- If you have relationship anxiety, you should rehearse conversations before you go on a date.
- You can also feel more comfortable by picking what you want from the menu ahead of time.
- Try thinking positively and set realistic expectations.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Going on a date can make anyone nervous, but if you have anxiety, it can be extra challenging.
Anxiety isn't like regular nerves. Butterflies in your stomach and a rapid pulse, for example, are normal.
Signs of anxiety are more severe and can include feeling shaky, a shortness of breath, or having overwhelming worrying thoughts.
If you're already an anxious person, this can make dating more difficult. However, there is hope. Here are some science-backed strategies for how to manage your anxiety before, during, and after a date.
Rehearse before the date
Rehearsing what you might do on a date can help you feel more prepared, which can reduce your anxiety.
"We tend to do better and have a better experience when we mentally rehearse an activity," says Kathy Nickerson, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice.
Some of the ways you can rehearse the date include:
1. Visualize what you think is likely to happen on the date, step by step. "Picture yourself making the call, getting ready, hopping on zoom, meeting at the park. Walk yourself through every step and as you do, visualize things going well," Nickerson advises.
2. Think about a few fun topics of conversation. It's a good idea to have some questions prepared that you can ask the other person, especially if the conversation begins to lag. "Start with more general topics and work your way to something more personal," Nickerson says. For example, you could start with "what do you do in your free time?" or "what are your pet peeves?" and later move on to something like "where is home to you?" or "who are the most important people in your life?"
3. Think about what you'll do if something goes wrong. You might think this would heighten anxiety, but it can actually be calming to have a game plan, Nickerson says. For example, if you spill coffee on yourself, what could you say to deal with it? "Remember that most of these things will NOT happen, but if they do, you've got a plan," says Nickerson.
"On the other hand, some people need to limit their preparation time, if they have a tendency to go overboard," says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. Spending all day getting ready for a date can make you more anxious – it's best to limit yourself to an hour or two of preparation time.
Focus on your comfort
Making adjustments that make you feel more comfortable on a date can be key to reducing anxiety. Some important steps to help you feel more comfortable are:
4. Give yourself enough time to get ready and travel, as running late can make you feel worse. "If you feel like you are rushing, your anxiety will be higher," says Kimber Shelton, PhD, a licensed psychologist in private practice.
5. Consider going somewhere familiar. For example, consider going to a restaurant you frequent or a coffee shop that you've been to before. "This way, you will not have to acclimate to a new environment, and you can anticipate where to go and what to do," Shelton says.
6. Look at the menu ahead of time if you're going to a restaurant, so you can eat something you like and don't feel pressured to make a choice in the moment, Shelton says. When you're feeling anxious, it can be harder to make even small decisions.
7. Wear something that you feel comfortable and confident in. "This might not be the time to take that fashion risk if it will result in you picking at and rearranging your clothes and body for the duration of the date," Shelton says.
Use grounding techniques
Grounding techniques like breathing exercises can be an effective way to bring down your anxiety, both before and during a date.
Grounding techniques often work by focusing on how your body feels —– "if the body is calm, eventually, the mind can catch up and slow down as well," Shelton says. Here are some simple grounding techniques you can use to ease anxiety:
8. Deep breathing. "One breathing technique to try is using a 4-count to take a deep breath in through the nose and a 4-count exhale through the mouth," says Shelton. For best results, you should repeat this for 1 to 3 minutes. It may help to practice breathing exercises until you can do them smoothly — this way your date won't notice what you're doing, Carmichael says.
9. Connect to the five senses. This exercise involves going through each sense, one by one: focus on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. "Connecting to your different senses will help calm you," Nickerson says.
10. Take a break. It's okay to excuse yourself to the bathroom or step outside to get yourself grounded and calmer. "While you are alone, you can practice your breathing exercise, offer yourself affirmations, or send a quick text to a friend who supports and encourages you," Shelton says.
11. Avoid or limit alcohol or other drugs. "Drinking or getting high may calm you, but they may also lower your inhibitions in a way that negatively affects the date," Shelton says. You might find yourself saying or doing things you wouldn't say or do if you were sober, which could lead to later regret.
It's best to go into a date with positive thoughts about yourself and the experience. This can be challenging when you have anxiety, but here are some methods to help you get into a positive mindset:
12. Speak encouragingly to yourself. In preparation for the date, say kind things to yourself, either out loud or in your head, Shelton advises. You can use positive affirmations like, "I can do this," "I'm proud of myself," or "I'm going to do my best."
13. Avoid comparison. "Sometimes we get very competitive and beat ourselves up because we think we're not slim enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or rich enough," Nickerson says. Instead of comparing and competing, try to think of a few things that make you special or reasons someone would want to date you.
14. Keep your thoughts realistic. Both pessimistic thoughts and perfectionist thoughts can increase your anxiety. Try to challenge thoughts like "tonight's going to be terrible" or "tonight, I will meet my soulmate," Shelton says. You can replace these thoughts with more realistic ones like, "Even if it's not the best date, I'll be fine" or "maybe I'll like the person I'm seeing."
15. Keep things in perspective. It can help to remind yourself that it's just a date, both before the date and after it's over, Nickerson says. Remember that it's not the only date you'll ever have and it's not necessarily an important date.
16. Give yourself multiple options. "Having other dates planned can be a great way to stay positive, so that you don't feel any huge pressure that this particular date must go perfectly," Carmichael says.
17. Celebrate yourself. After a date, it's easy to focus on what went wrong, but it's important to give yourself credit for challenging yourself and doing something difficult. "In assessing the evening, count going on the date as a win and then look for all the other parts of the date that showed strength or improvement (not perfection)," Shelton advises.
18. Unwind after the date. When you get home, do something that you enjoy or something that relaxes you. "Take a bath, write in your journal, turn on your favorite show. Anything that rewards you for facing your dating anxiety," Shelton says.
19. Express your feelings. It's okay to have worries or mixed feelings after a date, and putting them down on paper can help. "Journaling what happened during the date and how you felt can be a great way to process the feelings," Carmichael says.
If you struggle with anxiety, dating can be a challenging experience, but there are several methods you can use to manage your symptoms.
Grounding exercises, positive affirmations, and planning ahead can all help you reduce your anxiety and make the experience better.
If you aren't able to manage anxiety on your own, seek out a mental health professional who can help you find solutions that work for you.