How To Eliminate Approach Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Approach anxiety can be defined as an irrational fear that can stop you from engaging in conversation with strangers.  Approach anxiety generally causes you to overthink and fear most interactions.

For example, you might be about to introduce yourself to someone, and you freeze. Your brain goes into overdrive, and you start to panic. What do I say? What will they think? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I end up embarrassing myself?

The root of the issue can stem from inexperience, low self-esteem, past negative experiences, or the overall inability to turn off racing thoughts. However, approach anxiety can be managed with some practice. You might try to avoid setting unrealistic expectations, keep the situation in perspective, and remember that you have inherent value that will not change based on the results of the conversation you’re able to have. Working with an online therapist can also be helpful in increasing self-esteem and learning strategies to alleviate approach anxiety.

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Living with approach anxiety?

Why do we feel approach anxiety?

Approach anxiety can be a normal human response to a situation we deem to be high-pressured. It typically occurs when we overthink the potential outcome of an interaction and blow it out of proportion in our minds. The fear of the unknown can be a great motivator to do and—in the case of approach anxiety—to not do certain things. Therefore, we may be closing ourselves off to potentially life-changing connections by listening to the emotional side of our brain versus the rational one. We tend to be hardwired to believe that first impressions are everything, even if that’s not necessarily true.

Pressure

That can put a lot of pressure on us to respond in a way that we deem appropriate when first meeting someone when in reality, we likely have no idea what the other person would deem “the right way”. We may be presenting ourselves to someone we are interested in, so it can make sense that we want to show our best side. 

Self-created phenomenon

Approach anxiety tends to be a self-created phenomenon. It can be a psychological barrier we’ve put in place. This can mean that because we’re the ones who create it, we may also be able to stop it. Psychological hurdles may only become real if we allow them to do so. When we feel approach anxiety, our irrational brains are usually assuming the worst possible outcome of a situation. We may be letting our insecurities and nervousness be the guiding narrators of our story.

Low self-esteem

Getting to the root of approach anxiety is often an important step in eliminating this anxiety. If you are struggling with low self-esteem, it may be possible that the negative self-talk you’re engaging in could be causing you to believe that you are not interesting enough, good-looking enough, or worthy to form a connection with a love interest. 

You may have gone through a past relationship that ended poorly, or you may struggle to realize that each interaction generally needs to be taken for what it is, rather than applying past situations to the present. Regardless of the reason, there may be tangible skills you can implement to address this issue so you can greatly reduce approach anxiety symptoms.

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Eliminating approach anxiety

Approach anxiety may be controlled through rational thinking. Before we go into a situation that might trigger this anxiety, we should generally ask ourselves what evidence we have that suggests this interaction will be terrible. 

For example, when we approach someone new, there’s a high chance that the other person welcomes our conversation. Think of a time a stranger approached you, whether it be for friendship, romantic, or professional purposes. You were probably happy to converse with that person. The worst-case scenario may be that the person doesn’t connect with you. While that can be difficult to accept, you likely want to be with someone who is equally as interested in you as you are in them.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations

There usually don’t need to be any sort of expectations when you first meet someone. Being mindful and living in the moment can help you address your anxiety as well as manage your expectations. There can be a lot of advice that focuses on removing approach anxiety as a psychological obstacle, but in reality, approach anxiety may not be a problem. Approach anxiety will likely be a part of our lives for the duration—it may not be fully removed. 

We may still feel nervous about things we’ve done thousands of times, and this may be no different when starting conversations with new people. Being anxious isn’t necessarily a negative thing. In most cases, it is simply an emotion we feel. One might argue that being nervous about something often means you care, and it can be viewed in a positive light. However, the behavior that we engage in because of our anxiety is usually what can become problematic.

Keep the situation in perspective

When we feel approach anxiety, we tend to overestimate our value. The interaction that will take place between you and your chosen person will likely be just that—a brief interaction. When the interaction ceases, you and the other person will probably continue with your lives, regardless of the outcome. If we pump up these interactions in our minds, we’ll likely feel as if they’re much more momentous than they are. While rejection doesn’t necessarily feel good, it can make us stronger to see that we can be okay and continue our lives in the unlikely event that the worst-case scenario occurs.

Remember your inherent value

There are usually more reasons to converse with someone new than there are to avoid them. Once we realize our fears are likely unnecessary, it may allow us to become more confident in ourselves. Approach anxiety may rear its head from time to time, but try to understand that it can be perfectly normal and work around it instead of judging yourself harshly for not being able to “get over it”. When you first meet someone, they’re not necessarily rejecting you, because they likely don’t even know you. Your value as a person is not typically based on a brief interaction that you have with someone.

Getty/AnnaStills
Living with approach anxiety?

Getting professional help with approach anxiety

If you have implemented these skills and find that you are still struggling with anxious thoughts when it comes to social situations, you may benefit from speaking to a licensed therapist who can work with you to develop a treatment plan. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can match you with a therapist who has experience working with clients who have dealt with similar issues. You can conveniently schedule therapy sessions and attend them from the comfort of your own home. 

As this study explains, the efficacy of online therapy is generally the same as that of traditional in-office therapy. If anxiety is disrupting your daily life or holding you back in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the professional help you deserve.

Takeaway

The fear of approaching women or men and starting conversations can be referred to as approach anxiety. This type of anxiety tends to be a self-created phenomenon that puts unnecessary pressure on the situation and can arise from low self-esteem. You may be able to manage approach anxiety by keeping the situation in perspective, avoiding setting unrealistic expectations, and remembering that you have inherent value as a human being, regardless of how the conversation goes. You may also wish to connect with an online therapist to discover more personalized methods of managing approach anxiety. Take the first step toward overcoming approach anxiety and contact BetterHelp today.
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