HOW TO OVERCOME NOMOPHOBIA (NO MOBILE PHONE PHOBIA)
Have you ever felt anxious or nervous when you could not find your phone or use it for some reason? Perhaps you find yourself compulsively checking your phone every hour or so and feel stressed out when you cannot, despite not needing to do so. If so, you might be suffering from nomophobia, a term that describes the fear or anxiety of being without one’s phone or unable to use it.
The word nomophobia is derived from the words “no mobile phone phobia”, a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged in the digital age. While the term might have been around for over 15 years, nomophobia is not an officially recognized medical condition. Nevertheless, it is becoming an increasingly well-documented phenomenon.
According to several studies and surveys, an average of 40-70% of people suffer from some form of smartphone addiction, and across all populations, the number is on the rise. Despite rules and regulations, smartphone use while driving occurred on an average of 58% of trips throughout the US during 2022. Similar proportions of people in the UK and other parts of the world check their phones in the first 30 minutes of being awake, and roughly 10-20% of people claim to be anxious when separated from their phones. These figures are much higher amongst teens and young adults in college.
The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness and provide information on the causes, symptoms, effects, and treatment of nomophobia.
Symptoms of Nomophobia
Some of the common signs and indicators of nomophobia are:
- Anxiety, panic, or distress when separated from or unable to use one’s phone.
- Phone separation is often accompanied by physical symptoms of sweating, trembling, temperature disturbances, disorientation, hyperventilation, or heart palpitations.
- Excessive or compulsive phone checking, even when it is not necessary or appropriate.
- Neglect of other aspects of life, such as personal, professional, or social responsibilities, due to phone use.
- Difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or relaxing without one’s phone.
- Restlessness, irritability, or depression when one’s phone is not working properly or is low on charge.
The symptoms of nomophobia vary in intensity and frequency depending on the individual and the situation. Some people may experience nomophobia only in certain contexts, such as when traveling, working, or studying, while others may suffer from it constantly.
For some, the urge to check their phones might range from being impolite to outright dangerous. Nomophobia can cause social relations to suffer or even be replaced by digital interfaces. It can also have a major impact on personal development as it can lead to avoidance of activities that require one to put their phone away. These activities, such as learning, enjoying hobbies that develop skills, spending time in nature, and socializing, are often healthy and stimulating. Those highly addicted to their phones might have lower self-esteem as a result, as well as higher levels of anxiety, boredom, and depression.
In a very real sense, phone addiction can become life-threatening as well. Checking one’s phone when driving, walking, or crossing the street can lead to road accidents and injuries that may result in lifelong consequences. Even in a person with a milder version of nomophobia who does not need their phone 24/7, compulsively checking the phone in the middle of activities can limit one’s ability to focus, even during periods without the phone at hand. A loss of focus can lead to similar consequences to checking one’s phone when one ought to pay attention to the surroundings.
Nomophobia can affect people of all ages, yet it is more prevalent among young adults and adolescents, who tend to use their phones more often and for longer periods of time. Nomophobia can also be influenced by personality traits, such as neuroticism, extraversion, or openness, as well as by environmental factors, such as social norms, peer pressure, or cultural values.
How to Tell if You Have Nomophobia
If the nomophobia symptoms discussed above are relatable, you could try taking a nomophobia test to see how you score. There are several online nomophobia tests that can help you assess condition severity, such as the Nomophobia Questionnaire (NMP-Q) or the Smartphone Addiction Scale (SAS). These tests measure your level of dependence, anxiety, and impairment related to phone use.
Health Effects of Nomophobia
Nomophobia can have detrimental effects on many aspects of overall health and well-being. These consequences are not often apparent to a nomophobe, who may be unaware of the negative impact of excessive phone use and compulsive checking on their physical, mental, emotional, and social health.
Some of the potential negative consequences and impacts of nomophobia are discussed below.
Mental Health and Cognition: A study published in Nature (a leading multidisciplinary science journal) found that just the mere presence of a smartphone could reduce the cognitive capacity and performance of young adults aged 20-34, irrespective of phone addiction. This impact might be worse in those who consciously think about their phones while it is around them than those who don’t.
Some of the cognitive areas that nomophobia has been found to detract from include:
- Learning, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.
- Memory and recall, especially if one relies on their phone to store or retrieve information.
- Attention and concentration, making one more prone to errors and mistakes.
Mood and Resilience: Nomophobia can affect one’s mood by causing stress or irritability when the phone is inaccessible or due to checking the phone excessively and neglecting other aspects of life. A study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that high smartphone use can increase an individual’s vulnerability to depression and anxiety. Chronic stress and a reduced mood are also known to lower immunity and increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Self-Image: A study posted in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows that nomophobia and low self-esteem are very closely connected.
- Lower self-esteem and self-confidence, especially if a person compares themself to others or seeks validation from their phone.
- Impair self-control and self-regulation, making one more impulsive and less rational in their decisions and actions.
- Diminish self-awareness and self-reflection by limiting the ability to focus, leading to less mindful and more distracted thoughts and behaviors.
Physical Health and Safety: Nomophobia can endanger the safety of self and others, especially while driving or walking.
Nomophobia can also:
- Affect sleep quality and quantity, which can have adverse effects on health and well-being.
- Cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, neck pain, eye strain, or carpal tunnel syndrome, as a result of excessive or improper phone use.
Social Well-Being: Experts have found that high smartphone use can reduce the quality of social connection and the ability to empathize. This can greatly impact interpersonal relationships and ultimately lead to loneliness and isolation. Empathy and social connection are very important for our sense of happiness and belonging. Reduced empathy and impaired social interaction due to smartphone use can increase anxiety risk and also affect our physical health, even leading to burnout.
Causes of Nomophobia
Nomophobia is a relatively new phenomenon with limited current research available to explain its causes.
Neurobiologically, nomophobia is likely linked to the hallmarks of smartphone addiction, such as the activation of the brain’s reward system. Smartphones provide instant gratification and feedback that stimulate the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure, reward, motivation, learning, and emotion. Dopamine’s influence plays a role in the formation of habits and addictions. Susceptible individuals may experience withdrawal, craving, and anxiety when separated from their phones or when unable to use them, similar to other addictive substances or behaviors.
The instant gratification one receives from a smartphone might also help to soothe anxiety for some people, yet increase anxiety without it. People may also develop nomophobia when stressed about something tangible and related to smartphone activity. We may feel like we are missing out on vital information or as though we are cut off from the world without our phones. This is especially pertinent in a post-pandemic world where we may want updates on the latest outbreaks, to reach out to loved ones in hospital, or crave social connectedness more often during prolonged periods of social isolation. The stress caused by some of these situations may trigger compulsive phone-checking habits and eventual nomophobia, even after the need abates.
Despite outbreaks and lockdown measures, nomophobia was already becoming an ever-increasing phenomenon, especially in schools and colleges. Teens and young adults were found to struggle to focus during tests when their phones were taken away, with some experiencing extreme anxiety. This may be related to how smartphones can become an extension of an individual's identity. In such a scenario, phone separation may feel like one is being cut off not from the world but from the self or perhaps forced to face the self. Therefore, children and teens may be more at risk as they are still finding and developing their identities.
Possible risk factors for developing nomophobia are:
- Gender: Females tend to report higher levels of nomophobia than males, possibly due to differences in personality, socialization, and attachment styles.
- Age: Nomophobia tends to be more common in young people than older people, possibly due to differences in generational, cultural, and developmental factors.
- Interpersonal sensitivity: People who are more sensitive to the nonverbal cues and emotions of others tend to report higher levels of nomophobia, possibly due to a higher need for social connection and validation.
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior: People who have obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions related to their smartphone use tend to report higher levels of nomophobia, possibly due to a higher dependence and addiction to their devices.
- Hours of smartphone use: People who use their smartphones for longer hours per day tend to report higher levels of nomophobia, possibly due to a higher exposure and habituation to their devices.
Nomophobia Treatment: How to Overcome Nomophobia
If you think you have nomophobia, you are not alone, and many others have managed to overcome it. You can treat your condition with proper awareness, education, and the right intervention.
Here are some practical and effective tips on how to avoid and cope with nomophobia as well as reduce smartphone dependence:
Start to develop a healthy relationship with your phone. The first step is to gain an accurate perspective of your phone by understanding its benefits and drawbacks. This will help you to moderate your approach and make use of your phone in a balanced manner. It will also help you to quickly realize when you are spending too much time on your phone. It is important to remember that your phone is just a part of your life and not its entirety.
Limit and control your phone use. The next step is to set healthy boundaries around phone use, which will lower your dependence, improve your resilience, and enhance your productivity, focus, and quality of life. You can do this by:
- Identifying times and activities where you should not be on your phone, such as sleeping, eating, working, or spending time with others.
- Making an effort to switch your phone off or put it on silent and out of sight during the above times and activities.
- Creating a schedule or a routine that specifies when and how long you can use your phone each day.
- Using apps or settings that block or limit your access to certain features or functions on your phone, such as notifications, calls, messages, or social media.
- Substitute some of the functions on your phone with physical (“old school”) equivalents, such as using notebooks to write in, calendars to plan events, and separate alarm clocks to get up in the morning.
Find alternative ways to spend your time. After managing the time you spend on your phone, you will be faced with more free time and any feeling or situation that checking your phone helped you to avoid or cope with. Now, you need to find constructive and/or enjoyable ways to fill your time that do not have a negative impact on your life and health. Examples include:
- Focusing on face-to-face social interactions and engagements.
- Hobbies that interest you or make you happy, such as reading and writing, learning a new skill, finding a creative interest, or exploring a natural setting.
- Exercising and stretching, which may help one to remain focused throughout the day.
- Relaxation techniques such as breathing, meditation, or yoga.
Seeking professional help. If nomophobia interferes with your daily functioning or well-being, then it is advisable to consult a therapist or a counselor. A professional psychotherapist can help you work through your condition by offering guidance, support, and specific therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy.
Nomophobia is a serious and prevalent problem that affects many people in the modern world. It can have detrimental effects on physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as one’s personal, professional, and social life. It is more common in younger people who are still developing their sense of identity, yet it can affect older individuals as well. Overcoming nomophobia might help improve the health and well-being of everyone around us and our social circles, as it can enhance social interactions, connectedness, and empathy. Nomophobia can be overcome and treated with proper awareness, education, and the right interventions. To do this, one needs to recognize how their phone should be used and when, only make use of it when necessary, and find other ways to fill their time. For extreme cases, counseling may be helpful.
-  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/sep/11/lost-your-phone-and-feel-your-lifes-falling-apart-youve-got-nomophobia
-  https://www.forbes.com/sites/edgarsten/2023/04/28/addictive-smartphone-use-leading-to-distracted-driving-deaths-safety-officials-say/
-  https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/uk-public-glued-to-smartphones.html
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6035024/
-  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-36256-4
-  https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/334240
-  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36833624/
-  https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
-  https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/empathy-narcissism
-  https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/your-smartphone-may-actually-be-changing-human-race-n743866
-  https://europepmc.org/article/PMC/PMC8130950
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7425970/
-  https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/02/nomophobia-the-anxiety-you-feel-without-your-cell-phone-has-a-name.html
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