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Are dating apps harming your mental health?

Here's how to tell if you're app-use is turning unhealthy - and how you can work to build a better relationship with them.

By Will Stroude

As another Valentine’s Day rolls around, many in the LGBTQ community will be turning to apps in their quest for a date, hook-up, or love – but could they in fact having an adverse affect on our mental health?

With instant access to thousands of potential suitors, online apps have changed the face of LGBTQ dating over the last decade, widening dating horizons for queer people across the globe.

But in the microcosm that is online dating, an addictive stream of pictures and suitors can condense wider social problems like racism, rejection and body-shaming into the palm of your hand – something which can have adverse consqequences for our mental health.

To find out how we can assess whether our use of apps is becoming unhealthy – and how we can start to build a better relationship with them – we spoke to Clinical Director of Mental Health for Bupa UK, Pablo Vandenabeele, to get some advice…

How could dating apps being impacting our mental health?

Dating apps can be great for meeting new people and stepping out of your comfort zone. They allow you to check compatibility before you meet in person, which could mean fewer awkward dates. But if they’re not used in a healthy way, they could impact your self-esteem, body image and stress levels.

Feeling rejected can be a frequent experience on dating apps, and this feeling can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Whilst having low self-esteem isn’t a mental health problem in itself, it can be closely linked. If you experience low self-esteem for a while, you may start to feel depressed or anxious.

There are many ways you can try to improve your self-esteem and it’s important to remember that different things work for different people, so try what you feel comfortable with. Aim to be kind to yourself at times when you feel like being self-critical and try to surround yourself with people who’ll help build you up, rather than criticise you and put you down.

What are the warning signs?

If you notice that certain apps are consuming too much of your time, this could be a sign to switch-off. Likewise, if you find yourself feeling worried, panicked or anxious when you use the app, it’s probably time to take a break. Experiencing low self-esteem or having worries about your body image are warning signs to watch out for, too.

What impact can dating apps have on our body image?

Having a positive body image means generally feeling comfortable with your looks. On the other hand, having a negative body image means regularly feeling self-conscious, worried or ashamed about your body, or a certain part of it. In some cases, a negative body image may be made worse by seeing ‘picture perfect’ photos, like those on dating apps.

There are many things that can influence your body image; from your friends and family, to culture and the media. As dating apps are largely image-based, this could lead to worries about your own appearance. Whilst you can’t always change these pressures, you can rethink your attitude and behaviours towards them.

Firstly, take stock of your attitudes towards your body. If you always edit photos of yourself before posting them on social media, take a second to stop and reflect on why. Thinking honestly about your attitudes may help you to challenge them.

Aim for balance and moderation and move away from the unrealistic idea that a particular body size or shape means feeling happy – it’s more important to be physically and mentally healthy. If you are being affected by dating apps or social media, tune out and unfollow any social media accounts that make you feel worse about yourself.

So, how can I a healthier relationship with dating apps?

Remember, you are not your profile

It’s impossible to show all your unique and individual qualities in a handful of photos and captions, so be mindful that swiping left isn’t a rejection of your complete self.

Practice self-compassion

Try tuning in to your inner voice and noticing how it speaks to you. If you recognise that you’re not being kind to yourself, try practising talking to yourself in a way that you would to someone you care for. It might feel strange to do this at first but give it a try and see if you notice a difference.

Be mindful

Keep track of how you feel when you interact with dating apps. If you notice that certain apps leave you feeling anxious, worried or low, it’s time to switch-off.