October 28, 2020

Don’t Tell us to “Relax” about our Dating Trauma & Anxiety. (Do This Instead.)


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I’ve often sought dating advice and gotten plenty of it.

I’ve been told to “relax,” “keep busy,” or “lean back.” Which, for me, made it worse. I was not relaxed—and hearing that I should be filled me with shame.

It was hard to “keep busy” with a pit in my stomach. And leaning back just made me feel even more helplessly obsessed with the issue.

Anxiety can be normal when we are dating. Whether you are an anxious dater or giving advice to an anxious dater, we need to be conscious that this is someone’s legitimate biological experience.

When we are anxious, our bodies may speak louder than our brains (mine does). Anxiety produces a physical response; our circulatory system, endocrine system, musculoskeletal system all change and function differently.

And then the body is in charge.

If you are an advice giver, try one of these clinically known-to-be-beneficial tips to help your friend reduce the biological freak-out. If you are the anxious one, try one of these techniques to assure your body that you are safe and quell the panic:

1. Exercise

Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Not to “stay busy” or “distract yourself” but to literally signal to the body that we are safe.

2. Breathe

When we are freaking out, our breathing gets shallower. Shallow breath then reinforces that we are in a panic. Breathing helps downregulate the nervous system.

3. Find community

Remind your body that you haven’t been abandoned or rejected (which sends our nervous system strong messages of pain) by spending time with other people who already accept you and love you.

4. Self-compassion

Notice how you are talking to yourself and what narratives are happening in your head about this. What advice would you give to others?

Admit to yourself that you are struggling and offer yourself the same advice you would give to a friend.

“Calm down” can be quite dismissive, whereas saying, “This sounds hard, and many people feel this way” is known to help ease the body into a calmer state.

5. Physical touch

Touching other humans produces oxytocin, which we find calming. Touch someone for 20 seconds or more.

We need other people. The self-love and self-care movements may tell us otherwise, but we physically need other humans to touch and be touched by in order to signal biological safety.

6. Laugh

Your neurobiology will respond—laughter tones the vagus nerve, which signals a sense of calm to the body.

7. Have an orgasm

Need I say more?

8. Be creative

Creative outputs are known to help relax the body and (bonus!) process trauma.

We can’t be spontaneously calm, nor can we simply end rumination by telling ourselves to be so. And if we are offering tips to friends, we can accidentally amp up their biological response when we ask them to “Keep busy and date others.”

Knowing that our body is in charge and clearing the body’s stress before we dig into our brain might help us actually move on and put the rumination to rest.

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