Do you frequently feel anxious when you’re out in the dating scene? Do you feel so anxious that at times you just feel like giving up dating all together? To help understand where social anxiety in the dating scene stems from and how you can overcome social anxiety in the dating scene, I have interviewed psychologist Dr. Steve Orma.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area specializing in helping adults overcome anxiety and stress-related issues. At Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San
Rafael, CA, I co-led the OCD group and worked with adults suffering from anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and stress-related issues. At the San Francisco VA, I provided veterans with individual and group therapy for PTSD, stress, and other anxiety problems. At California State University, Sacramento, I worked in the counseling center helping students overcome social anxiety, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, health anxiety, test anxiety, and school stress. I offer therapy and coaching services in San Francisco and Marin County. I enjoy helping people acquire new skills and strategies to manage
stress and overcome anxiety. Social anxiety is one of my main areas of focus.”
What stems from having social anxiety in the dating scene?
“Social anxiety is the feeling of being anxious in social or performance situations. Anxiety is the emotion that comes from the expectation that something negative or dangerous will happen to you in the future. So, social anxiety in dating comes from having an expectation that something bad will happen when you date. For example, you might think: What if I say or do something stupid on my date? What if I get rejected? What if I embarrass myself when I ask her/him out? In addition, there’s the belief that if your expectation comes true, then it will be a catastrophe (which is rarely if ever the case).”
“Most people at one time or another have felt socially anxious when dating. This is to be expected, as there is a lot of uncertainty, and vulnerability, in dating. However, there are different levels of social anxiety, from experiencing occasional nervousness to feeling so
anxious that you can’t talk to someone or make eye contact.”
What type of impact can social anxiety in the dating scene have on someone’s overall life?
“If the anxiety is minor, it probably doesn’t get in the way of dating, but may cause some discomfort. However, as anxiety increases, it becomes more uncomfortable and can interfere with people’s ability to interact with others. The anxiety may cause them to limit their social interactions, not take the risk of asking someone out, or avoid going to parties where they could potentially meet someone. Some people have such intense social anxiety that they avoid dating altogether, or tolerate it with extreme discomfort. This, of course, limits or eliminates their ability to date, and therefore, to establish romantic relationships. It may prevent them from marrying or having kids, which are important values to many people. This is very unfortunate, as romantic relationships can be one of the most fulfilling and exciting experiences in life.”
“When people are socially anxious, others can misinterpret their lack of eye contact and social avoidance as being disinterested or even arrogant. It also prevents people from acting like themselves for fear that others won’t like them as they are. Thus, they don’t give others a chance to get to know them, and this prevents them from establishing potentially valuable romantic relationships.”
How can someone overcome social anxiety in the dating scene?
1. “Identify the dating situations that cause your anxiety (e.g., asking someone out, starting a conversation, being rejected, ending a conversation, ending a date early, turning someone down, embarrassing yourself, asking someone out for a second date, etc.). Make a list of these situations, and rank them from the situations that cause you the least anxiety to the most anxiety (rate them on a scale from 0-100).”
2. “Start with the situation that causes the least anxiety, and purposely expose yourself to it. For example, if you have a fear of starting a conversation with a guy or girl you don’t know, a good first assignment might be to say “Hi” to 10 guys/girls you don’t know, and make eye contact. This can be done anywhere (school, a store, walking down the street, coffee shop, etc.). Do this everyday until your anxiety disappears or decreases. Then, the next assignment might be to start and have a two-minute conversation with several people you don’t know whom you find attractive. Then move to the next most
anxiety-provoking situation, and so on.”
3. “As you expose yourself to increasingly more fearful dating situations, your anxiety will decrease. At first, your anxiety may actually go up, because you are exposing yourself to situations you normally avoid. But, if you consistently stay in the situations and follow through on your “assignments,” your anxiety will start to decrease. You will learn that the things you feared would happen don’t actually happen (or rarely happen), and this will change your expectations, reduce your fear, and build your confidence.”
4. “Identify and change the negative thoughts/beliefs you hold about dating. Social anxiety in dating comes from the things we say to ourselves and the beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and the dating scene. As noted earlier, people who are socially anxious worry that something negative will happen when they date, and if that thing happens, it’ll be a catastrophe. It’s important to identify and challenge these negative (and usually inaccurate and exaggerated) thoughts, and change them to thoughts that are more accurate and supportive.”
5. “Identifying your thoughts and beliefs is a skill. These thoughts/beliefs are held mostly subconsciously (i.e., out of your awareness), and it requires you to check in with yourself to identify them. A good question to ask yourself is: “When I think about asking someone out, going on a date, etc., what thoughts/worries go through my mind?” Once you identify the thoughts, you need to consciously evaluate them: What evidence supports them and what evidence disproves them? For example, if your thought is, “It would be a disaster if I got rejected,” what evidence is there that this is true? Have you been rejected in the past and was it a disaster? Did you survive? Do you have any friends who’ve been rejected, and did they survive? Dating inherently involves occasional rejection. Learning this fact and knowing everyone gets rejected sometimes can reduce your anxiety. (If this is your fear, you can give yourself the assignment of trying to get rejected by several people. For example, ask someone out and purposely be obnoxious and try to get turned down. Do this with several people until your fear of rejection disappears/decreases.).”
6. “Focus on the other person and not yourself or your anxiety. Listen to what that person is saying, ask questions, and share a little about yourself. Instead of worrying what the other person thinks about you, focus on what you think about him/her: Do you like that person? What are you looking for in a partner, and does that person have those qualities? Are you attracted to that person? Do you like what he / she has to say? Don’t treat it as an interview, but rather be curious about the person and get to know him/her. Make it fun.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who is experiencing social anxiety in the dating scene?
“Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been scientifically validated as the most effective type of therapy for social anxiety. Medication can also sometimes be helpful. CBT is a collaborative, skills-based therapy that focuses on how your thinking is affecting you emotionally and behaviorally, and teaches you skills (such as the ones mentioned above) for identifying and changing inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. You can get CBT for social anxiety from a licensed therapist (psychologist, social worker, or marriage and family therapist) who has specialized training and experience in treating social anxiety with CBT. It is important that they have this training
and experience, as effective treatment for social anxiety takes specialized knowledge and skill.”
“Therapy can be offered individually or in a group format. Group therapy for social anxiety has been shown to be as effective, and sometimes more effective, than individual therapy. This is because you have a built-in group of people to practice the skills on. It also provides support from other people who are experiencing similar challenges.”
Thank you Dr. Orma for doing the interview on how someone can overcome social anxiety in the dating scene. For more information on Dr. Orma or his work you can check out his website on http://www.drorma.com.
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