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10 Ways to Overcome Social Anxiety in Online Dating (According to a Psychotherapist)

Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey
A young woman staring at her phone in frustration, sitting on the floor with her elbow propped up on to her bed.
Anxiety about dating is common. Online dating brings its own anxieties. These are an outgrowth of the social anxiety people can experience when having to engage in any activity that requires them to socialize, particularly if they feel they can be judged by the people they are socializing with.

The fear of rejection is incredibly common, especially in dating. It requires you to be at least somewhat vulnerable with someone that you don't know well. For many, social anxiety makes it extremely difficult to start new relationships.

Socially anxious people tend to worry a lot about doing something embarrassing and being judged by others. They can become extremely frustrated with themselves, especially when their anxiety prevents them from forming the close connections they desire.

So, how can we deal with this? Let's take a look.

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1. Start With Messages Rather Than Live Conversations

Text before you talk. Anxiety often stems from the fear of potentially saying or doing something embarrassing or worrying that people won't think you're good enough. This often produces awkwardness in live conversations.

Text messages give you the opportunity to review what you write before sending it. If possible, turn off read receipts on the app. This will reduce the pressure to respond immediately once the person has read your message.

2. Don’t Move off the Dating App Too Quickly

Anxiety increases with perceived pressure. Take your time before moving off the app to talk through WhatsApp, phone calls, or face-to-face meetups. Give yourself a chance to get past your initial anxiety and to see how people react to you. This will lower the pressure you feel once you take the next step.

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3. Focus On Positive Interactions

Social anxiety causes people to focus too much on negativity. For example, you can worry about your word choices or sounding awkward. This is often paired with negatively interpreting comments made by others and finding it difficult to respond to humor.

To minimize this, try to focus only on positive interactions. When someone approaches you, take it as a compliment even if you choose not to take it further. When an interaction goes well, just take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate it.

4. Learn How to Test Your Assumptions

Anxiety is fueled by assumptions (or insecurities) that are often unfounded. To start, find an assumption that underpins your anxiety or fear. Once identified, test it with a trusted person.

For example, Mary assumes that people will find her speech awkward. Mary asks her best friend if she thinks her speech is awkward. She replies that even when Mary is anxious, she doesn't notice awkward speech.

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5. Silence Your Inner Critic By Using Affirmations

Everyone has an inner critic. People who have high levels of social anxiety often have a very loud and toxic inner critic. One way to deal with this is to replace each criticism with a positive affirmation or statement. Affirmations only work if you can believe them, so choose realistic ones.

For example, instead of "I can date anyone I want" (which you may have trouble believing), use "I make a positive impression when I meet people." This works best when paired with as many senses as possible. For example, say it out loud, write it (then read it), and light a scented candle during your process.

6. Don’t Wait Too Long to Meet or See People

One of the problems with online dating is that you can't see a person's body language, easily pick out nuances, and get a feel for the emotion in any interaction. You will get the best overall impression when you meet in person. You'll actually see their physical reactions then, which can significantly lower anxiety if you feel it's going well.

Videos are also a better alternative to phone calls and texts for this. Additionally, the more you practice despite your anxiety, the easier it will be over time.

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7. Actively Disrupt Your Negative Thoughts

Disrupting negative thoughts is when you substitute a positive or neutral thought for a negative one. It's a skill that takes practice.

Here's how this might look like in practice: "I sound like an idiot," goes through Jeff's mind. He stops, takes a breath, and then says, "No. I am simply anxious. I sound fine."

8. Don’t Share Your Whole Life Story at the Start

One mistake people make is oversharing when they're anxious. They may try to tell their entire life story and thus overwhelm their date with information. Focus on the present instead. Talk about recent events.

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9. Listen More

Learning more about the other person will often decrease anxiety. So, ask them questions. Think about their responses before you reply. It gives you a chance to see how they talk about things. Hearing a person talk well about others can get rid of any anxiety about what they might think of you.

10. Engage in Group Conversations and Activities on Dating Apps

Some dating apps have polls, group conversations, or group activities. You can lower your anxiety by engaging with them and gradually becoming the focus of attention. Polls are great since you and the person you match with will already know you have some things in common.

Online Dating Can Be Scary for Anyone

Remember, even people without social anxiety get anxious about dating. The pressure you feel is likely coming from you rather than your date. So, just use these simple strategies to help decrease anxiety to a manageable level. You'll then be more able to find people you want to build romantic relationships with.

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Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey
Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey, a GSRD therapist, psychologist, and expert contributor to Top10.com, specializes in sexuality, gender, and relationship diversity understanding. She guides individuals and couples toward fulfilling intimate relationships, drawing from her trauma-healing expertise since 1987. As a relationship therapist on "Open House: The Great Sex Experiment" and host of "The A To Z Of Sex®" podcast, she fosters open dialogue about intimacy and self-expression.