How To Navigate The Dating Scene When You Have An Anxiety Disorder
When it comes to mental health and mental health disorders, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States—affecting 40 million adults every year. While anxiety disorders are treatable, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America claims that only 36.9% of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive proper treatment. And, if you’re someone who deals with anxiety on an everyday basis, you’d know that your disorder gets in the way of things you want to do. For many, social situations and meeting new people bring on anxiety in ways they cannot control and due to this, dating becomes incredibly hard… and can feel almost impossible at times.
Why does anxiety prevent us from just dating?
While anxiety affects all individuals differently, many who experience anxiety in dating do so for several reasons. Relationship coach Jessica Matthews claims that the cycle of overthinking and anticipating things will go wrong often sets up individuals for disappointment and failure in the dating scene.
“Anxiety can thrust you into a vicious cycle of expecting things to go wrong, and then feeling proven right,” she explains. “Anxiety is the result of negative feelings amassed from what you believe may or may not happen. It can definitely degrade the quality of a relationship by manifesting exactly what you envision.”
Additionally, a lot of people experience anxiety in dating because they hyperfocus on their anxiety and anticipate it will hurt them. Anxiety specialist Kelsey Torgerson, MSW, LCSW says, “Anxiety makes dating difficult because it’s hard to focus on anything else. When you’re someone who experiences anxiety, you know that it can come up a lot. And when you’re in new situations or with new people, it’s really hard to turn your attention and focus on what’s going well rather than what’s going wrong.”
If you’re someone who frequently suffers from this, dating seems almost debilitating. But, it doesn’t always have to be. There are resources, coping mechanisms, and therapy techniques to use to keep your anxiety at bay while finding the right person for you — or even playing the field.
Come to terms with your anxiety.
Hiding from your anxiety disorder is not only counterproductive, but it’s also harmful. And, while you may know you have anxiety, constant worry, or a panic disorder, there are different nuanced diagnoses and disorders that could be the culprit. Seeing a specialist and getting evaluated can not only help you in your everyday life but also help you in the dating world. We can’t stress this one enough.
Licensed clinical psychologist Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D. explained the differences in anxiety disorders, explaining, “Most people who say or feel like they have anxiety don’t actually meet criteria for an anxiety disorder. Though you may worry a lot, that alone is not enough to be ‘officially’ diagnosed with anxiety. Some worry is normal, but if it impacts your day-to-day life or inhibits your ability to function normally at school, work, home, or in social settings, then you may want to consider speaking with a therapist to learn how to manage your worries.”
Learning anxiety management is key in ensuring that your worrying and overthinking do not take over your life and prevent you from going out, dating, and enjoying your life. And, eventually, it will help you in your future relationships.
Use dating apps, they are your friend.
For many with anxiety, going out and meeting people for the first time in-person seems like a big black hole of panic attacks. Thanks to technology and social media, you don’t have to go in blind meeting individuals. In fact, using dating apps are perfect for individuals who have anxiety. Not only do you get to check people out before initiating conversation (not only photos, but bios, likes, dislikes, and information about them), but you can also take time to formulate what you want to say and how you want to approach people you are interested in. Even further, you can vet people to see if you feel safe meeting them IRL if that’s something that causes you anxiety.
Be up front and voice your needs.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like bars and crowded places, make it known. Maybe you want to drive yourself to the date instead of having someone pick you up, or, you’d rather go somewhere close to home. Whatever your contingencies may be — that’s totally fine and you should say them out loud. Hiding your needs will only heighten your anxiety because you wind up unhappy and uncomfortable. You can only take so many internally miserable dates before you decide to swear off relationships altogether. Make sure you’re dating on your terms. If someone isn’t down with them — they’re not for you anyway. You will meet people who understand and are okay with making small compromises to ensure you’re comfortable. Promise.
Stop putting the pressure on.
No matter how old you are — there is no such thing as a “timeline.” Everyone goes through life at different paces. Just because your friends are getting married, doesn’t mean you need to get married. (Uh-uh.) Just because your friends are having kids, doesn’t mean you need to pop out a soccer team anytime soon. (NOPE.) Give yourself some slack and take it easy — you will reach all of the destinations you’re traveling to when it’s your time. The more pressure you put on yourself, the more anxious you will become. Stop saying “what if,” and start saying, “so what?” If something or someone is not meant for you, who cares? You’ll move on and find something that is.
Try using therapist-recommended relaxation techniques.
There are several different types of therapy and techniques that a certified therapist will recommend to help with anxiety. But for many individuals, Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps with learning triggers and deciding how to alter your actions in life to prevent the anxiety from happening, or, altering your reaction to those panicky moments. Many times, this takes time, patience, and professional help. But, if you’re in a situation and you want to calm your mind down immediately, try doing some exercises to help.
Breathing exercises such as taking a deep breath in for 4 seconds, holding it for 2 seconds, and exhaling it for 6 seconds tends to help steady your heart rate and clear your mind. Not only do you calm your body down, but you also focus on something other than your anxiety. Focus in on the 5x4x3x2x1. Therapists say that shifting focus on something else in your presence helps alleviate your anxiety. Identify 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you smell, 2 things you feel, and 1 think you taste. Doing this can make you feel grounded and in the moment, present and out of your own head. Meditate for a few minutes. You can download and find free guided meditations online to calm your nerves and reduce your stress. Some people swear by meditation, so you may as well just try it, right? It’s worth a shot.
Allow yourself to have fun.
Worrying about what can go wrong so often can prevent you from living in the moment and, a lot of the time, you’ll be your greatest obstacle in finding whatever it is you’re looking for. Instead of focusing in on what could happen and allowing Murphy’s Law to steer your life, let go of all fear and paranoia that you will ruin the date. A date is a date, it’s not a test, it doesn’t determine the rest of your life or your future. The person you’re dating could be the one, but, they also could just be a great way to pass the time — either way, allowing yourself to truly have fun and live in the moment will teach you to not sweat the little things in life. Also, if it sucks, put a spin on it and laugh with your friends about it once the deep discomfort wears off. (It’s totally normal.) For someone with anxiety, it seems almost impossible to enter the dating scene carefree, but try to focus on the person you’re with rather than focusing on yourself — you never know what could happen. Tons of people struggling with anxiety find someone special all the time, why not let yourself be one of them?