Sunday, February 22, 2015

11 Tips for Overcoming Dating and Social Anxiety

1.        Get to Know Dating & Social Anxiety

Read, attend workshops, and observe yourself.  Begin clarifying your unique experience of dating and/or social anxiety.  Once you have a clear picture of what's holding you back, you'll be able to take more effective steps towards recovery.  

2.        Learn How to Self-Soothe

Acquire tools to help soothe yourself in anxiety-provoking situations.  Mindfulness, deep breathing, self-massage, even a cup of chamomile tea can comfort an anxious heart.  Use your newfound tools on a daily basis so that they become second nature in social and dating situations.

3.        Adopt a Low-Anxiety Lifestyle

Anxiety is allergic to self care! Lower your base level of anxiety by paying special attention to your “basic needs” – eat a healthy diet, sleep and rest aplenty, exercise, and avoid caffeine.  You may be surprised by how much this eases your anxiety.

4.        Transform Self-Hatred into Self-Love

Start to observe your self-critical thoughts. Listen carefully -- how does your inner critic put you down?  See the critic as a character separate from you, one that you can tune out, turn down, and even address directly. 

5.        Practice Loving Kindness

As you start to quiet your inner critic's dialogue, fill your mind with self-affirming statements.  Speak to yourself as you would speak to a loved one.  This may be hard at first and the inner critic may return with a vengeance!  Stay focused on offering yourself compassion, gentleness, and affirmations.  

6.        Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Self-criticism is one example of the distorted thinking that underpins social and dating anxiety.  Begin to question your thoughts about social and dating situations.  Is s/he actually judging you or could she be having a bad day?  Do you have any evidence to prove that s/he doesn’t want you to ask her out?  Use cognitive behavioral therapy exercises to identify and correct your thinking errors.

7.        Get Creative

Anxiety stops spontaneity and joy in its tracks.  Rebel!  Create, play, and enjoy yourself wherever you can.  Let music, drama, dance, and any other artistic practice rewire your brain for greater flexibility and emotional expression.  And if you “aren’t a creative person,” find a friend, book, or community to help you develop your inner artist.

8.        Dig Deep – Healing the Historical Roots of Relationship Anxiety

Explore the connection between your history and anxiety.  Do you fear others’ judgment because you were criticized and bullied growing up?  Has the racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. in our society taught you that you’re not good enough?  Are you terrified of dating because you grew up watching your parents fight and divorce?  Once you’ve uncovered the roots of your anxiety, you’ll have a chance to choose a new future rather than reliving the past.

9.        Befriend Small Talk

Do you find that your anxiety is the greatest in unstructured environments?  Develop an internal sense of structure and predictability by learning the do’s and don’ts of socializing and dating.  There are countless resources available to help you improve your social and dating skills, including books, videos, and workshops.

10.   The Only Way Out Is Through

Once you’ve developed the ability to self-soothe, find ways to challenge your anxiety.  Progressively expose yourself to anxiety-inducing situations -- as you face your fears armed with your newfound skills and insights, your brain will slowly stop associating social and dating situations with fear.  A few great ways to take baby steps towards your goals include:
  • Visualizing yourself communicating effectively in situations you fear
  • Role-playing
  • Attending workshops/events that provide a structured social environment (e.g. social skills workshops, improvisation classes, speed dating events)

11.   Get Support

Don’t try to heal from dating and social anxiety on your own!  As social animals, we need one another for comfort and support.  Find trustworthy peers, therapists, and communities who understand what you’re going through.  As the old proverb goes, “a sorrow shared is but half a trouble, but a joy that's shared is a joy made double.”

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