Life can be stressful and difficult on the best of days. But when you have anxiety, it can really take things to the next level. From going to work, to meeting up with friends, if you're prone to worrying thoughts and panic, it can all feel like too much to handle. This is especially true for dating if you have anxiety. First-date jitters are bad enough as it is, but add in a layer of anxiety, and the resulting stress can make getting to know someone an even bigger challenge.
Depending on what type of anxiety you have, it can make it difficult to leave your house — which can really put a damper on your chances of meeting someone. Or, it could fill you with so much stress and self-doubt, that making a good impression may be a struggle.
"One common form [of anxiety] is social anxiety in which a person fears judgment, embarrassment, or public scrutiny," counselor Amanda Petrik, LCPC, RPT-S tells Bustle. And then there's generalized anxiety disorder, which can make it difficult for you to "enjoy the present moment and focus on the positive," Petrik says. Although it can certainly affect someone's day-to-day, it's important to remember anxiety doesn't mean dating is impossible. If you are struggling to meet new people, and want to, seeking help from a therapist could help you develop strategies to combat anxiety while dating. Here are a few signs to look out for, as well as what to do about it.
1. You Expect Bad Things To Happen
Anxiety can thrust you into a vicious cycle of expecting things to go wrong, and then feeling proven right. "Anxiety is the result of negative feelings amassed from what you believe may or may not happen," relationship coach Jessica Matthews tells Bustle. "It can definitely degrade the quality of a relationship by manifesting exactly what you envision."
Are you expecting to feel rejected? Then you might think you see rejection at every turn, even if it's not really there. And that can make getting to know someone very difficult. As challenging as it may be, try to approach situations with an open mind. Not every date will lead to a relationship, but that doesn't mean they will lead to rejection either.
2. You Don't Feel Present During Dates
If you have anxiety, then you know it can cause you to feel very "in your head." And that can make you seem distracted or unapproachable on dates, which can create a lack of connection.
"Anxiety makes dating difficult because it’s hard to focus on anything else," anxiety specialist Kelsey Torgerson, MSW, LCSW tells Bustle. "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."
3. You Bail On Dates Right And Left
It's no easy task to get a relationship off the ground when you're too nervous to even go on a first date. And yet that's sometimes what can happen when you have anxiety. "When it comes to dating, some people can be so frozen with fear that they will find any excuse in the book not to even go on a date," certified professional coach Ellen Bolin tells Bustle. "Their anxiety holds them back to a degree where they can’t get out of their own way."
If you're looking to meet people, the first step to moving forward is recognizing that this may be your pattern. Once you notice your anxiety may be causing you to cancel dates, you can then develop ways to cope and tackle these issues with someone you trust or with professional help.
4. You Never Feel Like Yourself
"If you have anxiety that causes you to be overly self-critical and self-conscious, you will not be your authentic best self on a date, Dr. Minnie Claiborne, a relationship-fitness coach tells Bustle. "When you’re anxious, it creates an uncomfortable atmosphere, and it causes others around you to feel uneasy."
Her remedy? "Take some time and book [a few] sessions with a good counselor or coach. You can conquer anxiety. You can then present yourself in your best possible light." First dates are nerve-wracking for just about everyone, but guidance from a counselor or from someone you trust may help lessen the awkward tension.
5. Your Head Is Full Of Negative Self Talk
Negative self talk is that chatter in your head that's constantly telling you anxiety is winning, that you'll never find a partner, etc. "If you can hear what you say to yourself in those moments, say to yourself 'stop, you're never going to meet anyone with this kind of thinking,'" psychotherapist Rose Lawrence, LPCC, LCPC, NCC tells Bustle. Recognize that this is your anxiety talking, and not reflections of the truth. But if you still can't seem to get out of your head, talking with a therapist or someone you trust can help you realize these patterns and what to do about them.
6. You Aren't Fully Aware Of Your Options
Dates are one thing. But anxiety can close you off from other situations where you could meet a lovely, new partner, like at the coffee shop, in the grocery store, or even at work. So from today onward, go out into the world with your head up and look around you. Maybe say "hey" to someone.
"Practice everywhere you go so you become more comfortable each time you are around people," Lawrence. "Practice makes it easier, but most importantly, be easier on your self."
7. You've Been Told Frequently That You "Didn't Have A Connection"
While this totally isn't your fault, anxiety can make you seem closed off to others — all thanks to those stress hormones pumping through your veins. "When anxiety is present and cortisol skyrockets, it creates a sense of disconnection from others, and makes it difficult to attune to the dating partner," clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Sweeton tells Bustle. "Also, cortisol often creates feelings of loneliness or conflict, which further reduces the chance that a connection will be made during the date."
To counteract this reaction, take a few deep cleansing breaths. "When you’re on the date, make sure to take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth as soon as you start to feel that anxiety spike," says Torgerson. It really can help bring you back to reality, so you can connect.
8. Your Anxiety Is Creating Physical Symptoms
Dating sure can be difficult when you feel physically ill. And yet that's just what can happen when you're dealing with anxiety. As psychotherapist Kerrie Thompson Mohr, LCSW tells Bustle, you might get sweaty palms, which can make hand-holding feel like the end of the world. Or your voice might quiver, which can make small talk difficult. But, remember, there are things you can do to feel better.
"I recommend practicing breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation, to allow your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in to calm down," she says. "This sends a message to your brain that there is no threat." Also it may help to remember that you're not the only one who's nervous. Chances are your date is too.
9. You're Nervous To "Put Yourself Out There"
Even if you go the online dating route, fear of judgment can make it difficult to put yourself out there. "You may be worried about the way people will perceive you or whether or not you will be 'good enough' or 'attractive enough' or 'something enough' to attract someone," therapist Katie Krimer, MA, LMSW tells Bustle. "You may have anxiety about whether or not your qualities will be desirable for those who might try to date you." And that can make setting up your dating app account pretty unappealing. If this is the case with you, reciting a mantra to combat those worries before a date could help.
10. Your Self-Esteem Is Easily Damaged
Anxiety and low self-esteem often go hand in hand, experts say. And you might notice this crop up when it comes to posting that profile. "You may have a lot of overwhelming thoughts about whether or not you will 'match' with someone you like, and this may lead to more anxiety regarding your desirability, thereby potentially impacting self-esteem and self-worth," Krimer says. Also the potential for rejection doesn't make things easy either. But if you are having difficulties putting not-so-successful dates into perspective, professional guidance could help you to see that it's not actually your fault.
11. You Assume Every Date Was A Complete Failure
Anxiety can cause obsessive thoughts, which you may get post-date. "It can ... influence your perception of how the date goes and may negatively color the experience, simply based on the negativity bias of your mind at that time," Krimer says. So even if your date went well, or was at least relatively neutral, it may feel like a complete failure in your head — thus preventing you from going on another one, any time soon.
Anxiety can really take a toll on your dating life, since it can cause worry, self doubt, and a negative self image. But that does not mean all is lost, if you'd like to have a relationship. As Krimer says, "Anxiety is treatable and it often takes awareness and practice to learn how to cope with overwhelming or negative thoughts, panic, uncomfortable bodily sensations associated with anxiety, etc." If dating is difficult for you remember that with practice, you can confront these challenges head-on and meet someone.