By Stella Ladikos. Mental Health Educator and Advocate.

Let’s be honest… first dates are nerve-wracking. Even relationship therapists and mental health educators (*cough cough*) get nervous before a first date!

I mean, we’ve been living behind a screen for so long that going on a date with someone face-to-face, IRL may bring on a mixture of emotions. And honestly, even when we weren’t behind screens, it was still weird being face-to-face with people in between lockdowns.

All of this combined with the fact that it may have been a while since you’ve been on a date at all; hello breakups, divorce, living your single life, you get it. So given the break we’ve all likely had from dating, pretty much any feelings about dating are totally normal; excitement, anxiety, and dread are definitely all included.

So here are some simple psychological strategies to help you prepare for a date, so you can put your best self forward!

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Honestly, breathing is still so underrated, despite numerous studies literally screaming how beneficial focused breathing is for emotional regulation. Never really thought about it? Some methods to help you focus on your breathing and re-centre include the 4/7/8 technique, deep breathing, and box breathing.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

Sounds kind of weird and fancy, but PMR is an amazing tool to use to calm your entire nervous system. It’s a widely used technique to create relaxation throughout your whole body, and you can do it any time – including while you’re in the Uber on your way to your date or with your hands under the table at dinner!

Have a positive conversation with yourself.

Sometimes, challenging any unhelpful thoughts you’re having will help you calm those nerves the most. So, for example, if you’re having a thought of “I’m not good enough”, “They won’t like me”, “I’m going to mess up the date”, etc., ask yourself, “What evidence is there to show that this will happen?” and “Even if the worst does happen, what would actually happen to me?”. By asking these questions, you’ll realise that the worst thing that could happen is that you get embarrassed… But embarrassment is only temporary – so it really isn’t the end of the world!

Communicate your nerves.

Honestly, I would much rather have someone say, “Look, I’ve been really nervous (and still am!) about this date tonight”, than have them sit there feeling uncomfortable and full of anxiety. And who knows, you might be on a date with a gem of a human who understands and will actually reassure you and make you feel more comfortable about the whole situation! Or they might even tell you they feel the same, and voila, you’re not alone! Of course, it can be scary, but if their response to you telling them how you’re feeling is unpleasant, then they’re not the kind of person you want to be spending your time with anyway!

Have an exit strategy in case you’re not feeling it.

While it’s great to give everyone a chance, sometimes it doesn’t take long to realise you’re just not vibing, and that’s okay! Or you might actually feel unsafe with the person, which is absolutely not okay! I suggest you have something in mind to say if it gets to that point, which will help you avoid fumbling over your words and feeling trapped in the moment! You could use the classic “Oh, there’s an emergency!” or even have a code word with your friend for them to call you if things get ~bleak~… Whatever your strategy, it’s okay to leave early, and honestly, you don’t even need to have an excuse. A simple “I’m not really feeling this, I’m sure you’re great but I’m going to go” is totally okay too! You don’t owe anyone anything!

Have you considered or used any of these strategies before? Give them a go the next time you’re feeling those first-date jitters!

And remember, it’s absolutely normal to feel nervous before a date. But there is a BIG difference between being nervous about meeting someone, and feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, or coerced. If you’re feeling any of the latter, don’t be afraid to call for support, or even call emergency services if required. Dating should be fun, but we know it sometimes isn’t – so it’s important you’re looking out for and after yourself too!

Now go out there, calm those nerves, and go on that date! You’ve got this!

Stella is a Mental Health Educator and Advocate, and Founder of Meraki Mental Health Training.