The purpose of joining a dating app is to facilitate meeting new people, connect with others who share the same interests, and for many, fall in love. Yet, despite positive intentions, using dating apps has led to negative outcomes for many.

A recent study of college students led by researchers at Ohio State University found that those who have used dating apps were more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Additionally, a study of adults found that using dating apps increased feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance.

So, why is it that dating apps can make us feel so lousy and alone, when they’re meant to bring us closer to people? Here are a few reasons why dating apps can pose a risk to your mental health:

High competition can lead to insecurity: Dating apps can be incredibly competitive, and if a user doesn’t feel like they’re matching and communicating with enough people, it can feel like they’re not measuring up to others’ standards and lead to feelings of insecurity. In fact, 64% of men say they have felt insecure because of the lack of messages they received on their dating apps.

Constant communication can cause burnout: Continuous swiping, scrolling, and outreach on dating apps can be incredibly tiring and overwhelming. One report shares that 54% of women say they have felt overwhelmed by the number of messages they received on dating sites or apps. This can lead to burnout, loneliness, and a sense of hopelessness if matching and communication with others doesn’t lead anywhere.

Deceptive behavior can impact your confidence and well-being: Dating apps can encourage some people to lie about their identities and mislead others to appear more desirable. Research shows that people lie about anything from their hairstyle to their careers. While these lies may seem innocent enough, more deliberate lies around intention pose a bigger risk to your mental well-being. For instance, romance scammers join dating apps solely to trick people into sending them money. Getting caught up in a scam like this can do a number on your mental health and cause you to lose trust in yourself and others.

Experiencing harassment can give rise to poor self-esteem and mental health: Receiving unwanted messages on dating apps, especially if they are sexual in nature, is not only uncomfortable but can also be considered harassment, and it happens all too
often. One study found that 57% of adults who use dating apps report being sent a sexually explicit message, even after they said they weren’t interested. Experiencing sexual harassment on a dating app can lead to higher levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loneliness, less perceived self-control, and lower self-esteem.

5 ways to protect your mental health while using dating apps

To get the most out of the dating app experience while also taking care of your mental well-being, consider the following tips:

1. Set boundaries. This could mean taking a break from the apps when you start to feel overwhelmed or only spending a certain amount of time on them each day to safeguard your mental well-being. It can also mean only talking to people who seem genuinely interested in you and who you believe will be respectful and kind.

2. Prioritize offline connections. It can be easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of swiping and matching, but remember that the goal of dating apps is to eventually meet people in person. Instead of spending all your time scrolling through the app, use it as a tool to meet new people and then prioritize meeting up with them in real life. This can lead to more meaningful connections and a greater sense of fulfillment.

3. Remember that rejection is okay and normal. It’s all part of the dating process. Not everyone you match with will be a good fit, and that’s okay. Instead of seeing rejection as a reflection of your self-worth, try to view it as an opportunity to learn more about what you want and need in a relationship. Remember that everyone experiences rejection, and it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference.

4. Take care of your overall well-being. When you feel good about yourself, it can be easier to see all the good around you, too. Try taking breaks from dating apps to make time for yourself to give your mood and confidence a boost —practice self-care, spend time with those who care about you, and engage in hobbies and activities that make you happy and fulfilled.  Surrounding yourself
with positivity and putting your well-being first can go a long way in protecting your mental health.

5. Consider therapy. Talk therapy can help you express your feelings, regulate your emotions, and see things from a different point of view, which can do wonders for your mental health. Talk therapy is usually done with a licensed, trained mental health professional in a one-on-one setting —they’ll explore your interests and concerns, and work with you to create a treatment plan tailored to your needs and what you want to accomplish in therapy.

Remember, using dating apps has upsides, too. They’re a convenient tool for meeting others, they allow you to connect with more people, and in some cases, they’ve worked in helping people establish long-term relationships. One-in-ten people who are married, living with a partner, or in a committed romantic relationship met their current significant other through a dating site or app. What’s important is that you put your mental health and well-being first so you can put your best self out there.