If You're Nervous For A First Date, Experts Say These Are The 7 Hacks That Can Help
If you've ever had shaky hands or felt like you were about to toss your cookies before a first date, know these kinds of nerves are par for the course, especially when it comes to meeting IRL if you connected online. But if you get dating anxiety so severe that it can prevent you from showing up — even if you want to — know that you aren't alone in that either. And there are ways to do the whole dating thing on your terms while honoring your boundaries and anxieties to help you feel safe.
"It's scary to reach out for connection and intimacy especially when you've never met the person or you've been hurt in the past," trauma-focused counselor Maryann W. Mathai, LPCC, LMHC, LPC, NCC, who works with people who have difficulty trusting others, tells Bustle. "If your body begins to respond out of fear with panic or anxiety symptoms, there are several tricks you can use to calm yourself down."
Additionally, Mathai says, there are things you can do before and during the date that can help you to get into a more comfortable state of mind. Just remember, the first step of all of it is going at your own pace, no matter what pace that is.
1. Prepare All The Details In A Way That Makes You Comfortable
If that means meeting in the daytime for only a set amount of time, making sure you are in contact with a friend on stand-by, or that you only go to a place you've been to before, that's all good.
"If you know you tend to become nervous on first dates, the best form of preparation is prevention," Mathai says. "When planning the logistics of the date, try suggesting a meal at a restaurant you go to often."
If you pick a place you know well, Mathai says, it'll eliminate the anxiety of having to navigate a new environment and all that comes with it. Think of your attire beforehand, whether you'll find parking, what the seating situation will look like, the whole nine yards. When you have the details taken care of, it helps you be present.
2. Consider What Helps You Deal With Moments Of Panic
Sometimes before you walk into the restaurant or get out of the car to go on the date, a full blown panic attack can arise. First of all, know that if you don't want to go, you do not have to go. Not dating is also a totally valid and positive option if that's what works for you.
But as Mathai says, if there is real panic coming on when you do arrive at a date, as simple as this may sound, remind yourself as quickly as you can that you are having a panic attack and not dying.
"Mindfully giving yourself validation and insight will help dramatically reduce the fear that triggers panic and help you focus your attention onto other techniques," Mathai says.
One suggestion, Mathai says, is to find an object in the room to focus your entire attention on and begin to describe it in thorough detail to yourself, consciously noting everything about it — the color, size, shape, noise.
"You'll begin to feel grounded in the present moment," Mathai says.
3. Know There Is Nothing Wrong With Being Honest
Sometimes honesty is the best policy. As the saying goes, you can't say the wrong thing to the right person, you know? It's OK to be upfront with where you're at without making yourself feel more vulnerable than you would like.
"There’s nothing wrong with admitting you feel nervous," psychotherapist Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA, who practices in Florida, tells Bustle. You can simply say that first dates aren't easy for you, or make a little joke about your palms being clammy.
"This can clear the air," Englander says. "It can help you and your date relax and be more open with each other."
And at the same time, give yourself some credit for being out there and facing up to the experience!
"In time it will get easier — and eventually, you may even find a person who’ll make more first dates unnecessary," Englander says.
4. Remind Yourself That You Aren't Alone With These Fears
There are probably people out there who thrive off of first dates and enjoy them all, which is a cool and even an admirable trait. However, for oh-so-many of us, they are not unlike preparing for a huge test or dental surgery.
"If you feel anxious about first dates perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone," Englander says. "Most people feel some anxiety about first dates, job interviews, walking into a party alone where they don’t know anyone, and the like."
Keep this in mind — that all of us wish to feel good about ourselves and usually need a little help coming out of our own shells during awkward social moments.
5. Keep The Focus On Them For Awhile
So you made it to the date, you're sitting across from each other, and now it's time to talk. E-gads!
Sometimes keeping yourself out of your head as much as possible is the way to go when it comes to nerves, which in a dating situation, might simply mean keeping the focus on the other person for awhile.
"Ask questions," says Englander. "Show interest. Whenever possible give a sincere compliment on some thing that you hear."
It can quell the spiraling thoughts a little. Many times people really enjoy having the opportunity to share about themselves, and it gives you the chance to calm down and become situated before you start talking yourself.
6. Don't Forget To Breathe And Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
And what is the Vagus Nerve, you ask? Well, it's a nerve that runs from your neck to your abdomen, and it works to turn off the whole paralyzing panic thing.
"Stimulating the Vagus Nerve can help reduce feelings of anxiety and overwhelm quickly," psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, who specializes in somatic therapy, tells Bustle. "When you are extremely nervous about your date, your body can actually begin to go into a fight, flight, or freeze state, as if you are being chased by a tiger! Your breathing gets shallow to prepare you to run."
You can trick your brain into feeling calm and safe by practicing bottom-up brain-wise breathing, Scott-Hudson says.
"To stimulate your Vagus Nerve before going on a first date to help your body feel calm and safe, take several deep, long breaths," Scott-Hudson says. "Allow your diaphragm to expand your belly as you breathe. Let your exhale be twice as long as your inhale to help you relax."
The Vagus Nerve is an activator of your Parasympathetic Nervous System, or PNS for short, Scott-Hudson says. Your PNS is responsible for keeping you safe and alive, and it handles all of the bodily processes you don't even have to think about, like controlling your heart-rate, helping you digest food, and getting a good night's sleep.
"These deep, long breaths stimulate your Vagus Nerve and spark your PNS to release acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of general well-being and safety," Scott-Hudson says.
7. Consider Reaching Out For Some Professional Support
Your response to dating might be so uncomfortable that professional support would be helpful for you. And if you already do get therapeutic help, trying to focus on that issue in particular with your provider can be beneficial.
"If you get to a panic attack-level of nervous prior to dating, it may be time to evaluate whether therapy could be a useful addition to your life," psychologist Robin Hornstein, Ph.D. who is also an integrative nutrition health coach, tells Bustle.
"No date is worth a panic attack and you may be carrying trauma from an old relationship, or judging yourself for not being in a relationship," Hornstein says. "It is very useful to unpack that with someone who can help you sort out the narrative that is driving your panic."
Again, don't be hard on yourself if dating seems remarkably difficult. If it is something that is important to you, there are ways to heal and move forward. Plus, there is no timeline when it comes to love, you know?