What is anxiety and how is it different to fear?
When we talk about anxiety we should know it’s a secondary emotion connected to the avoidance of fear or other primary emotions we don’t feel free to express.
In fact, primary emotions are innate and universal, while secondary ones are complex and made by the combination of primary emotions and social interaction.
Anxiety could be defined as a strong feeling of danger anticipating a catastrophe or a misfortune. Even if there is no real danger our body reacts as we are close to the danger:
- Heart beats faster
- Faster breath
- Muscle tense
Sometimes anxiety could be confused with fear but they are different: Anxiety is oriented to the future and is based on a threat, while fear is a short-term emotion based on a present danger. Let me explain this difference with an example: You are in the jungle smelling the nice flowers and trees, but suddenly a lion jumps next to you: will you feel anxiety or fear?
It’s fear! And actually, it could save you since fear activates a system called fight or flight, where in order to survive the lion our body is ready to attack or to run. In the same scary situation, you could also activate another process called freezing: it consists of the total immobility of the body.
Now let’s imagine another situation: You are matching on your dating app and your match asks you to go out. You are so worried about this date, your mind is suddenly full of questions and unpleasant provisions about the event. That’s dating anxiety: negative anticipation about dating.
How dating anxiety can feel like in your life
Dating anxiety is a very intense and stressful experience and its symptoms are very similar to general anxiety, in fact, is common to feel:
- A fastened heart rate
The typical thoughts connected with dating anxiety are repetitive, intrusive, and negative. They are about specific conditions linked to shame, judgment, and rejection. Some examples of this could be:
- “ I am sure I will be horrible” - shame, judgment
- “ He/she will run away” - rejection
The last, but maybe the most important factor of all: if you want to go out dating but you don’t because of previous experiences and current fears, this is a clear sign that you are experiencing dating anxiety.
Is dating anxiety normal?
Personally, I don’t believe in the concept of normality, it’s something that is decided in every society. But if we are talking about the concept of normal in statistics - how widespread a feature is compared to the standard level - it is certain that you are not alone and approximately 1 in 5 people could be affected by dating anxiety.
Actually, after COVID many people also show(ed) a kind of relationship anxiety, called Fear Of Dating Again -FODA-.
Why do I get anxious when dating?
The reasons could be different, but broken down, the process is the same for everyone: you are extremely worried about a future danger. This can happen because of a multitude of different reasons.
Let’s see some of the most common reasons for dating anxiety found by researchers:
- Anxiety to be rejected
- Anxiety to reject
- Social anxiety (occurs in most social situations)
- Negative body image: if we have a bad mental picture of our body the final result is we want to hide it
Dating anxiety could also be linked to:
- Previous relationship with a very unhappy ending
- Dating inexperience
How to overcome dating anxiety?
The good news is that you can manage dating anxiety. But your first step is to find out what causes your dating anxiety.
To figure this out, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What could be the worst-case scenario during and after a dating?
- Is there any feeling or emotion that you felt before?
- When was the first time that you felt dating anxiety? What happened?
From this, you can move to the next step - how to stop dating anxiety. The following tips can help you with this:
- Practice self-compassion: in this way, you can be surrounded by love, kindness, and acceptance of yourself. This will help you to be less judgy with yourself and to take care of yourself and your needs.
- Resize the future and the danger: Repeat to yourself you are going to meet someone that is sharing the same situation and remember you are going out to have fun.
- Belly breathing: Put one hand on your chest and the other one on your belly; inhale deeply from your nose and count slowly until five. Be sure that your belly is expanding! Now you can exhale from your mouth. Pay attention to your breath and if you want, you can visualize something positive with every breath.
- Be focused on the moment and enjoy your dating experience.
- Meditate to relieve stress and anxiety.
- Increase your self-esteem and romantic skills in order to feel comfortable with yourself and your dating.
- Think about your successes and achieved goals, look at yourself in the mirror and be kind to yourself. You are an amazing person, believe in yourself.
When and who to ask for help?
Studies state that some people that want to have a relationship but can’t, suffer from low levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.
Also, anxiety can expose you more to infections and illnesses because mental distress can affect the functioning of the immune system.
If you feel like your anxiety impacts your life significantly, creates a feeling of being stuck, and prevents you from doing what you would like to do, ask for support. If you feel upset often, an outside perspective might also help. A psychologist, therapist, or coach can help you to work on this through:
- emphatic and active listening
- new strategies and perspectives
Friend or foe?
Let's try to imagine the preparation for an exam: I might feel anxiety fearing failure, but in this case, the anxiety will push me to study, commit myself and do my best. This type of anxiety, however, is our friend only within certain levels, when it becomes too high it decreases our performance as stated by the Yerkes-Dodson law.
If we apply the same law to dating anxiety we could say that a good level of anxiety is our ally for being at our best. If you can manage to see your anxiety as a friend, you can benefit from it as she’s there to communicate something.
And always remember, you are not alone and you can always reach out to a psychologist or a psychotherapist for help!