Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorder, affecting 18 percent of the adult population in the US. Social anxiety comes in at a close third, with 15 million people in the US being affected. Navigating the dating scene can be challenging for many people, but for those with anxiety disorders, it can feel particularly overwhelming. So, what can we do to reinforce the idea that dating is supposed to be fun? Here are some tips that will help to boost your self-confidence and reduce dating dilemmas.
Soothe social anxiety with a fresh perspective
Social anxiety is a condition that can cause an irrational fear of social interactions, including worrying about being judged by others or even being humiliated. People with social anxiety may feel uncomfortable even with minor, casual interactions, so it's understandable if a more intimate interaction, like talking to someone you're romantically interested in, seems unmanageable.
Give yourself a minute to think about it. What really frightens you about going on a date? Even though getting to know someone for a few hours is hardly a life or death situation, you might find yourself worrying about the worst possible outcomes; such as, what if they don’t like me or what if I say something wrong? It’s easy for thoughts to snowball when you’re anxious, until, before you know it, you’ve created a catastrophic scenario in your head that is very unlikely to ever happen.
Catastrophic thinking is common in people with anxiety, whereby the worst conceivable outcome feels possible — or indeed likely— and the smallest concerns are automatically converted into something major. If you struggle with catastrophic thinking, it's important to take the time to put things into perspective. Try to actively observe and challenge negative thought patterns. Ask yourself whether your worries are really likely to come true, or if they're just a reflection of your fears? Chances are, things will not be as bad as they seem.
Additionally, healthy confidence-boosting activities, like hitting the gym, talking about your worries with a friend, or doing a calming hypnotherapy session can be helpful in clearing your mind and getting your thought processes back on the right track.
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Learn to step out of your comfort zone
According to a 2009 study, published in the Journal of Behaviour Research and Therapy, people with social phobias are less likely to share personal information about themselves and self-disclose. So, if you’re socially anxious, then you might be less likely to open up to a potential partner, even if you managed to strike up the courage to ask them out on a date.
While opening up and being vulnerable to judgment might be scary (or even terrifying, for some) it’s an important first step towards building a connection with another person. Pushing yourself to do things, or share things about yourself, that you usually wouldn’t is one of the best exercises that you can do for self-growth. Dating is a perfect example of this.
Communicating with others and revealing personal information about yourself is a skill you can learn. Sharing personal details of our lives, our interests, and our hopes and dreams for the future push many of us out of our comfort zone, so it’s natural if it feels a little uncomfortable at first. Fortunately, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Try to see each opportunity to talk on a date, or with a potential date, as a chance to leave your comfort zone and grow your experience!
Here are some tips to help you step out of your comfort zone:
- Remind yourself of your strength: You’ve been anxious in social settings before and you survived it! Think about other times you were in a similar headspace and try to recall the outcome. It probably wasn’t as bad as you worried it would be; remind yourself of previous successes!
- Make small changes first: Get used to the idea of change, even if it starts off small. Switch up your morning coffee spot—head to that other place you’ve admired instead. The more you welcome small changes into your life, the easier facing bigger challenges will be.
- Don’t fear failure: As an anxious person, worrying about making mistakes can be a reason why you stay tucked up, safe and content in your comfort zone. Remember that failure is usually a necessary and unavoidable step towards success.
Performance Anxiety is a common subtype of social anxiety disorder (SAD) that results in the inability to perform tasks without the fear of being judged or humiliated. It is important to recognize that everyone makes mistakes. In fact, the best way to learn is through trial and error, so get out there and make those mistakes—you will thank yourself later for the character growth.
Practice positive self-talk
Studies have shown that people with social anxiety may also have lower self-esteem and make more negative assumptions about themselves and their behavior than people without social anxiety. For some people, this might mean that you notice a slump in your mood and self-confidence when organizing or thinking about a date or start dreading what someone might feel about you.
For a lot of people with anxiety, a lowered self-esteem makes it hard to connect with others. If you don’t think highly of yourself, you may be less likely to believe that someone would be interested in you—even if they are!
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Counselling showed that lowered anxiety can be linked to positive self-talk, whereas higher anxiety can result from increased negative self-talk. To thrive in a relationship (as well as thriving as a single person), you need to remember to love, encourage, support, and respect yourself. Self-critical and hostile thoughts may still appear here and there, but try to replace these with nurturing affirmations.
Some ideas of how to adjust your self-talk include:
Learning to navigate the dating world when you have anxiety can be overwhelming. Dating should be fun, so take the opportunity to support yourself and your mental health as you open up to new people and new experiences. If you want to feel more confident in yourself and your romantic life, try looking at your worries from a new perspective, question catastrophic thinking, step out of your comfort zone, and practice positive self-talk. Dating can make us all feel vulnerable—but that’s okay! Being vulnerable and taking a chance is one of the first steps to making a connection with another person.