Here’s an experience I recently had with approach anxiety:
I walk into Chipotle, and there she is. Blonde, tall, with a ponytail extending from her baseball cap, and in full runner’s gear. I just came here to get a burrito, and instead, I’m awestruck by this beautiful woman.
And she’s not alone. It appears she’s with a homeless man, and as I secretly observe their interaction, it becomes clear that she’s buying him lunch. She didn’t even order anything for herself.
The man is overly grateful, and after thanking her, she leaves the venue. I HAVE to talk to her. But instead of walking up to her, I’m frozen. A dozen excuses cross my mind, like “I’m not in the mood”, or “I don’t feel attractive right now”. And so I avoid eye-contact, mind my own business, while she walks off with her friend who was waiting outside.
Chances are, you know this situation. You see that special someone – a beautiful woman, an attractive man (or maybe just someone you want to talk to) – and immediately you feel this rush of emotions.
There’s nervousness in your stomach, your heart beats faster, your chest tightens, and your body tenses up. You want to make a move, but simultaneously you have all these thoughts, like “I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t feel attractive right now,” or “I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.”
You know that most of these thoughts are just excuses, but in a state of fear, you’re all too willing to accept them as the full truth. And so you do nothing, relieved that you can safely stay inside your comfort zone.
The moment the person is out of sight, however, you notice regret creeping up: “Why didn’t I walk over?”, “Why can’t I overcome this fear?”, “What’s wrong with me?”.
You beat yourself up and promise to yourself “never again” – only to repeat it all the next time another special someone walks by.
Approach anxiety is the fear that comes up, whenever we want to approach a person. Talking to a stranger is scary enough, but having to engage them, win them over, and ask for contacts? Good luck with that!
The ability to walk up to strangers, and charm them into becoming friends or lovers, opens up a new world of possibilities in your social life. No longer are you confined to the people you know from school or work, and no longer do you have to rely on hook-up apps or friends-of-friends for viable dating opportunities.
There’s a whole world of people out there, and the only thing standing between you and them is this anxiety that creeps up whenever you want to talk to someone.
So what can we do about this anxiety? How can we overcome our fear, get out of our head, and make ourselves talk to this person? There are four steps you can take, and it all starts by raising your awareness.
The Four Steps to Overcome Approach Anxiety
Step #1 Notice Fear
Fear is hardest to catch in the moment. Often, we just feel a strong pull to get away from whatever causes our fear. And so we avoid eye-contact, make ourselves small, try not to be noticed, and generally just squirm at the thought of making an approach.
Only later on – when the person has gone, and our emotional storm has settled – do we realize how strong the grip of fear actually was. But then it’s too late, the person has already walked off.
If we want to overcome approach anxiety, and actually get ourselves talking to the other person, we need to catch our fear mid-flight. We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that all the excuses and rationalizations are just the fear speaking.
The first step in overcoming approach anxiety is to notice your fear. Become aware when fear has its grip on you. It’s okay. We will talk about how to release the grip in a moment. But before we can overcome anxiety, we need to acknowledge its presence.
Step #2 Feel Fear
After we acknowledge our fear, our initial reaction might be to fight it. We don’t like this fear. It doesn’t seem to help us, and even more, it feels like it’s hindering us from making a move. So why not fight it?
Well, there are a lot of reasons why, but the biggest reason is, the more we fight our emotion – the more we try to avoid it, get rid of it, or suppress it – the stronger it becomes. Fighting your emotion only makes it stronger. Counterintuitive, but true nonetheless.
You can’t outrun your own emotions. They will always catch up with you. Just like being stuck in quicksand, the more you struggle, the deeper you get sucked in.
So what’s the solution? Feel the fear. You read correctly. To end the struggle with our fear, we need to get in contact with what’s actually there.
Where in your body do you feel the fear? What does it feel like? Like a curious scientist, we want to observe our fear, without changing it, and without labeling it. Feel the fear, precisely as it is.
Keep in mind, this is an exercise in feeling, not in thinking. Don’t describe what you feel, but actively feel what you feel. No words. Just observing and feeling the fear in your body.
Step #3 Embrace Fear
This next step is potentially the hardest. After we acknowledged the presence of our approach anxiety, and actively felt it in our body, it’s time to embrace fear.
This means to open up for more fear to enter your body. Where does fear tell you NOT to go? This is exactly where you want to be heading. In that sense, we can use fear as a reverse compass: Wherever fear tells us not to go, is exactly where we want to go.
Whenever we resist fear, our fear is in control of our actions. Fear tells us what we can and what we cannot do. However, if we actively seek out fear, and make room for it in our body, we regain control over our emotions. Instead of being motivated by fear, we become driven by goals, and values, and what’s truly important for us.
This doesn’t mean that you immediately have to face your biggest fear right away. But it does mean that you need to start leaning into fear. The more you’re willing to embrace fear, and actively lean into it, the more control you will get over your emotions, and the more empowered you will be in your life.
And this is not only true for approach anxiety, but for any other area in your life where fear shows up. The more you’re willing to feel uncomfortable in the service of what’s truly important to you, the more your quality of life will improve.
Step #4 Take the first step
We arrived at the last step. You have noticed your approach anxiety, got in contact with the feeling of fear, and even actively embraced more fear to enter your body.
Now comes the crucial next step.
Stand up, and take a literal first step towards the other person. And when you’re done, take another step, and one more, until you are facing whomever you want to talk to. And when you’re there, say “Hi.”
Your mind might try to convince you that you need to know the “right” thing to say, that you have to be charming, witty, clever, smart, funny, and so much more. None of that is true (If you’re still worried about your first impression, check out these 5 simple secrets to better first impressions).
Right now, all you have to do is walk over, and say “Hi.” The moment you open your mouth, you have already won. Everything else is just a bonus.
Having a great conversation? That’s a bonus! Getting the person’s number? That’s a huge bonus! Making arrangements for a date (or even going on a date right then and there)? That’s right, that’s another bonus!
Maybe you will like each other. Maybe you won’t. Maybe it will turn out to be the love of your life, and then again, maybe it will just be an awkward encounter. Everything can happen. But the only way to truly find out is if you’re willing to take the first step.
Approaching strangers can be very uncomfortable, and it’s normal and natural to be scared about it. However, just because fear shows up, doesn’t mean you can’t approach anyway.
You don’t need to get rid of fear, nervousness, or anxiety. Having these feelings is alright. You can notice fear when it shows up, and allow yourself to feel it fully. And when you’re in contact with this discomfort, make even more room by leaning into fear.
The more you’re willing to lean into discomfort in the service of what’s truly important for you, the more control you will get over your emotions, and ultimately over your life.
And when you’re leaning so far that you’re stumbling to the other person, you might as well look them in the eye, and utter the magic words “Hi.”
You got this.