How to Date Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder

Living with social anxiety disorder can have a debilitating effect on an individuals’ personal life. He or she not only finds it difficult to approach new people, but simply being in a social situation is often enough to set in motion an anxiety attack. However if you have met someone with this condition and would like get to know him/her better, here are a few things you can keep in mind.

Understand the condition

Whether you already know your date to be suffering from social anxiety disorder or as yet simply suspect him/her as having the condition, it is best you acquaint yourself with the term and all that it entails. Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, is a psychological disorder in which a person has an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Thus your date may be repeatedly assailed by fears that he or she will make mistakes, look bad and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. While in an extreme situation, the anxiety can build into a panic attack, sometimes they even suffer "anticipatory" anxiety -- the fear of a situation before it even happens -- for days or weeks before the event. In many cases, the person is aware that the fear is unreasonable, yet is unable to overcome it.

Again social anxiety disorder may be generalized as when a person SAD has fears related to most social and performance situations such as speaking to authority figures, going on dates, starting conversations, giving speeches or it may be expressed only in specific situations, like for instance if a person only feared public speaking or were only afraid of meeting a person of the opposite sex.

While social anxiety disorder can be diagnosed only by trained mental health professional, it is usually easy to spot some of its symptoms – in someone else it would be expressed as feelings of panic, fear, uneasiness and an inability to be still or relaxed. If you spot these symptoms again and again in your date, you may have reasonable grounds of believing that he/she suffers from SAD. Even if you already know that he/she suffers from SAD, finding out more about the condition will help you avoid mistakes, be careful of medication and find ways to help your partner cope.

Use impersonal means to communicate but only initially

If you are the very early stages of a relationship and suspect that your prospective partner may be living with SAD, it may be a good idea to communicate by email and text messages instead of insisting that you meet in person first. Using email and to a lesser extent, the telephone can be a positive thing in dealing with a person with SAD since it would mean a less threatening space of interaction in which he/she can open up to you as well as exchange thoughts and feelings. Also You both can learn a lot about someone's values, thoughts and feelings from email or the phone and then decide whether you would be mutually compatible; however don’t let technology act as a substitute for personal interaction since the whole point of dating someone is to get to know the person as a prospective partner in real life and not as a virtual fantasy.

Keep the focus on a mutually enjoyable activity

When you do plan to meet up, stick to date ideas that are based on a shared hobby or mutually enjoyable activity. For a person suffering from anxiety disorder, many of the actions in a conventional date like a picnic in the park or a romantic dinner would be enough to bring up a full-blown expression of the symptoms. Making eye contact, keeping a conversation going, and eating in front of someone else are all actions extremely problematic for someone with anxiety disorder. On the other hand planning a date which is activity based will keep the focus away from exclusive social interaction and onto doing something enjoyable together. Shared interests like hiking, carpentry or dancing will keep both you and your date busy, give you something to talk about, and at the end of the evening bring you closer together. If you both are into sports, you could go watch a football game or drop in at the local driving range to hit a few balls. Other places of interest like a zoo, carnival, circus or amusement park can also be great dating ideas if you wish to go easy on the activity but keep it non-threatening at the same time. For all your noble intentions of taking your date’s mind off worries or bad episodes, avoid enticing them into crowded places or situations they don’t want to be in. While it may sound like a good idea to you, it’s probably not for them, so understand their dilemma and be patient.

Have a clear plan

For a person suffering from anxiety disorder, a lot of the stress comes from conjuring up threatening situations and consequences. In order to allay this anxiety, decide on a distinct start and end time for the date. If need be, discuss ahead who is going to pick up/drop home whom and how – indeed you may even let on where you are going or what you would be doing on the date so as not to add on to your date’s anxiety of whether he/she would be appropriately dressed, physically safe and so on.

Be informed about medication

If you are looking at a relationship with someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, it may be a good idea to be aware of his/her medication. Anti-depressants, particularly the SSRIS, are commonly prescribed in treatment of anxiety disorder, while sometimes benzodiazepines may also be advised. Like with most medication, anti-depressants too have certain clear contraindications and side effects which can range from relatively milder ones like nausea to more serious ones like sexual dysfunction. And the more aware you are of these, the smoother your dating relationship will be.

Therapy is often effective in treatment of anxiety disorders; whether you go with your partner to therapy or do it on your own, either resource will help you better understand anxiety disorders and how to handle tough situations in your relationship.

However If you are dating someone with Anxiety Disorder and they have not yet got help for their condition, wait until they are in a calm state and tell them how much you do care and encourage they get help. If they refuse, try to involve a close family member of the sufferer. If despite your best efforts, you are unable to get through, understand that it is not something you can force them to do; keep in mind that your relationship may end at some point in the future but don’t blame yourself for the way things turn out.