I Used To Have Crippling First Date Anxiety — Here’s How I Cured It

There’s nothing better than the excitement of a first date, but the flipside is that there’s nothing worse than feeling the stress and anxiety of meeting someone new. Even if you’ve been chatting to the person for weeks, having to meet them in person for the first time is usually filled with fear that a real-life date will smash the illusion of who you assumed they were and what you could be together. Over the years, I’ve tried to keep that anxiety at bay. Here are 12 effective methods that have helped me navigate stressful first date territory.

1. I plan something fun for after the date.

A first date can feel overwhelming and like if it goes badly, it’ll wreck your entire day. This puts tons of pressure on things, so I like to have something fun planned for when the date’s over. This can be anything that brings a smile to my face, such as going to visit a friend, getting my favorite pizza, watching my favorite comedian’s Netflix special, or going for a mani.

2. I stay close to my friends. 

Okay, wait – I don’t want to bring my friends along to my actual date (unless we’re doing a double date thing, which can be awesome). I just like the idea of having my friends within the vicinity. So, maybe I’ll meet a guy for a first date at a restaurant in a mall where my friend works. That way, I have someone to chat with as soon as it’s over – and who’ll help to boost my mood if the date goes badly.

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4. I pick an activity I know I’ll enjoy.

It’s good to plan a fun date activity that I’d enjoy whether I was on a date or just hanging with a friend. That way, I look forward to the date itself instead of just meeting the guy. The bonus of doing this is that when we’re horse riding, cooking in a class, or watching a show at the theater, the immersive activity can help us ride out any awkward moments.

5. I pretend I’m being interviewed.

Okay, this might sound weird, but sometimes what really helps me to deal with first-date anxiety is pretending that I’m a celebrity who’s going on a talk show. I imagine how I’d behave if that were the case, such as that I’d walk in confidently, smile a lot, and try to be my most entertaining self. So, I focus on all that and my anxiety is forced to take a backseat.

6. I set up the date on my own turf.

This is a great way to soothe my first date anxiety. If I’m really anxious about an upcoming date, I like to have some control over where it’s happening. I’ll suggest meeting up in a place where I always feel good and comfortable, such as my favorite coffee shop or restaurant. This helps me to prevent adding extra stress to the first date.

7. I purposely keep it short.

A first date that goes on and on can feel scary, so I like to keep first dates short. If the date is a blast, then I can extend it a bit, but it’s good to keep dates short and sweet regardless of how well they’re going so that there’s something fun to look forward to in future.

8. Listening to music on the way to the date.

To stop my brain from overthinking before a date, I like to distract myself. I do this by planning a feel-good music playlist to listen to in the car.  The bonus of doing this is that I’ll reach the date location feeling good with a spring in my step, which sets the tone for the whole meeting.

9. I tell the person I’m nervous.

It’s common to chat about the upcoming date with the guy you’re seeing, like by saying you’re feeling excited to see each other. I’ve found that it’s also helpful to be honest about feeling nervous. When the other person says they’re also feeling nervous, this makes me feel a bit more relaxed. It reminds me that we’re in this together and we’re both going through the same experience, and expressing this can also help us to bond.

10. I practice mindfulness.

An easy way to stop negative or anxious thoughts on the way to a first date is to focus on my five senses. This is a grounding exercise that helps to create feelings of calm. How it works is that you pay attention to your surroundings and your body by noticing five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. I love it ‘cause it helps to distract and calm me.

11. I try to replace negative thoughts with curious ones.

Research has found that when you’re curious, this puts you in the right mental space to experience positive feelings. So, what I like to do is notice negative thoughts and challenge them with feelings of excitement and curiosity. For example, if I’m thinking something like, “The date’s going to be a disaster,” I say, “It could really go well and be a fun day.” Similarly, if I’m stressed out about meeting a guy on the other side of town, I’ll remind myself, “This is going to be an adventure.”

12. I avoid other sources of stress.

If I’ve got a busy day at home or work, I’m already going to feel stressed out and anxious. So, it’s really not good to accept plans for a first date on the same day, otherwise it’s going to be a recipe for disaster. It’s just not healthy for me, so I avoid it.

13. I cancel dates with people I’m not genuinely excited about.

I’ve experienced that going on dates when I’m not 100% interested in them or excited about meeting the person increases my anxiety. Honestly, it’s not worth it because it makes me feel like I have to force myself to go, and for what? If I’m not feeling it, I shouldn’t put myself through it. First dates are supposed to be fun, not synonymous with having a root canal at the dentist. I only go on first dates when I’m amped and feel excited, because then my anxiety can be worked on without me feeling in my gut that the entire date’s a bad idea.

Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.