By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts
Dating is meant to be fun, but it can also be stressful. No matter how excited we might be to meet someone new, it’s quite common to experience some first-date nerves.
Like any new situation, first dates can stress us out because we have no capacity to predict how they’ll turn out. And yet we often turn up with set expectations, all while worrying about how we look, what to talk about, or what impression we’ll leave. Our minds often rush ahead into the future, sometimes creating romanticized stories about how things might develop. But the more we’re in our head, the less connected we are to our bodies and the present moment. And when we live in our minds, fretting over what-ifs, we miss the real opportunity for human connection that exists right in front of us.
First-date jitters aren’t all bad — they also point to a sense of excitement and hope. So, it’s not so much about learning how not to be nervous for a date as it is about learning to contend with the nerves that arise. Only then can we show up for people and experiences with presence.
Research shows that unfamiliar social interactions can evoke feelings of anxiety and curiosity. And that combination can lead to the feeling of first-date jitters that many of us know.
Anytime we put ourselves out there for someone new, we’re opening our hearts and being vulnerable. That risk is inherently scary to many of us. Such moments of risk can also trigger negative self-talk — that nagging or judgmental inner-critic that seems to crop up whenever we place ourselves in a vulnerable position. Thoughts arise that tell us we aren’t good enough, aren’t deserving, or that the date is going to go horribly wrong. Our mind can be overrun with this kind of mental chatter. The more we allow ourselves to latch onto it, the stronger it becomes.
Of course, past experiences can influence how we feel about first dates, too. We could have had a bad experience in the past, we may have been hurt by a recent rejection, or we may be coming out of a divorce and going on our first date in years. Whether we’re 16 or 50, the jitters are normal. But once we understand that the origin of these nerves is the mind, we can start doing something to calm ourselves.
Common first-date advice focuses on overriding our nerves. But we know that in practice, not only is this a challenging task, it’s also often an unproductive one. As Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe says, “If we’re always running away from difficult emotions, or if we’re always getting lost in them, then we will never have a chance to understand them, to be at ease with them.”
When faced with negative emotions, our initial reaction is usually to fight and push against them. But when we resist these emotions, it creates tension and guarantees their return. If we lean in to the emotion — in this case, nervousness — and acknowledge what’s arising, we can bring awareness and understanding that we can, with a little practice, soften what we’re experiencing.
Meditation allows us to lean in to these thoughts and emotions, ideally in the run-up to a first-date. If we were to take at least 10 minutes beforehand to sit with the mind — either pausing while getting ready or before heading out the door — we can actually reduce feelings of anxiety or stress, allowing us to meet someone new with a calmer demeanor.
In addition to calming the mind, meditation teaches us how to anchor ourselves in the present moment without allowing the mind to run away with itself. And once we’re in the car or sitting in the restaurant waiting for our date, we can still rely on that quality of mind by using mindfulness — the ability to stay present, undistracted, and in the moment, without indulging any inner commentary.
Through meditation and mindfulness, we can gradually change our relationship to challenging emotions like fear, stress, and anxiety. In fact, using the Headspace app for just 10 days has been shown to decrease negative emotions by 28%. How? It’s because we’re teaching ourselves to witness our emotions, acknowledge them, and release them. Over time, this allows us to experience fewer negative emotions and increased positivity.
Doing a body scan is a particularly useful technique to intentionally focus our attention and break through cyclical thought patterns when stressed or nervous for a date. It’s a grounding technique that brings us out of the head and into the body, and can be used when we meditate or when we are waiting: mentally scan the body from head to toe, bringing awareness to any sensation that our nervousness or excitement might be causing.
Meditating on self-compassion is also a useful way to calm the mental chatter and encourage our compassion to come to the forefront. This allows us to head into our first date with a greater sense of ease about ourselves. And the more at ease we are, the calmer we are; the calmer we are, the more able we are to give our date our undivided attention.
Our minds are incredibly powerful. And so it comes as no surprise that the more we focus on a thought or feeling, the stronger that thought or feeling becomes. For example, if we’re laser-focused on the butterflies in our stomach during a date, we’re more likely to feel a sense of anxiety and experience negative emotions in that moment — no matter how interesting or engaging the person across from us may be. When we’re so focused on ourselves, we’re incapable of paying attention to the possibilities in front of us.
But meditation can help us break this cycle by teaching us to step back from overthinking and instead tap into the here and now, fully engaged with the moment. Research shows that when we're able to approach situations with curiosity and interest — rather than get stuck on what might be standing in our way — we’re more likely to experience positive emotions in that interaction.
So when dealing with first-date nerves, one of the best things we can do is keep an open mind and engage our curiosity. What do we want to learn about our date? What moments feel natural and light? How can we pay more attention to the person in front of us? In short, the more we switch the focus from ourselves to them and make the conscious decision to listen attentively, the easier first dates become.
Oftentimes when we check in with ourselves, we find that some of our anxious pre-date feelings come from elements we actually have the capacity to influence, like what activity our date is centered around, or what time of day it takes place. Simply asking for what we need and structuring the date on our terms so it feels comfortable for us — maybe suggesting coffee instead of grabbing dinner or agreeing to meet up at a familiar or nearby location — can help soothe our nerves while also giving us an opportunity to show up honestly with someone new.
Noting is one of 8 meditation techniques used in the Headspace app, where we mentally note distracting thoughts and feelings that remove us from our focus. If we make time to meditate before a date and find ourselves distracted by whatever pops up in our mind, we can practice simply and gently identifying these things. “That’s a thought,” we might say, or “that’s a feeling.” We’re giving thoughts and emotions no more importance than that, and this provides some separation from whatever we are thinking and feeling. In turn, this allows us to release any attachment to the distraction because we acknowledge it to let it go, freeing us to pay attention to the present moment.
Most of us know that movement has profound health benefits. But research shows that even just a 10-minute bout of brisk walking can improve our mood. When we take a step outside, we break the cycle of mental chatter and offer ourselves a new perspective. Even better, we can turn our walk into a walking meditation and bring increased presence and mindfulness to our pre-date stroll.
Mindfulness is a practice. No matter how much time we dedicate to meditation before a date, it’s still possible for anxiety to creep up on us while we’re face-to-face with somebody new. Luckily, our breath is a stress-reducing tool that’s always available to us. We can always take a moment to ourselves by going to the bathroom or stepping outside to breathe, or we can do a quick body scan when we need to ground ourselves in the present.
Looking for more meditations for soothing first-date jitters? The Headspace app offers members several courses and single meditations on relationships, self-esteem, and anxiety, including:
Reconnect with the present moment to feel a greater sense of calm, ease, and contentment.
Settle any tension in your mind by creating some space from your thoughts and feelings.
Learn to focus less on self-critical chatter to achieve greater harmony with others and within yourself.
Discover the different ways other people bring value to your life, and view them with a newfound sense of respect, gratitude, and harmony.
Cultivate a new perspective on fear and anxiety.
Find a place of stillness by slowly releasing tension, one muscle at a time.
Learn to be present with the feeling of stress and tension being released.
Move towards a less judgmental inner life by creating some space in your mind to observe negative and self-critical thinking.
Self-compassion means being kind to ourselves as we are, despite any mistakes we think we’ve made. Using the loving-kindness technique, you’ll uncover the self-love that already exists within you and practice unconditional friendliness toward your mind.
It’s only human to be a little hard on ourselves sometimes. Discover a sense of positivity and empowerment to lift yourself up when you’re feeling down.
First dates can bring up intense emotions. When we put ourselves in new social situations, we open ourselves up to all of the good, and the hardship, that can come from human relationships. But through mindfulness, it’s possible to release our attachment to fear over possible outcomes and enjoy our shared time with presence and attention.
When we engage our curiosity, we find positivity in new social interactions
Being mindful about the root of our anxiety can help soothe first-date nerves
Try 10 meditations for calming first-date nerves