What Is Approach Anxiety?

by Eric Disco
Apr 8

She’s amazing.

It seems like all eyes are on her as she walks past.

A ray of light has just pierced the busy Barnes and Noble cafe.

She sits down at a table and begins reading a book.

She’s alone at her table.

I’m alone at my table.

She’s amazing.

Did I already say that?

I could sit here and watch her walk by all day.

And then I realize that I could actually talk to this girl. It’s possible for me to get up from the table where I’m sitting, slowly walk over to her and say ‘hi.’

I have nothing to lose.

I’m in a different city than where I live, visiting. If things didn’t go well with this girl, nobody would ever know.

I decide I am going to approach her.

But then the fear grips me.

Approach anxiety.

It affects every aspect of my being.

Physical. My palms start to sweat. My heart races. My breathing increases. Perhaps some vertigo and dizziness. I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Emotional. I feel nervous. Uncomfortable. It is a feeling of sheer terror, perhaps worse than jumping out of a plane.

Behavioral. I start to fidget. My voice is shakey. My eyes look downward.

Motivational. All of a sudden I can think of 20 excuses why I shouldn’t do this.

I’m going to get rejected. It would never work. People don’t do things like this. It’s weird. I have to leave pretty soon anyway. She not hot enough. She’s too hot. I’ll start approaching girls tomorrow. I’m not dressed right. There’s too many people in the cafe. There’s no where to sit near her. I have nothing to talk about.

My brain is like an excuse factory.

The fact that approach anxiety affects all parts of your being is part of why it’s so difficult to come to terms with it.

You could read some excellent article about some great ways to open a girl, or maybe watch a DVD about how to do it.

You get all excited and motivated.

You feel great.

It all makes sense.

“I can do that!” you think to yourself.

Then you get out there and all of a sudden EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT.

Nothing seems like what it was when you were reading about it.

It’s like being submerged in ice-cold water.

Every part of your being is affected. It’s difficult to fully comprehend anxiety until you are in it.

What is fear?

If you step into the road and see an oncoming bus, your fear grips you and pulls you out of the way. That’s how it should be.

You don’t logically decide to get out of the road. Your lower brain hijacks your entire body and makes it so uncomfortable for you to be in the road, that you are motivated to get out of the road.

Good. This is how fear is supposed to work. It is one of the most basic emotions for survival, if not the most basic.

You don’t DECIDE to feel or not feel fear. It just happens. It’s AUTOMATIC.

If you were sitting in a classroom and someone opened the door and let a hungry tiger in, how would you react?

You would probably try to do one of two things:

Get out of the classroom.

Or, if you couldn’t get out, you might try somehow to kill the tiger.

This is the typical reaction to fear, fight or flight. You can’t fight the truck when you step into the road, so you step out of the road, you flee the danger. You put yourself someplace safe from risk.

So you’re sitting there in Barnes and Noble and you are terrified of approaching this girl.

But she’s not a tiger. And you don’t really want to run away. Nor do you want to kill this girl to protect yourself.

So what’s going on?

Lets take another example.

If I had a plank that was one foot wide by twenty feet long and I put it across two cinder blocks, how difficult would it be to walk across it?

Pretty easy, right?

Most people could do it without any problems.

But if I took that plank and put it between two buildings a few hundred feet in the air, all of a sudden everything would be different. Even if it were just as secure and there were no wind, all of a sudden you would be afraid.

You might start to feel vertigo or dizziness. You might feel PARALYZED. You would probably want to avoid very much walking across that plank.

If you tried to take a step onto the plank, perhaps your body wouldn’t let you do it.

In fact, you fear would make it MORE DANGEROUS for you to walk across plank. What should ironically keep you safe, may actually make it more dangerous for you to do and could possibly even kill you.

This still doesn’t explain why you would be afraid of the girl.

Approach anxiety is a social anxiety.

The thing is, humans are social creatures. We are VERY social creatures.

From the moment you are born and for years to come, you are heavily reliant on your parents to take care of you. You learn, really fast, that you need to cry when you want food.

When you get a little older and learn to walk, you have a fear that causes you to not stray too far from your mother.

This is a healthy and beneficial fear for children to have. Children that were born without this fear were more likely to wander off and get eaten by tigers or fall into a tar pit.

Even as adults, we are reliant on our social situation for our survival. If you are anti-social, chances are you still buy food from someone else, still work for or with other people, and still obey the basic rules of law so as not to upset those around you.

As humans, we evolved into social creatures because it was BENEFICIAL. We were safer from predators when we stayed together. We were more successful at hunting when we hunted together. We grew food better when we COOPERATED with one another.

Particularly in hunter-gatherer days, if you did something to upset the social order, you could die. Your life depended on your ability to not step out of line. You developed a fear of screwing up your social situation. If you were thrown out of the tribe, there’s a good chance you would die.

This getting thrown out of the tribe is the thousand foot drop on either side of the plank. This girl represents your primal brain not wanting to screw up your social safety net. And the fear is a PARALYZING fear.

So we know that approach anxiety is AUTOMATIC. You don’t decide to feel it.

We know that approach anxiety is a SOCIAL fear. It relates to not wanting to jeopardize our social support.

We know that approach anxiety is a PARALYZING fear. Rather than fight or flight, it tries to shut down your body’s ability to take action.

You are afraid of things not going well with this approach. And ironically your fear will actually make it MORE LIKELY that things will go badly.

So how do you get past this fear?

You learn to no longer be paralyzed by it.

You practice, over and over, stepping out onto that plank.

You fall off of that plank and show your brain that–wait a minute–there’s no thousand foot drop when things don’t work out.

Every time you fail and learn to handle it well, you are teaching your body that this isn’t something that will hurt you.


This post was inspired by concepts from the book Anxiety Disorders And Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective.

Related ApproachAnxiety.com Articles:

The Best Thing You Can Do To Get Beyond Approach Anxiety

Ten Things You Can Do To Handle Approach Anxiety–Right Now!

Your Fear Of Approaching Women Can Help You

How To Deal With Embarrassment And Rejection

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posted in Acceptance

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