Tips For Managing Dating Anxiety

When you're in a relationship, it's easy to miss the so-called fun of being single. Dating takes on a rosy hue in your memory as you remember the thrill, mystery, and giddy butterflies of connecting with someone new. But when you're actually in the dating pool, there's a huge amount of stress involved. And for some people, these worries are particularly intense, earning the condition a special moniker. Meet dating anxiety, where all your interpersonal and romantic fears coalesce into one big ball of nerves.

At its core, dating anxiety is just what it sounds like — severe stress around the idea of beginning a relationship. A cousin to regular social anxiety, dating anxiety is more than typical first-date awkwardness. Rather, it's a significant, heart-palpitating sense of fear or distress. These worries may be rooted in past relationship traumas, self-image issues, fear of rejection, and the circumstances of your upbringing (via Medical News Today). Dating anxiety can also tie into general shyness, inexperience, or pre-existing mental health conditions.

"Intimate relationships magnify our personality, so if you're already struggling with anxiety, it's going to show up even more when you're ready to get close with someone," Karen McDowell, Ph.D., tells Healthline. But this doesn't mean you're doomed to be alone for the rest of your days. Even if you think dating anxiety might be crippling your social life, there are tricks to help manage stress and set yourself up to approach new relationships in a healthy way.

Start with specific dating goals and boundaries

Dating can be intimidating, no matter your level of experience. Whether you've never dated before, meet a new Tinder match every week, or are reentering the singles market after a serious relationship, it's important to define your romantic goals before you jump in. Having well-understood goals and boundaries can help you identify partners worth pursuing and minimize the uncertainty that can feed dating anxiety.

To clarify your dating intentions, ask yourself questions like, what are you hoping to get out of a relationship? How serious are you looking to get? How much time do you have to commit to dating? How much physical intimacy are you comfortable with, if any? As relationship coach Jenna Ponaman tells Bustle, "Start with getting clarity on how you want to feel. ... What kind of person would I want to attract that would generate this feeling within me? What might potentially hold you back from achieving the perfect dating life you're looking for?" Ponaman even suggests creating a vision board that embodies your ideal romantic partnership, to "help you gain clarity on the differences between the things you think might bring you happiness versus the things that are actually aligned with your values at your core."

Share your expectations with your date

Once you know your own reasons for dating, it's vital to be clear about them with any potential partners. Whether you're looking for a casual hookup or are trying to find the one, let your date know so you're on the page. No, you don't have to start the first date with, "Do you want children?" or "Are you into marriage?" But it's fine to gauge a partner's current commitment level. There's a lot of uncertainty in dating, so seeking clarity isn't just normal, it's encouraged. According to USA Today, 69% of singles between ages 18 and 59 experience confusion around whether going out with someone they like is even a date, so more communication is always better.

Bear in mind that not everyone has the same interests or goals for their romantic life, and that's okay. Someone focused on their career may only be looking for a friend with benefits, while someone else might be ready to settle down for good. But these two people probably aren't a good match right now, so communicate with your date to ensure that you're looking for the same things. It can always evolve into something else later, but for now, it can be reassuring to know you're starting with similar expectations.

Be your genuine self

We all want to put our best foot forward in a new relationship, especially when making first impressions. But that shouldn't mean changing or hiding who we really are to meet some idea of perfection. Not only is this unattainable, but it will add more stress to your plate and create an emotional distance between you and your date. As Scientific American explains, practicing genuine self-disclosure — in other words, sharing your real thoughts and feelings — is the foundation of true intimacy. While this may feel uncomfortable initially, letting your date get to know the real you is better for your anxiety and relationship in the long term. By being open, you'll be able to tell much faster if you have connection and chemistry.

Of course, this is easier said than done. TV, movies, and even social media can set the bar of romance and attractiveness high, taking a toll on your dating confidence. If you're having a hard time letting go of your overly idealized goals, it may help to take a social media break and stop comparing yourself to the unrealistic standards set by influencers. It's okay to be different and weird! The genuine you is already deserving of love.

Clearly plan the date ahead of time

Because dating anxiety can go hand-in-hand with other forms of stress like fear of the unknown and general social anxiety, it can help to account for some variables ahead of time (via PsychCentral). Fortunately, you can cut out several stressors early by agreeing on a date itinerary. Knowing the time and place allows you to address other worries — for example, choosing an activity-appropriate outfit, eyeballing a restaurant's menu online, and Googling the public transport or parking situation. By tackling these concerns little by little in advance, you can minimize the onslaught of anxiety on the day of your outing and focus on what really matters: connecting with your date.

Recruit a support system

Much like you might have a friend play wingman or wingwoman to help you meet someone new, it can also help to have pals ready to decompress with you after the date. You might find it comforting to meet for brunch and a full debriefing of details the next morning, or you might prefer hanging out with a friend to forget a bad date that ever even happened. Regardless, research suggests that reconnecting with a loved one can give you a reassuring boost after a harrowing social experience. For example, a study in Depression and Anxiety has shown that social support can help mediate anxiety over time, while a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships indicates that positive friendships can support good self-esteem.

Plus, having an outside perspective from your support system can help you recognize whether a new relationship is safe, healthy, and suitable for you (via Love Is Respect). In the initial endorphin rush of dating, it can be hard to objectively evaluate the match. So, having an unbiased third-party weigh-in can help you make more confident dating decisions.