How to Handle Anxiety in Dating
Who among us has not felt a surge of anxiety and nausea before asking a crush out or while approaching the location of a first date? While it's not exactly a great feeling, it may not necessarily be a bad thing.
"Everyone has a little bit of anxiety when it comes to going on a date…Even after years of operationalized dating, I still get that little hit of butterflies right before I walk in the door," said Lisa Holden, a dating coach and writer based in Oceanside, California. "It's motivating, it's exciting and it's part of the thrill of why I do it. And I think the absence of that is a loss."
However, there can come a point where anxiety becomes harmful.
"If anxiety is interfering with your ability to go on dates, causing you to cancel or not make dates to begin with, or if it's so overwhelming you aren't able to be present, it's a problem," said Matt Lundquist, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy, based in New York City.
In these cases, the anxiety may be worth addressing.
How professionals can help
"When you are experiencing something challenging in life, it's always helpful to get a neutral opinion," said Erica Cramer, L.C.S.W., a therapist who specializes in dating and relationships at Cobb Psychotherapy in New York City. "Therapy gives people the opportunity to thoroughly unpack their problems and present them to someone who has no stake in the game."
Therapy can also allow you to "take a deeper look at what's happening," Lundquist explained.
"Maybe you're, in fact, not ready to date. Maybe you need some help to date in ways that feel safe and are safe. Maybe there's work to do on some of the underlying fears and anxieties about dating," he added.
Exactly what that therapy looks like, however, depends on the individual therapist's approach.
"Some therapists may take a more structured approach to address dating anxiety. Think homework assignments and specific skills," Cramer said. "Meanwhile, [some patients] may use it as an opportunity to simply vent."
People who prefer a more tactical approach may find working with a dating coach helpful.
"I'm a huge advocate for therapy," Holden said. "But I think the reason that people may come to me…is because I am sort of in this position to be your built-in dating friend. Talking through common concerns and putting some more realistic parameters around it can help quite a bit."
These conversations can involve everything from "hype-up" sessions to reviewing dating profiles to debriefing after the date, she explained. But whether you choose to work with a therapist, dating coach or both, finding the right person is a must.
"It's important to work with someone who's fluent in what dating looks like these days and shares some of your values around dating and especially sex," Lundquist said.
"If you are in the market for [a dating coach], shop around like you would for a therapist or a dentist or a dog groomer," Holden advised. "Make sure they see your vision…There are plenty of matchmakers and dating coaches in the sea. So find someone who makes you feel comfortable from the get-go."
There's no way to tell exactly how long it will take to resolve your issues, Cramer explained. But as time goes on, you can constantly reevaluate the situation to make sure your sessions are beneficial.
Quick tips to overcome anxiety
Therapists and coaches can help your long-term mentality around dating, but if you simply need some strategies to implement as you head into a date, experts recommended five tips:
1. Consider a 'fashionably late' arrival
"I like to arrive two to five minutes late," Holden advised. "When someone arrives at the date first, they usually have time to find seats, get set up, talk to the hostess…get the awkward parts out of the way. When you arrive there, the first thing they feel is relief: 'Oh, good, they're here.' That can give you some comfort and even a feeling of the upper hand."
However, Holden did acknowledge that this tip is debatable and may not work for everyone.
2. Acknowledge your anxiety
"In dating, there are many unknowns," Cramer said. "If you can identify what unknowns are causing you to be anxious, you can take proactive steps to address them. Mindfulness techniques that help keep you grounded and bring you back to the present may be beneficial here."
These techniques could include breathing exercises, for example, or radical acceptance, which involves willingly letting go of whatever is trapping you in a cycle of negative thoughts.
"I'd see if you can try to enjoy the anxiety a bit," Lundquist said. "Generally, I encourage people to share with their date that it's happening. It can feel 'uncool' but it's often a real icebreaker to name it."
3. Lean into lulls
To cope with the dreaded awkward silence, Holden recommended a couple of techniques. The first is to come up with a few questions ahead of time that you can pull out of your pocket as needed. She recommended skimming the 36 questions that lead to love and finding a few that speak to you.
On the other hand, you can simply sit in silence. How your date responds can give you a lot of information about them, she explained.
"And sometimes those moments of silence can be so awkward, they can be funny, cute or vulnerable in ways that wouldn't happen if you just filled it," Holden said.
4. Plan an emergency escape
If you're terrified of being stuck on a bad date, planning an exit strategy in advance might help put your mind at ease.
"Go to the bathroom, bring your things with you and take some time to collect your thoughts," Holden said. "When you get back to the table, say, 'This was fun, but I think I'm going to head out,'" Holden said. "If they're weird about the bill, just put some cash down and leave."
If you worry about dodging an unwanted kiss, Holden recommended going in for a head-down hug where you lean into your date's shoulder, leaving your face out of reach.
5. Remember what you bring to the table
"Many people who are anxious about dating are overly concerned about what the other person thinks: if their date will find them interesting, attractive or worthwhile,” Cramer said. "It's important to remind yourself that your opinion is just as important as theirs and you are essentially evaluating them for the same reasons."
If you need a self-esteem boost, Holden suggested an exercise from a book titled, "Appily Ever After: A Woman's Guide to Online Dating." Author Benjamin Daly recommends making a list of 10 attributes you want in a partner, but just as importantly, making a list of 50 attributes that make you an ideal partner.
"Pulling all of that in is really great for centralizing your confidence and reminding yourself of everything you deserve," Holden said.
After all, she said, while dating is an opportunity for you to show the best sides of yourself to somebody, more importantly, it's an opportunity for you to remind yourself of your best sides as well.