Overcoming Social Anxiety, Approach Anxiety, and Shyness

Most people are a bit anxious at times in social situations. They get sweaty palms in a large, crowded party as they talk to someone new. They get a lump in their throat when they try to say “hello” to the attractive co-worker at the water fountain. Sometimes, they may even become anxious with relationship partners – wondering whether they are liked, loved, or hated.

It is common to get some form of “approach anxiety” and struggle to break the ice. It is also natural to wonder whether someone you are attracted to (or dating) likes you in return. At times, however, this social anxiety, fear of rejection, or shyness ends up holding some people back.

The unique feature of successful daters is not the absence of “dating anxiety”, but rather the ability to control it. The popular women, social guys, natural seducers and pick-up artists all have tips, tricks, and methods to lower their anxiety, stay calm, and act confidently. You can too.

Below, I’m going to share with you one method to beat dating anxiety…

The Importance of Being Curious

Curiosity may have killed the cat…but it appears to help the eager dater. At least according to research by Kashdan and Roberts (2006). As the authors explain, “Unfamiliar [social] experiences evoke feelings of both anxiety, (due to conflicts with existing knowledge and feelings of low personal control), and curiosity, (due to a natural propensity for pursuing potential rewards and personal growth opportunities)”. In other words, social situations have both scary and wonderful components. On one hand, feeling unprepared for the “unknown” can be a bit intimidating. On the other hand, meeting someone new can prompt feelings of curiosity and hope about positive possibilities.

Kashdan and Roberts (2006) then go on to show that focus (on anxiety or curiosity) determines how social situations are experienced. Through two experiments, they found that social anxiety did indeed contribute to negative feelings about social interactions. However, curiosity contributed to positive feelings about social interactions. Regardless of their level of anxiety, individuals who were curious enjoyed social interactions more than non-curious individuals. Presumably, they spent a greater amount of time noticing the positives, the opportunities, and the fun.

What This Means for Your Love Life

If you are feeling anxious in a social situation, you might want to try being a bit more curious. This will “get you out of your own head” and help you see the positive aspects of the interaction. You will enjoy your social life more, have better conversations, and really get to know your potential dates.

Here are 5 Tips for Curious Dating:

1) Be open-minded and optimistic – Focus on the positive possibilities within any social situation. Suspend judgment, concern, and don’t “reading into things” negatively. Don’t lay your own assumptions, beliefs, or thoughts over the interaction either. Rather, just enjoy the moment and pay attention to the good parts. Be optimistic, open, and positive. Notice the laughs, good jokes, and interesting opinions.

2) Focus on them (not on yourself) – Really listen to what your potential partners or dates are saying. Listen to their words, notice their body language, smiles, and eye contact. Focus on communicating with them. Stay “outside” of yourself, ignore your internal reactions, and focused on them. Don’t get stuck on your own thoughts, concerns, or opinions. Try to remember what they just said they liked, thought, felt, etc.

3) Learn something new from them – Everyone has unique perspectives to share. Romantic partners and random strangers all have something interesting to teach. Try to learn it. Be curious about their lives. Try to find their unique perspective and what they have to share in the world. Really understand who they are and where they are coming from.

4) Find the fun together - Keep the discussion on happy topics (especially with new people). Avoid asking about dramatic, traumatic, and negative events. This isn’t the time for that. The goal is to be “growth oriented”, to play, and to have both people enjoy the interaction.

5) Share your good stuff too – Ask questions of others and share your positive opinions. Offer something about yourself that you particularly like as well. Teach them something fun back. Start a light and flirty discussion. Allow them to be curious about you too!


Practice curiosity every day!

Practice curiosity when you are anxious about “breaking the ice” and meeting someone new. Focus on the interesting things you can learn from them. Curious statements such as, “I was just wondering about that book you are reading…” or, “he’s so cute, what kind of dog is that…” can be great icebreakers.

Practice curiosity with your dating partners too. Look for new ways to help you both connect, have fun and grow. Find new pieces, perspectives, opinions, and experiences within each other. After all, that is half the fun of “getting to know” someone anyway.

You will find that these steps will go a long way towards focusing you on positive, enjoyable, and beneficial interactions. They will also help to diminish your worry and anxiety over time. Give curiosity a try.

Please leave me your thoughts. Share, like, tweet, and comment below.

Until next time…happy dating and relating!

Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor


  • Kashdan, T.B., & Roberts, J.E. (2006). Affective outcomes in superficial and intimate interactions: Roles of social anxiety and curiosity. Journal of Research in Personality, 40, 140-167.

Photo: Hiding Under the Bed by stuartpilbrow at Flickr.com

© 2011-2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

About Dr. Jeremy Nicholson

My name is Dr. Jeremy Nicholson. I am a Doctor of Social and Personality Psychology, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, dating, and relationships. I also hold Master’s degrees in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Social Work. I currently lives in Boston, Mass.
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