Anxiety is a natural part of life. Each of us experiences some degree of worry in our lives. A level of worry leads to healthy choices, such as wearing a seat belt, taking vitamins and looking both ways before crossing the street.
Anxiety may heighten during life transitions, milestones, decision-making and significant events. In particular, many single people experience anxiety around dating, relationships and commitment, causing a first date with a stranger to feel like an insurmountable task. Dating can be incredibly intimidating, especially for individuals who are prone to higher levels of anxiety. It is important to remember that some anxiety is reasonable and realistic to expect. It is human nature to be nervous in a new situation with a new person.
The key to managing dating anxiety is to resist allowing it to control you, hijack your date or prevent you from dating if it is love that you are looking for. Common sources of anxiety around dating include concerns about first impressions, getting along with your date and the possibility of rejection or the date going poorly. Questions about what to wear, what to talk about, how to combat shyness, etc. may ignite an anxious mind. Anxiety may also appear if you question whether or not you are worthy and deserving of love. There are a lot of unknowns about first dates, so it is easy for your mind to come up with a series of “what if’s.”
Your views and beliefs about dating also play a role in the level of apprehension or worry you experience prior to a first date. For instance, it is likely that you will feel more anxious if you view dating as a challenging task, place pressure on yourself to find an ideal partner quickly, believe that every date is supposed to go well or view yourself as inadequate or unlovable. On the other hand, if you view dating as a fun experience with expected ups and downs, feel that you are deserving of love and believe that you will find the right person in time, your anxiety level is likely to decrease.
For some daters, anxiety presents as butterflies, jittery feelings or sensations in the body, sweaty palms and an increased heartbeat. None of these presentations are bad; they are actually commonly experienced when dating. What matters most is how you manage anxious feelings and thoughts on your road to love. Although it may be tempting to relieve pre-date nerves by drinking (especially if that is your current anxiety management tool), learning and using healthy coping skills to diminish anxiety truly goes a long way in life and love.
Here are ten healthy ways to tame anxiety prior to a first date:
1. Pump yourself up versus beat yourself down pre-date. Put on some music that makes you feel good, wear something that you feel attractive in and focus on the confident parts of you. Brainstorm at least two positive qualities about yourself and soak them in.
2. Avoid labeling anxious thoughts, feelings and sensations as bad or perceiving them in a self-defeating way. Anxious thoughts breed anxious thoughts, so break the cycle by taking a step back, reminding yourself that your anxiety will pass and replacing an anxious thought with something more positive.
3. Tune into your excitement about the possibility of finding love. Ask, “what other emotions do I feel about dating and how can I access them?” Focus on hope, new potential, happiness, connection and adventure.
4. Release endorphins for a renewed sense of well-being by exercising or engaging in physical activity. Also try a yoga class to rejuvenate yourself and calm your mind.
5. Reflect on other anxiety-provoking experiences that went well for you and consider the strengths you bring to a relationship. When do things go well for you despite your fear?
6. Remind yourself that your upcoming first date is one short, single event in your life. Realistically, it is only a little of your time and you will get through it. Confidence is key!
7. Practice conquering your fears and anxieties in your every day life. Make an extra effort to say thank you to a stranger holding the door at a coffee shop, strike up a conversation with someone at the gym or get involved in a new activity. These exercises naturally make you feel good about yourself.
8. Plan out several conversation starters or topics for the date. What are you confident talking about? Which subjects are interesting to you? What can you teach your date? Having a plan is helpful.
9. Give yourself a reality check. While looking for the right partner, you are likely going to experience good dates and bad dates, fun dates and boring dates, dates where you click and dates where you don’t. Be sure to manage your expectations.
10. Ground yourself before exiting your home. Focus on your breathing while telling yourself something calming, comforting and kind. Positive and affirmative statements such as, “I can handle this,” I am strong and courageous,” and “I am open to this experience,” are powerful in anxiety management.
As challenging as it may seem, practice putting these tools and strategies into action. As you use them more and more, they will become easier to use and more helpful each time. You can do it! Proceed with confidence.
Read on for part II of the article: Dealing with anxiety during your date.
Rachel Dack is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and relationship coach, specializing in psychotherapy for individuals and couples via her private practice in Bethesda, Maryland.