge. What goes through your head when you imagine approaching that hot guy across the room at the bar? How do you feel about yourself when you look at your reflection in the mirror? What does your self-talk say when nobody responds to your dating profile? What meanings do you attribute to these particular thoughts?
You’ll want to gain practice in countering these negative thoughts with more affirming self-statements that are believable to you. Imagine your confident self is talking back to your negative thoughts debate-style, or imagine what you’d say to a friend who was saying these kinds of things to himself.
Get in the habit of writing down these counter-statements, so they can become internalized. Once again, getting help from a trained therapist can also be very instrumental in this process.
In keeping with confronting your anxiety head-on, why not take some acting lessons or take an improv class? I have found these activities to be highly instrumental in helping people overcome anxiety and fear. These venues are also extremely helpful in assisting you with honing your social skills and boosting your confidence in interpersonal situations in general.
Get out there and be visible. While the advent of online dating sites has gone a long way toward helping gay men meet each other, they can also be a liability for the shy, socially anxious individual if he only uses these venues as a way of trying to meet men.
It can be very appealing and comfortable to shop for love behind one’s computer screen where risk is minimal and one can feel safe and protected. However, it can also reinforce avoidant behavior that feeds anxiety and makes it stronger. Be sure to balance your online dating activities with face-to-face contact with others to help get you out there and solidify your social skills and flirting capabilities.
The best venues are those that speak to your personal interests, talents, passions, and life purpose, so you can live your life doing the things that you enjoy most and interact with other like-minded individuals who share similar philosophies.
In the behavioral sciences, flooding is known as throwing yourself completely into a feared stimulus to quickly master it. For example, if you have a fear of heights, flooding would have you go skydiving. Presto! The fear has been mastered in one fell swoop. Can you see situations where you might be able to do this in your dating life?
Conversely, with systematic desensitization, you would identify your dating goal, and then you’d brainstorm minigoals or behavioral steps you could initiate that would eventually help you reach your ultimate goal. Rank them from low-level risk to high-level risk, and then set out to accomplish them rung by rung on the ladder until you get to the top, building in necessary incentives and deadlines to help you stay focused and motivated.
For a simplistic example, you can make a contract with yourself that you’ll go to a party and speak to one person who you don’t know before allowing yourself to go home for the night. For the next party, it would be two people. You get the idea!
In essence, it’s like building a muscle as you slowly and gradually expose yourself to the feared stimulus until it doesn’t feel quite so frightening anymore. What situations could you set up for yourself to help with more successful dating or social interacting?
The more you fight against your anxiety, the more aggravated it becomes, so learn to befriend and surrender to it by accepting its presence and pushing through it head-on. We can’t get rid of anxiety because it’s a feeling that we all have, but we can use its signals to alert us to any potential threats that must be mitigated.
The key is to assess whether the threats are realistic or contrived — as the great majority of the time they are worries and fears grown out of projections from the past that still have a grip on us and need to be worked through.
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