Healthy First-Date Nerves–or Much More?

by Dr. Galen Buckwalter, eHarmony Vice President of Research and Development

Healthy First-Date Nerves--or Much More?

Feeling some level of first-date anxiety is par for the course. When you meet someone for the first time many things seem to be at stake. Will they like you? Will you like them? Will there be enough chemistry? Do you look good enough? Are you too nervous? Are you going to screw it up? You may even feel this kind of anxiety when communicating with potential dates online.

But you can rest easy—in certain situations a small amount of anxiety can help performance. Just ask any top-notch athlete or performer and he or she will tell you that a manageable amount of anxiety helps keep them in the top-performance “Zone.” And the same holds true for you. To be a top-notch first date, you’ll fare better if you experience a bit of anxiety. Any more, though, and you risk tipping the scales toward reaping negative effects. If you have experienced only a few occasions when anxiety has gotten the best of you, it is probably not something you worry about. Most everyone has had an experience when anxiety gets to a level where it is not useful—when rather than keeping us sharp, anxiety dulls our performance. When we get so nervous the words just don’t flow, we feel like we are all thumbs and we can’t stay focused on the topic at hand.

But if you are experiencing either of the following types of anxiety, you could be experiencing unhealthy and unnecessary levels of anxiety that warrant further evaluation from a skilled professional:

Anxiety Checklist

  • Emotional. Do you have a constant sense of anxiety that interferes with your life? Do you have periods of time, for at least six months, where you can’t stop worrying about something or you feel so anxious that you stop doing the activities you normally like to do?
  • Physical. Do you find that you experience intense physical sensations such as sweating, heart palpitations and feelings of not being able to breathe? Do you ever have intense fear that you may be dying or feel as though you might be “going crazy,” when there is no other physical cause for these feelings?

Don’t let anxiety keep you from doing what you imagine would make you happy in life. If you are experiencing detrimental anxiety, you should know that this is one of the most common, treatable conditions that health professionals see. So don’t let anxiety stop you from doing what you want to do. The next time you see your doctor make sure you tell her/him what is going on.

Putting Your Healthy Nerves to Good Use
The secret to making healthy levels of anxiety work for you on a first-date situation is to have just enough to keep you sharp. Make sure you take the time to look the best you can, and also to think rationally through the experience that you and your date are most likely to enjoy. While any date has some degree of spontaneity, a fair amount of planning should go into them as well—just don’t over obsess into what might be. If you’re already an anxious person you may well know that very rarely do situations and events happen exactly as you imagine them to be beforehand. Your best bet is to come up with a general and flexible game plan for your time together. Decide what you want to let the person know about you—decide on a few stories you want to tell, imagine a conversation you want to engage in, maybe even think of a joke or an amusing story you want to tell. Focus on your date as well. Think about what you want to get to know about the person you are going out with. Come up with several questions you want to ask him/her that will show your interest in who they are. Also consider what places you can go to that are near where you are meeting—places where you feel comfortable and relaxed, and places where you usually have a good time.

The next time you head off to meet someone for the first time, envision someone you respect, such as a favorite athlete or a performer, doing what they do well, and imagine how they might use that same anxious feeling you are experiencing to good effect. More often than not, they will admit they are nervous and focus that energy on what they are about to do to reap positive rewards. You, too, can take that extra energy and focus it on the date you’re about to experience. The goal of every first date should be to take the extra energy and nervousness from the occasion and focus it on having a truly great time. If you have a plan for how you can express yourself, engage the other person and keep the time you spend together relaxed and enjoyable, more than likely you are going to have a great first date. By the time you say goodnight, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief, bask in the happiness of having got to know a wonderful person, and wonder what your earlier fuss and internal dialogue was all about.

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