Anxiety and dating

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Dating can be hard enough, but throw a little anxiety into the mix and… well, suddenly staying home on a Saturday night seems preferable. Suffering from an anxiety disorder can lead to feeling very isolated or hopeless about finding the right partner, but with treatment and strategies it doesn’t have to derail your dating life, explains Jacqui Manning from TheFriendlyPsychologist.com.au.

“So many people miss out on opportunities because they’re afraid or it’s easier to say no,” she explains. “The solution lies in finding ways to soothe yourself as you step outside your comfort zone and push forward anyway. You’ll never know how your next relationship will be if you don’t turn up. As the saying goes, you don’t regret the things you’ve done as much as the things you don’t do.”

Anxiety is more common than you might think

According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia – so if you’ve got it, you’re in good company. Around 1 in 4 people (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men) will experience it. It can develop over time and manifest as different types of anxiety – from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) to social phobias.

“Anxiety can hit the young and old. It might appear the older ‘dater’ is more anxious, however it’s just a function of trying something new,” says Manning. “Presumably they’ve been out of practice for some years, but once they’ve got out there and ‘practiced’, the playing field evens out. I find my clients are very flexible and accept the digital dating age surprisingly well. However if your computer skills aren’t great and/or you can’t navigate a smartphone, then yes, it’s another barrier to negotiate.”

Of course, no matter how old or technically-savvy you are, if you’re fresh out of a long-term relationship, getting ‘out there’ will seem like travelling to a foreign land for a while, she adds. “But, hopefully with the right type of guidance from others who have been there before (like friends in the dating scene), you’ll soon be meeting some friendly locals!”

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How can anxiety make dating harder? 

Stumbling through awkward conversations or worse, excruciating silences are just some fears anxiety sufferers may have in regards to meeting someone new. And then there’s the mental spiralling before the actual date itself where you can go round and round in circles about what to expect. Will they resemble their profile pic? Will you be able to hold a decent conversation? What if you say something dumb? What will he/she think of you? What if you don’t like him/her? What if you DO?

Doing anything unknown – from dating to starting a new job – can trigger anxiety, which impacts your ability to think clearly and relax, says Manning. “But the anxiety you feel before you do something new is worse than when you’re actually in the situation, so the important thing is getting there,” she adds. “It can be helpful reminding yourself that nervousness goes both ways. We’re often so focused on ourselves that we don’t consider our date could be feeling it too.”

Manning’s 5 pre-date anxiety busters

Although anxiety is common, many sufferers either don’t seek treatment or believe it can be treated – but the good news is that it can, says Manning. “There is much you can do to alleviate anxiety. It’s often very physical – i.e. you feel sick, sweaty, heart racing, so the answer is often physical: more exercise, a massage, deep breathing,” she says. “You can’t be relaxed and anxious at the same time so calming your body is essential and it’ll help your mind. Dating wise, given we put so much thought into preparing our outer layers (what will I wear? I need to get my hair done) so allow just as much time and thoughtfulness to preparing what’s on the inside too – i.e. don’t just cross your fingers and hope all will be OK, but address the anxiety that pops up.” Here’s how:

  1. Slow breathing (in through the nose for 4 counts, out through your mouth for 6 counts).
  2. Mindfulness (which is staying in the moment when you’re eating, walking, doing any task).
  3. Energy relaxation techniques (meridian tapping, which a counsellor can teach you).
  4. Changing thought patterns (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy books are a good start).
  5. Exercise is great at getting rid of excess adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormones).

Can you relate? Has anxiety derailed your dating life in the past? What are your best strategies for dealing with it? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below or you can join the conversation on FacebookTwitter & Instagram. And if you are ready to narrow down the world of possibilities, sign up to eharmony today- find someone made for you.

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