Looking after your mental health when dating online can seem like a difficult thing to do with all the emotions involved, alongside the balancing act of finding a relationship and staying safe.
With the NHS estimating that one in four adults experience some mental illness, much has been made of the rise in mental health issues brought on by the pandemic and the use of social media. But the impact of online dating has been less discussed.
Anxiety during the dating process can be caused by several factors, but according to therapist service Better Help, the increased release of chemicals and hormones, including cortisol, can cause individuals to experience a feeling of urgency and to think frequently about the person we have romantic feelings for.
Research from Harvard University also found that high levels of dopamine, one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brain and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released during attraction which can make people feel energetic and euphoric.
And specifically with online dating, Kathryn Coduto, at South Dakota State University has published a study on social anxiety and dating app usage. She revealed that anxious people are already concerned in general about how they are being judged, and if people aren’t swiping on an ‘idealized version’ of themselves on their dating profile they can feel an even bigger letdown.
Whilst we cannot change the physiology of love, there are ways to look after our mental wellbeing while online dating. Rhonda Alexander, CEO of dating app Fluttr, shares her tips with us on how to keep on top of your mental health while trying to connect online.
Understand if you are seeking validation
If you find yourself getting immense feelings of sadness when you don’t hear from a match on a dating app or believe that you can’t be happy without the attention of another person – you may be seeking validation through online dating.
As online dating statistics show that fifty percent of online dating matches do not message back, you should not rely on this platform as a healthy medium for self-validation. Instead, present your authentic self and take a step back to look after yourself. Ensure that you are giving yourself the attention you need before seeking it from others.
Hanging on to someone’s every message, agreeing with them and acting on what they tell you is a tell-tale sign of a power dynamic that can become damaging while dating online and offline.
This often stems from the anxiety that another person will lose interest if you do not meet their needs. Whilst dedicating time to finding love is great, make sure that pleasing other people does not take priority over your own wellbeing.
Dealing with rejection
Healing from rejection is an important step to take before you continue to seek a new partner.
Rejection happens frequently on dating apps, with claims that around 50 per cent of matches do not message back, intensifying feelings of rejection.
Another University of North Texas study found that dating app users report low self-esteem and low psychosocial well-being from frequent rejection.
It is important to acknowledge and confront feelings of rejection; surround yourself with family and friends, talk through your feelings and let others support you and make sense of your experience.
A common experience reported by many people who use dating apps is “being ghosted”; this happens when one party simply disappears without an explanation. The lack of any type of closure can be intensely painful for the person shunned.
Research from the American Psychological Association found that dating app users may begin to feel depersonalised and disposable in their social interactions. Those who ‘ghost’ might believe that there is always something better around the corner, or possibly via the next swipe of their screen.
Whilst online daters should keep an open mind, be positive and have fun with the platforms, dating app users can enjoy the gamified aspects of online dating but should keep a focus on matching with care to help forge meaningful connections and possibly discourage the opportunity to be ghosted.
Research suggests that you can fall in love with someone behind a screen. This also means that feelings might be more easily exploited in a virtual setting – so it’s important to stay safe. Dating apps, where users are not verified, can allow criminals and trolls to hide behind fake profiles and do real harm.
We can sometimes find our head up in the clouds during dating, but it is important to embrace the joy, yet stay safe. Beware of premature declarations of love or requests for sexy photos from your online crush. If things seem too good to be true or seem to be moving too fast, be cautious and remember that whilst you may feel a connection with this person, they are still a stranger. When on apps, people should remember to go to customer support if there are any issues that arise.
Life outside of online dating
Whilst online dating is a great way to connect, be sure to enjoy hobbies and offline activities and not neglect that aspect of your life while focused on finding an authentic connection. Having a balanced approach will help ensure greater success and will make you all the more interesting to others.
Connect with old friends, visit your family, or join a new group or club to widen your social circle and open your world up to more than the online sphere.
And don’t be scared to take a break from online dating if you are unable to keep it in balance. You can always go back online.
Sometimes turning off notifications and limiting time spent on the app is enough to recharge, but if you feel tempted to constantly check your phone, consider a break from online dating until you are in a better headspace.
This post was written by Rachel Bartee and originated on Thrive Global