An expert shares how she slays anxiety before first dates.
Ahhh, the monumental first date! The adrenaline leading up to this highly anticipated encounter is both exciting and nerve-wracking. But for some of us, sweaty palms, a racing mind, and tattered nerves get in the way of a good impression. Even if you don’t have social anxiety, first dates are fraught with restlessness in a not-so-exciting way. While it’s normal for emotions to run high while anticipating a new date, it’s also important to be skilled at taming your nerves once they begin to get unruly.
After all, you want that cute guy to get to know the best you, not an anxiety-ridden you.
I’ve been there—seriously. But, thanks to my work as a psychotherapist, I have discovered five strategies that have changed the way I approach first dates, banishing those jitters for good.
01. Go Easy on the Adult Beverages
I am the first to admit that when I have a few drinks, I say things I would not normally say. This is the by-product of alcohol, my friends. For better or for worse, it messes with our internal “decision-making filter,” which is not something you want to happen on the first date. As tempting as it is to placate your nerves with a glass of wine (or three) at your apartment before heading out, consider the repercussions of doing so. You run the risk of being tipsy or drunk on your date (a major turnoff, according to men), revealing too much too soon, getting physical before you’re actually ready, and losing the ability to assess whether this guy is an actual match. If you are going to drink before your date even arrives, limit yourself to one beverage.
02. Plan a Low-Stress Date
It can feel really intimidating to sit across a table from someone you don’t know, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Consider meeting on different territory that you would both enjoy. Whether you grab a coffee, walk around a museum, or meet up at a dog park, everything depends on your personal comfort level—which can make a helluva difference when it comes to the quality of the conversation.
Pick a date location that allows you to feel engaged by your surroundings. The more a person is “in their element,” the more authentic they feel. I love choosing a fun activity such as miniature golf or bowling. I’m not particularly good at either, but both offer great amusement and tons of conversation points.
03. Challenge Your Inner Critic
We all have an inner critic. It’s that nagging voice that expresses disapproval, criticism, and judgment of our actions. You may recognize it as the voice that says, “You sound dumb. You look horrible! You’ll probably be alone forever.” It’s basically first date kryptonite.
In order to challenge our critic, we have to first understand its role. Believe it or not, it’s a part of you that is trying to help. It doesn’t want you to get hurt, so it criticizes you to keep you from being vulnerable. Not the greatest approach, I know.
Challenge your critic by acknowledging its presence. Thank it for showing up and trying to help. Then set a boundary by saying to yourself, “Stop speaking to me that way. I know you’re trying to help, but you’re making me feel terrible.” Practice this over and over until it becomes a habitual response.
04. Stop Future Tripping
Future tripping, or in fancy terms anticipated anxiety, is part of being human. When we future trip, we visualize the imagined future and anticipate an outcome. It is a common unconscious habit that most people use to combat anxiety about the unknown. It gives us a (false) sense of control by making us think that by anticipating our future, we will be prepared for the worst. It’s a very logical process of trying to protect ourself from getting hurt.
Needless to say, the potential for a new relationship or romance brings on the future tripping in full force. Here’s what it looks like in action:
Leading up to your first date you’re already trying on his last name, obsessing about having a second date, and fantasizing about your future together. Or, on the flip side, you’re thinking about all the ways this date could go wrong, and you ruminate on negative scenarios in your mind. When you notice your thoughts going into the future, say to yourself, “I’m future tripping,” and come back to what’s happening right in front of you. Breathe in, breathe out.
05. Be the Chooser, Not the Chosen
If there is one thing I want to convey to all my single ladies, it’s this: Stop being reactive to situations, and start leading them. Rather than working from a mindset that asks, “How can I get him to like me?” shift into a mindset that asks, “How can he get me to like him?” Take the focus off of yourself, and pay attention to how he makes you feel.
If you find yourself focusing on what your date is thinking about you and whether he likes you, hit the pause button and shift your attention. While it’s perfectly normal to wonder if he’s into you, come back to the question of whether you’re into him.
Far too often, women feel the need to play a certain role in order to be desired and loved. Frankly, it’s exhausting to act like anyone other than who you are. It is also a complete waste of time. How can you find your true match if you’re busy being a chameleon?
Listen to yourself, ask yourself honest questions, and practice self-care. Because at the end of the day, romance can be incredible, but your relationship with yourself is perpetual.