Nervous about a date? You’re not alone. Experiencing anxiety around dating is common. Dating can be especially nerve-wracking for those with social anxiety. According to a survey we conducted*, 41% of single adults with social anxiety will spend Valentine’s Day staying in by themselves, while only 27% of single adults without social anxiety plan to spend the holiday at home alone.
As we approach Valentine’s Day, we would love to provide some practical tips for dealing with social anxiety while dating (whether around this time of the year or year-round). These tips are based on techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the leading treatment for people with social anxiety.
- Recognize when you jump to conclusions too quickly. Some of the most common anxious thoughts that people have when they think about dating are: My date doesn’t like me, or I will be boring. We have a tendency to predict that negative things will happen to us in the future and try to read other people’s minds. However, unless you have telepathic powers, you can’t know what will happen in the future or what others are thinking. What you do know so far is that someone agreed to go on a date with you, and if she did not like you, she probably would not have agreed to go on this date.
- Remember, you don’t look as nervous as you feel. Before a date, you might feel the first date nerves and worry about shaking, blushing, sweating, or showing other signs of the jitters. Research shows that people tend to overestimate the visibility of their own anxiety . In other words, you are likely to be much more aware of signs that you’re nervous than your date is.
- Be present. During a date, try to focus on listening and responding to the other person. That way, you can keep up with the conversation and not spend all of your energy worrying about your anxiety. Also, remember that everyone in a conversation is equally responsible for how it flows. If the conversation feels awkward, remember that it’s not all on you to change things.
- Challenge your anxious thoughts. After the date, it’s easy to nitpick all the things you think you did wrong and berate yourself, but remember that is your social anxiety talking. When you’re anxious, you tend to interpret a situation as being more negative than it actually is. It might be helpful to ask yourself what the worst case scenario is and what would happen if it came true. Would you be able to survive it? For example, it might be helpful to think, The worst case scenario is that things don’t work out with this person, but if so, I would be able to cope with that because there are other fish in the sea.
- Set realistic expectations. Many of my clients report feeling anxious about pauses in a conversation. I like to remind them that pauses are a natural part of a conversation. Even if you do say something that you think is awkward or spill your drink, that’s okay. If your date is going to judge you based off of one thing you did or said, then you might want to think about whether or not you want to date someone with such high expectations or who will judge you so quickly.
- Set manageable goals. Take things one step at a time. If you view a date as an opportunity to learn more about another person and have fun—rather than as a mission to find a life partner—chances are you will be less anxious. According to CBT, there are different ways to interpret a situation, and it’s our interpretation of a situation that makes us anxious, rather than the situation itself. Setting realistic goals for yourself (e.g. I only have to show up; I only have to go on one date with this person) can calm some of those dating nerves.
- Practice. Research shows that one of the most effective ways to decrease anxiety is to gradually face what you are afraid of, which helps you become less anxious about it over time. If you experience social anxiety around dating, start small by initiating conversations with a barista you find attractive or by giving a stranger a small compliment.
- Celebrate the small wins. Even if one date does not go well, remember that you have taken a big step towards overcoming anxiety by making the effort to go on it. Along the way, you might learn what qualities you like or don’t like in a partner. You might have some fun stories to tell. You might learn what cuisine is the least messy to eat (open to debate). Either way, it took courage to put yourself out there to seek out meaningful relationships, and that in and of itself is a victory.
Research shows that CBT is effective for treating social anxiety. To find out whether you can benefit from Joyable, an online CBT program shown to help people overcome their social anxiety, take our social anxiety quiz.
*Joyable surveyed 1,188 U.S. adults via Survey Monkey between November 30 and December 1, 2015. The margin of error is +/-2.76 percentage points assuming a 95 percent confidence level.
Aimee is a Client Coach at Joyable where she gets to help people work toward their social anxiety goals. Outside of work, she watches action/Sci-Fi movies with friends, participates in various aerobic physical activities, and tutors underserved youths in East Palo Alto. She is living vicariously through her friends’ dating experiences.
 Hope, D. A., Heimberg, R. G., & Turk, C. L. (2010). Managing social anxiety: A cognitive-behavioral therapy approach: Workbook. New York: Oxford University Press