Social anxiety is more than a social problem. It's something that can cause significant stress and discomfort, and in extreme cases possibly even cause panic attacks and feelings of low self-worth as a result of social situations.
But if you ask anyone that has social anxiety what their biggest regret is, it's that it's hard to date and find relationships. Meeting other people is, of course, very difficult when you're anxious in social situations. The following are ten different tips and strategies for dating and meeting people when you suffer from social anxiety.
Do You Have Dating Anxiety?
While this article provides individual tips, overcoming social anxiety itself is the only true way to ensure you can meet your romantic partners. Our free anxiety test can score the severity of your symptoms and provide you with solutions to your dating anxiety.
Full Strategies for Social Anxiety
Keep in mind when you're reading these that some of them do involve being brave and trying to challenge your fears. For some people, that can be hard – indeed, if overcoming your social anxiety was easy, you'd be doing it already. It's important to remember that the only way to stop social anxiety is to cure it altogether. Take my free 7-minute anxiety test to learn more.
But there are smaller, more interesting strategies that can help you with some of your social anxiety issues and make sure that it doesn't interfere with your dating. The following are some tips to help you meet and date other people.
Tip 1: Exercise
Yes, the first tip is a boring one, but also extremely important. Exercise is probably the single most effective thing you can do for your anxiety because it provides several benefits that specifically affect those with social phobia:
- Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are chemicals that improve mood and relaxation.
- Exercise calms muscles so that your anxiety symptoms are less severe.
- Exercise helps people feel better about their bodies and their health, which improves confidence when talking to someone with the opposite sex.
It has nothing to do with looks or weight. Rather, exercise provides some incredibly valuable benefits that promote better mental health, making it easier to talk to others.
Tip 2: Avoid Cliché Meeting Places, Find Smaller Groups
Social anxiety is at its worst in environments that promote too much social behavior. Many people with social anxiety still try to meet people in "normal" meeting spots, like bars, clubs, or parties. But these places provide excess stress that is hard for someone to mentally overcome.
Try to attend small events where meeting people isn't a priority, and where you can also get used to smaller social situations. For example, there are several places online to find hiking groups, and hiking groups are generally 4 to 5 people at most. Even though such a small group of people means that you may not find someone you connect with, small groups also give you an opportunity to practice socially and could introduce you to friends, which in turn can help you meet someone someday.
Tip 3: If Anxiety Hits, Don't Be Shy About It
Shame is a common emotion with social phobia, where a person feels embarrassed when they start to experience anxiety during a conversation. While not everyone is comfortable doing this, many people find that it's helpful to simply let the other person know what they're experiencing:
"Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I am someone that suffers from some severe social anxiety, so I am experiencing a lot of nervousness in this conversation. My apologies if it makes me look distracted, as I am trying to overcome it."
It's not something a lot of people share about themselves, but when you do share it, and you show that you're not embarrassed about it, it can make it easier to "get out of your head," which is a common problem with most severe anxiety. When you try too hard to fight it and still hold a conversation, the anxiety often gets worse.
Feel free and do this on dates too. Most people will respect your honesty, especially if you don't pretend to be embarrassed about it, and those that do not respect your honesty are probably not people with whom you want to start a relationship.
Tip 4: Practice Without Expectations
They say that relationships are more likely to start when you stop looking for one. One of the reasons that this is probably true is that those looking for a relationship get overly focused on anyone they meet, putting a great deal of pressure on its success.
For example, a man that wants a relationship and has some anxiety will often get enough bravery to go up to some woman somewhere and talk to her, and once he does he'll start hoping and praying she's the one and put a great deal of pressure on a relationship growing from that one conversation. Then, if she simply isn't interested or has a boyfriend or what have you, he feels worse about himself and experiences more anxiety in the future.
That's why you need to practice in such a way that you have no expectations, ideally because no relationship can happen. For example, practice when you're in another state on vacation, or practice and give everyone a fake name. Try to talk to multiple people in a night and promise to yourself that you will give none of them your phone number or contact information.
You need to learn not to put too much pressure on any one relationship succeeding. Once you've done that, then you can worry about trying to meet the right person, and not "any" person.
Tip 5: Always Start Strong
If you do have enough bravery to go to an event and try to meet people, then make sure you start strong. Talk to the first people you see and introduce yourself. Go up to anyone you see around you. Talk to as many people as you can. Getting into a groove is very important. Those that wait and wait and wait are only going to experience more anticipatory anxiety, which will likely make their overall anxiety worse.
Controlling Panic Attacks During Social Anxiety
Those that have severe social anxiety and get panic attacks should also learn to control them. Make sure you take my free 7-minute anxiety test now to learn more.
Tip 6: Get/Use a Best Friend
Studies have shown that those that have strong social support are more confident and better able to meet people. It's a good idea to try to make sure that you find and spend time with a best friend if you have social anxiety. When you go to social events, don't go to meet people. Go to spend time with your best friend, where meeting people is a bonus. You'll feel far more supported that way, and your ability to branch out should improve.
Tip 7: Keep Going After Panic
If your social anxiety is strong enough that it causes panic attacks, one of the best things you can do – and one of the hardest, of course – is to keep going at the social event even if you get a panic attack.
Essentially, make sure you go to the social event expecting one, and once you get it, try your best to act like it didn't happen. As severe as panic attacks are, the truth is that leaving a social event after a panic attack only reinforces the idea that a social event causes anxiety. You need to try to fight the urge to leave, and try your best to keep going.
The idea of "don't let the panic attacks win" is something that helps overcome them. Fear of the attacks is one of the issues that trigger more attacks. So by not letting them affect you as much, you reduce that fear at future events.
Tip 8: Learning to Breathe Better
Most of the physical symptoms of severe social anxiety are due to a problem known as hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing too quickly, although contrary to popular belief, hyperventilation is caused by too much oxygen and too little carbon dioxide, not the other way around.
Hyperventilation causes issues like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pains
- Rapid thoughts
The adrenaline from anxiety leads to many of these symptoms as well, but hyperventilation is often the biggest culprit, especially for those with severe anxiety symptoms. That's why it's important to try to control your breathing when you have severe anxiety so that these symptoms dissipate.
To reduce hyperventilation symptoms, you're going to need to fight the urge to breathe too deeply. Hyperventilation causes people to feel as though they're not getting enough air, even though the opposite is true. Try the following:
- Breathe in very slowly through your nose – take as much as 5 seconds or more.
- Hold for 3 seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth like you're whistling for 7 seconds.
Continue for a few minutes. Once hyperventilation symptoms start they do not go away that quickly. But this type of breathing will make it easier to reduce the severity of the symptoms, and possibly stop your panic attack.
Tip 9: Stay Busy After Dates
With all forms of anxiety, but especially social anxiety, your mind is often your enemy. People think of anxiety as just fear, but anxiety changes the mind to create more negative thoughts as well. After a date, try your best to stay as mentally busy as possible, either by talking to people on the phone, going out with your best friend, or surrounding yourself with technology and humor (like watching funny shows on TV). Continue over the next few days.
Staying busy will prevent you from experiencing some of the negative thoughts that many of those with social anxiety experience after dates. If you have social anxiety, you no doubt have picked apart your performance and looked for all of the things you may have done wrong. That is a trap that can be very damaging, both for your self-esteem and for your ability to go on future dates. So stay as busy as possible so that you can't let these thoughts creep in.
Tip 10: Go Have Experiences
Of course, the final tip is just to go out there and have experiences – whether they have to do with social anxiety dating or not. Even vacations to exotic locations help with anxiety. The more you let yourself grow as a person and experience what life has for you, the more you'll find that you're able to be confident in yourself around others. You'll have more to talk about, you'll have a different perspective on life, and you'll often find that you figure out what you want from someone else as well.
Overcoming Social Anxiety and Dating
It's a challenge to date when you have social anxiety, since meeting people with anxiety can be so difficult. But it's also not necessarily the right idea to date when you're this anxious either. Instead, you should commit yourself to overcoming your social anxiety and then worry about dating if it happens in the interim.
I've helped many people stop their social anxiety and start dating with my free 7-minute anxiety test. Make sure you take this test now to find out more about your anxiety symptoms and how to control them.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 22, 2017.