Wellness·5 min read

Are Dating Apps Messing With Your Mental Health?

woman looking annoyed at phone
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
August 9, 2023

Dating apps can be a drag. But with every three in 10 adults saying they've participated, these platforms often feel like the only viable way to meet someone. After swiping through an endless flipbook of profiles, all those photos (holding a fish, dog, or cat, most likely) and fun facts (we know, you love tacos!) can start to blend together, making it easy to feel disheartened by the whole experience.  

But there are signs that the popularity of dating apps is fading: Recent data shows that dating apps are seeing a dip in new users. And now, some people are taking a page out of the past with "date me docs" — aka modern personal dating ads, which are similar to 'biodata' used by South Asian matchmakers. Are these docs a rebellion against the impersonal experiences and rapid-fire judgments of online dating, a way for singles to share more meaningful insights about themselves, or something else entirely? One thing's for sure: Dating apps do seem to affect your mental health. Here's what to know and how to safeguard your well-being. 

Why dating apps can be so draining

Part of the problem is the addictive nature of the technology itself. After all, Jonathan Badeen, the co-founder of Tinder who invented the swipe, once likened it to a slot machine. "The goal is to keep people on the app," says Michelle Mouhtis, LCSW, a therapist and relationship coach — and it's clearly working. You might get a dopamine hit each time you score a match, but the highs will dissipate over time, which leads some people to develop compulsive or addictive behaviors

Even without the swipe feature, the endless potential matches can suck you into decision paralysis, or the idea that your next option could be better than the person currently in front of you, so why settle? "Dating apps are the largest catalog of single people accessible to everyone," says Mouhtis. 

One of the top complaints Mouhtis says she hears from her clients about online dating is how exhausting it can be. Who wouldn't be tired of all that scrolling, swiping, messaging, ghosting, breadcrumbing, and even harassment? Oh, and after all that, you're supposed to go on dates IRL and be charming? 

Similar to other forms of social media, how dating apps affect you will vary from person to person. Still, the available data (albeit, limited) on this topic shows some common themes: 

  • Body image issues. A 2017 survey found that among a sample of Tinder users and non-Tinder users, those on the app reported "less satisfaction with their faces and bodies, more shame about their bodies … stronger internalization of societal appearance ideals, and more frequent comparisons about appearance than nonusers." What's more, another survey from 2019 found that people who used dating apps were more likely to report unhealthy weight control behaviors, including vomiting, laxatives, and diet pill use. 

  • Overall mental health concerns. Using swipe-based dating apps has been linked to "higher levels of depression, anxiety, and distress," according to a 2020 survey of more than 400 users. 

How to protect your mental health on dating apps  

Before your next swipe, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Consider your state of mind. "Healing is a lifelong journey," says Mouhtis. "So, I'm not gonna say you have to be healed before you use dating apps, but what I do say is you have to be healed enough." If you sign onto an app and don't see any matches, how will that make you feel? Or if someone you swipe right on doesn't match with you, how are you able to handle potential feelings of rejection? "If you're going into dating apps and using [them] to gain validation or self-worth … that's where dating apps can get really sticky," adds Mouhtis. 

  • Don't take it personally. It's hard not to take rejection personally. One perspective is to remember that there are 8 billion people on the planet, and you're not meant to be compatible with all of them, says Mouhtis. Not matching with someone or being ghosted has nothing to do with you. 

  • Treat profiles as real people. After swiping and scrolling through hundreds of profiles, they may all start to blend together, and it's easy to forget that there's a person behind them. Try looking through someone's entire profile instead of swiping based on the first picture. "That will really help with dating app burnout, so [potential matches] are not just baseball cards." 

  • Limit your time on the app. "Do not swipe for more than 15 minutes," says Mouhtis. Instead of endlessly browsing out of boredom, you want to be intentional about it to help make the experience more enjoyable and manageable. 

  • Consider a date-me doc. Ditch the unpredictable algorithm and word count limits on the apps, and try your hand at a date-me doc. "Date-me docs give you the opportunity to take the benefits of online dating into your own hands," says Mouhtis. And don't be afraid to be direct. "People aren't hesitant about cutting to the chase of who they are and what they're looking for in a partner," she adds.


Online dating is... hard. It's yet another thing in this increasingly virtual world that can lead to burnout — making it even more important to take care of yourself and keep your mental health protected.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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