While dating brings a raft of benefits and pleasurable experiences, it also brings emotional challenges. New dating relationships are filled with uncertainty as each member of couple tries to get to know the other person better to determine if the two are a good fit. One experience many men and women have in dating is what I call a “dating panic attack.”
What’s a real, clinical panic attack?
The term “panic attack” isn’t a clinical diagnosis. There is a diagnosis for Panic Disorder, a disorder in which a person suffers from panic attacks. Those with Panic Disorder have panic attacks and experience a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort with several corresponding symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of panic in that moment: accelerated heart rate; the fear that you are dying or having a heart attack; the feeling that you’re choking; and the feeling that you will lose control or go insane. Panic is intense and almost always frightening.
What does a “dating panic attack” look like?
Many men and women in dating have their own version of panic when dating someone they really like. If your date doesn’t respond for a while or suddenly starts acting differently and less interested, you are going to have an emotional reaction. When you have a dating panic attack, you may engage in any of the following: presume that the relationship is over; make conclusions about why the other person lost interest; call or text friends for immediate reassurance; and check the other person’s social media accounts obsessively to see if any recent photos or postings reveal any new information. In short, you panic, and then go into detective mode.
Does everyone experience dating panic attacks? What triggers dating panic?
If you have good self-esteem and you are able to manage anxiety well, dating won’t cause you to panic. But if you have a tendency to get insecure, the other person losing interest or acting differently can trigger major anxiety and panic.
Ways to keep your anxiety in check so it never reaches the stage of panic…
Put your fantasy, Hollywood-film mindset on notice. If you reach the point of panic in dating, it means you are way too attached to distorted, delusional beliefs about love and romance. To care enough that you start emotionally freaking out means that you are caring too much about the wrong things. You shouldn’t panic in dating, because panicking over a man or a woman suggests that you believe you need – and almost couldn’t be happy without – that other person. If that person losing interest or walking away would panic you to the extent that you freak out and become totally insecure, it means that you mistakenly told yourself in the beginning that he or she is prematurely “The One”; that you’ve found the missing link you’ve been waiting for your whole life; that you will now – finally, at last, for all time – be happy. Ladies and gentlemen, if only!
Dating panic is a sign that you are attaching your self-esteem to whether someone likes and wants you. When you do that, you give the person you’re dating way too much power, and you take power away from yourself.
When it comes to how you feel about yourself, it shouldn’t change — whether someone wants to be with you or not. You are the constant. You need to know what your strengths are and feel good about them, and you need to stop the Pollyanna-type notions that dating – or love, in general – will ever unfold in a smooth and predictable way.
Repeat these mantras to live and date by: “I really like him, and based on what I see so far, I could see me wanting to be with him for a while.” Notice that I wrote “for a while,” as opposed to saying “for years” or “forever.” (Using cautious language like this is a way that you can emotionally guard yourself against fantasy thinking.) “I don’t panic now if someone I’m dating loses interest. I stopped attaching my self-esteem to whether just one person likes or doesn’t like me.”
Ask yourself two particular questions if you do have a dating panic attack. When dating panic strikes, it strikes because you have somehow decided that how the other person feels about you means everything, and their opinion of you is worth more than your own opinion of yourself. The next time you have a dating panic attack, ask yourself this: “Do I have any say in how much I’m worth? Don’t I have the right to still like myself even if someone else doesn’t?”
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.