9 Things To Do Before A Date If You Get Panic Attacks
So you’ve got a date! Victory is yours: you’ve already passed several anxiety hurdles, like the great demon of actually talking to another human. Because putting yourself out there and setting a date is hard, and can be terrifying. If you’ve got a date coming up, you’ve already done that. You deserve to congratulate yourself! But if you’re prone to panic attacks, you know you’ve still got an additional series of hurdles in addition to regular old date nerves: How do you cope with a panic attack before a date?
Therapist Laura Stein, LMSW, says that an important step in getting yourself safely through a potential pre-date panic attack is recognizing your symptoms. "Panic attacks come with physical symptoms such as elevated heart rate, sweating, trembling and gastrointestinal pain," she tells Bustle. "If you experience of any these symptoms before a date, notice how disruptive they are. They may be signs of an incoming panic attack. General date-related nervousness may come with physical symptoms as well, but tend to subside without intervention."
If any of this sounds like it has been or could be you the next time you're getting ready for a date, rest assured: you can still have an awesome time. Here are nine ways to deal with a date-related panic attack before it happens.
1. Reach Out For Support
Reaching out and telling someone you’re panicking, or think you might be panicking, can feel like a nearly insurmountable obstacle, but it’s an important hurdle to overcome. Even if you're not yet comfortable telling your date about your anxiety (that's OK!), reaching out to others in your life can still help.
"Call a friend or a therapist to reality test and to stay grounded," Stein tells Bustle. Getting yourself grounded before you even start physically prepping for your date can help the process go much more smoothly.
2. If Applicable, Take Or Pack Your Medication
This one's pretty self-explanatory: if you have medication for your anxiety, make sure you take it if you need to before your date, or bring it along with you just in case. Lots of people experience panic attacks while on a date, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes just knowing you have access to medication that can help you feel better if you panic can cut the risk of a panic attack.
3. Be Gentle With Yourself
Take yourself on a date before your date with someone else: you deserve it. Whatever you like to do to center yourself, go for it. If you're me, that means splurging on some really great vegan biscuits while listening to NPR (no one has ever called me a nerd) or going to the gym and cranking up some Linkin Park. Whatever your thing is that makes you feel like you've pampered yourself, go for it.
"Practice meditation, breathing, and reciting mantras," Stein advises. Do whatever works to treat yourself as well as you want to treat your date.
4. Let Your Excitement Be Louder Than Your Dread
Channeling your excitement is much easier said than done, to be sure. But the effort can be well worth it. Take one of those moments when you're happy before your date to pause and write yourself a little note about why you're excited. Or blast some really fun music while you're getting dressed for said date. (For me, that music is a very odd and appropriately genderqueer combination of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s “Sexy Getting Ready Song” and “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too.”) Whatever your uniquely you strategy is, try to channel the reasons you wanted to go on this date to begin with. It's OK if it doesn't work; you don't have to be excited 100% of the time. But sometimes, it's worth a try.
5. Plan Ahead To Reduce Your Triggers
This one's especially important for the planners out there. And even if you're not a planner, you might get thrown off by unexpected changes or unwelcome obstacles. And while you can't take all the variables off the board, you can control some of them. If your datemate wants to plan something for you, you're allowed to ask what they're planning! And if you know you're going to a restaurant or bar, you might want to find out how busy it tends to get beforehand so you can prepare for loudness and a crowd (or just switch venues) if you need to.
And unfortunately, part of planning ahead for dates may also involve your safety. Especially for trans and non-binary people in the dating world, there may be safety concerns and heightened emotional barriers to navigate. "If safety-related anxiety arises, be sure to make a plan to check in with a friend before and after the date," Stein tells Bustle. "Having a point of contact to bookend with can help to mitigate fears of insecurity when meeting new people." And that's solid advice all around.
6. Practice, Just A Little Bit
You can, if you want to, literally practice different things you're going to say! Talking off the cuff isn't easy, and especially on dates, avoiding awkwardness can often seem paramount. (Pro tip: you are pretty much always more awkward in your head than you seem to other people.) But especially for people who are dating and have severe anxiety, practice can really help. Even if you don't literally practice what to say, having an easy-to-remember list of topics to talk about in the back of your mind can be helpful during those inevitable awkward silences. If feeling awkward is a strong trigger for you, this might be an especially important one: what are you excited to learn about your date? What do you want them to know about you? A little list-making never hurt anyone.
7. Manage Your Expectations
This doesn't mean lower your expectations. You deserve to be treated fabulously, and you don't ever have to compromise on that. But a first, second, or fourth date probably won't end with a proverbial glass slipper on your foot. And that's more than OK. Taking a step back and reminding yourself that your entire future does not hinge on this one date is important. That perspective can be so hard, but adjusting your expectations to center on tonight rather than forever can help lower the pressure. And lowering the pressure (not the expectations) is what it's all about.
8. Try Not To Ruminate
This is an especially tough one. But that last text they sent you to confirm the date, the one without two extra exclamation points? Try not to ruminate on the meaning of that punctuation (or lack thereof). It's hard! But your soon-to-be-date is probably nervous, too, and possibly even anxious. As someone who is an expert at ruminating and panicking in the shambles of an aftermath, let me tell you: ruminating on every text you've ever exchanged and the way your flirting was super awkward that one time is likely to ramp up your anxiety. Try to let go of the fears and embrace the newness of your date: it's hard, and you may need to call in your friends as external sources of validation, but you can do this!
9. Remind Yourself That You Are Likeable And Loveable (Because You Are)
Your anxiety and your panic attacks may be part of who you are. But they do not define you as a person, and they certainly do not ever make you unlikable or unlovable. People with anxiety are worthy of so much love, and that includes you. Repeat it to yourself as often as you need to.
And what if this all fails? What if you still have a panic attack before your date? Then you're still amazing and valid and likable and lovable. Do everything you need to do to care for yourself, first and foremost, and remember that you don't need to apologize for taking care of yourself. You're going to have a great time on your date, and even if you don't, you are still awesome.