You met on a dating app. Bantered. Found out you share a love for Shawshank and Shiraz (#meanttobetogether!!). You decided to meet in person on Thursday (you made this decision on Monday, when you felt totally cool and confident). But now it’s Thursday afternoon and you can feel the anxiety settling in hard. A mix of nerves and excitement kept you up last night.
What if they don’t like me? Do I actually look like myself in my pictures? What should I wear?
By the time 3am rolled around, these thoughts got louder. I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes! I’m going to be so tired — I won’t be on my A-game!
So by now you’re on your fourth coffee of the day and are considering telling your date you think you’re “coming down with something.” Ultimately, it’s your call, but give these strategies a try before you send that text.
The best way to get over anxiety is to expose yourself to it.
Our breath is a fabulous tool for working through anxiety. Studies show that when we welcome nice, deep belly breaths (known as diaphragmatic breathing), we send a signal to the brain that everything's OK. Try putting one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Inhale for three counts, hold for one, and exhale for four counts. Repeat until you notice yourself start to feel a bit calmer.
2. Visualize different outcomes, even the negative ones
Humans like to be able to predict and control — uncertainty breeds anxiety. Of course, most things in life (like the outcome of a date) are out of our control, so it can be helpful to visualize different possibilities. You could get stood up. You could be totally unattracted to them. You could fall for them on the first date. Spend a few minutes thinking about all the ways the date could go and you'll feel more prepared for any outcome.
3. Make space for anxiety — name it
Rather than trying to push the anxiety away, acknowledge that it’s your body’s way of trying to protect you from a situation that’s out of your comfort zone. Thank it for being there. Make space for it. Say something like, “It’s understandable I’m feeling anxious because I like this person so far and want the date to go well.” And, if you feel comfortable doing so, you might say to your date “I’m nervous! This is new territory for me!” If they react with judgment or criticism, it’s a sign they might not be the right person for you anyway.
Also, consider how much of the anxiety is actually anxiety, and how much is anticipation and excitement. They affect us the same way, physiologically, yet we tend to attribute all of our feelings to anxiety and zero to excitement.
4. Have realistic expectations for yourself
You wouldn’t expect yourself to be an expert chess player if you’d never played before. Yet, we expect ourselves to be expert daters without having dated much. Experiential learning is the best kind of learning — and it's really the only kind when it comes to dating. Remind yourself that you are new (or rusty!) at this. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and have a dating experience — not necessarily a “good” or “great” dating experience, just a dating experience! When you have realistic expectations for yourself, there’s less room for disappointment.
Give yourself permission to be imperfect and have a dating experience.
As tempting as it can be to just say you're “not feeling well,” this is generally not the most serving choice. Ditching a date just reinforces self-sabotaging behavior, and it gets in the way of you being able to overcome date anxiety. The best way to get over anxiety is to expose yourself to it.
2. Drink away the anxiety
Once you drink, you turn off the feelings of anxiety and feel relieved. Drinking is a form of avoidance, really. It’s true that our performance can be improved in many areas after one or two drinks; however, that curve plummets very quickly. So, if you’re heading out for drinks with your date and you’ve already had one or two, disaster may be around the corner. Plus showing up with whisky on your breath is not a great first impression.
3. Try to act like someone you’re not
I know I sound like your mom here, but it’s solid advice. Even if you successfully portray your desired persona for the evening, sooner or later you’re going to have to be yourself. Plus, trying to act a certain way is exhausting and inauthentic. It makes vulnerability, intimacy and connection challenging.
4. Beat yourself up for feeling anxious
Oftentimes we think sternly telling ourselves to stop feeling anxious will turn off our anxiety, but that generally doesn’t work. In fact, it makes matters worse. Why? Beating ourselves up for our (expected) anxiety causes shame in addition to the anxiety we’re already feeling. Instead, practice self-compassion and allow some anxiety to be there.
For more tips on how to land the partner you've been looking for (even in today's feeling-shaming culture), check out my new course, How To Find True Love In A World Of Tinder & Texting.
Megan Bruneau, M.A., is a therapist, executive coach, and wellness writer based in New York City. She received her bachelor of arts in psychology and family studies from the University of British Columbia and a masters of arts in counselling psychology from Simon Fraser University. She is a registered clinical counselor (RCC) in British Columbia, but now works with clients in New York and globally via remote work. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Bruneau has contributed to The Huffington Post, Forbes, and Thrillist and has appears on Good Morning America and New York 1 Morning News. She is also the host of the podcast Better Because of It.