Nomophobia: Fear being away from your phone?
Do you ever feel anxiety because you’re away from your phone? Do you always use your phone to look up things you don’t know? Maybe you have nomophobia! In this article, we will discover what is nomophobia, the history of nomophobia, its symptoms and effects, why it’s important to be aware of, who has it, and how to treat nomophobia.
What Is Nomophobia?
Cell phones are possibly the biggest non-drug addiction. Nomophobia derives from no-mobile-phone-phobia and is the official term for the feelings of anxiety or distress that some people experience when not having their phone. It also refers to the degree to which we depend on phones to complete basic tasks and to fulfill important needs such as learning, safety and staying connected to information and to others. Phobias are overwhelming fears and anxieties that affect everyday life. Essentially, it’s a fancy name for severe anxiety due to a lack of mobile device near you.
Have you ever thought, “Oh, no! I don’t know where my phone is! What if someone texts?” and you begin to feel anxiety due to the fact that you don’t have your phone on you? That’s nomophobia. “I don’t know where my phone is! I’ll grab my phone to help me find it,”? We can use our phones for just about anything and everything, including using our phones finding our phones when we’ve lost them. When this becomes an unsettling anxiety, that’s nomophobia.
History of nomophobia
The history of the term nomophobia only dates back to 2010, although the phenomena of it actually goes back further. The term was coined during a study by the UK Post Office who hired YouGov, a research organization, to look at how mobile phone users suffer from anxiety. The study looked at 2,163 people and found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain are prone to becoming anxious when they don’t have access to their phone. For example, when they lose service, lose their phone, or run out of battery, 55% of those who were surveyed claimed that they get anxious when they can’t use their mobile phones because they can’t keep in touch with friends or family. The study compared the stress levels that occur with nomophobia to those of “wedding day jitters” and trips to the dentist.
Due to the fact that nomophobia is a difficult phenomenon to study because it doesn’t have a good way to measure it, researchers at Iowa State University tried to fix this by designing a 20-question measure called the Nomophobia Questionnaire (NMP-Q). In order to develop the final questions for the questionnaire, there was a series of preliminary questions to see which questions would most accurately gather data. This was done by interviewing students on their thoughts regarding their technological devices. For example, for what purposes do you usually use your smartphone? how would you feel if you left your smartphone at home and had to spend your day without it? or would you feel anxious if you could not use your smartphone for some reason when you wanted to do so?. As a result of this process, the questionnaire turned out to be a 20-question measure that asked the participants to imagine how they would feel if they lost access to their technological devices. They would have to indicate the extent to which they agreed with the following statements: I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone; If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic; I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages; I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.
In another study, the participants responded to the questions from the Nomophobia Questionnaire based on a scale of 1-7 (strongly disagree-strongly agree). The researchers then calculated the NMP-Q scores by adding up the responses and categorizing the total under mild nomophobia (scores of 21-59), moderate nomophobia (scores of 66-99), or severe nomophobia (scores ≥ 100).
Due to the amount of higher scores in within the same study, researchers were also able to identify and develop four components of nomophobia:
- Not being able to communicate with people
- Losing connectedness in general
- Not being able to access information
- Giving up on convenience
Symptoms of nomophobia
Nomophobia can be harder to avoid than coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) or arachnophobia (fear of spiders). However, many of the symptoms are the same. Some of those include:
- Panic attacks (for example, over a lack of cell phone reception)
- Shortness of breath
- Low self-esteem
- Elevated or quickened heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Obsessively looking for/at their cell phone
- Worrying about losing their cell phone (even if it’s in a safe place)
Effects of nomophobia
In the past we relied on people and books, now we rely on smartphones and technology wherever we go to answer our questions. Why should we bother remembering anything when we can ask Siri? One study on transactive memory found that when we have reliable sources of information about a particular subject at our disposal, our motivation and ability to learn and retain knowledge about a particular subject is lowered. For example, your husband is an engineer and you are bad at math. Rather than improving your math skills, you know that you can rely on him to do the math for you. The study found that we treat our phones like our relationship partners. If there are subjects we don’t know well, we can pull out our handy-dandy know-it-all device from our pockets and find out. So, maybe it isn’t so surprising that you experience distress when our relationship is severed because your partner has slipped out of your pocket and onto the restaurant floor.
A strong correlation between a student’s cell phone usage and their GPA has been shown. In a study with 500 students done by Kent State University, those who used their phones more than 10 hours a day had a significantly lower grade-point average- 2.84- compared to those who only used their phone up to two hours daily- 3.15.
A study done in 2011 called The World Unplugged surveyed 1,000 university students from 10 countries. These students were asked to go 24 hours without cell phones, laptops, or social networking. A “clear majority” suffered from distress, panic, confusion, and isolation during those 24 hours and most of them failed to complete the 24 period without looking at their phone.
Being always connected to our phones can disrupt our sleep, too. According to a study from 2015, the amount of caffeine in a double espresso has a lesser effect on our sleep than bright light exposure at night.
Overall, the other effects from nomophobia can be rather damaging, too, whether they involve text claw (hand cramps from texting), shortened attention span, social effects, eyesight, hearing, or radiation.
Why is it important to be aware of nomophobia?
It’s important to be aware of nomophobia because we need to know what’s happening to our bodies and why. You can’t fix what’s not broken, you can’t change what you aren’t aware of. If you don’t realize that you are not only on your phone for eight hours a day, but that those eight hours of phone exposure are damaging to your health, you won’t change your habits.
How many people in the world have nomophobia?
In the study done by the UK Post Office in collaboration with YouGov, it was found that about 58% or British men and 47% of British women suffer from nomophobia. 9% feel stressed when their phones are turned off.
In the United States, it’s worse. 65% of people sleep with or next to their smartphones. This fact is worsened by the theory that frequent cell phone radiation may cause cancer. However, among college students, the number is even higher 34% admit to answering their cell phone while being intimate with their partner. More than 50% never switch off their phone.
It’s cited by SecurEnvoy.com that 66% of adults suffer from nomophobia. To specify further, the study claims that 77% of young adults (ages 18-24) suffer the most from nomophobia. Only 65% of those between the ages of 25 and 34 are nomophobia.
According to data from Moment, a time-tracking app that five million people use, the average person spends at least four hours a day using their phone.
How to treat nomophobia?
There are different methods to help treat nomophobia depending on severity. Some of these include:
- Reframe how you think about your phone. Think that the time you aimlessly spend on your phone you could be doing other things like hanging out with friends and family or enjoying a new hobby. Instead of thinking it’s “spending less time on your phone”, think of it more as, “spending more time on your life”.
- Balance screen time and in-person time each day. For every hour you spend looking at a screen, spend an hour with human contact, too.
- Set yourself up for success. Turn off notifications to social media or delete some social media apps from your phone altogether.
- Try a technology fast where you go a day or more without using any piece of technology (computer, phone, tablet, or television).
- Practice trial separations by doing mini-sessions of exposure therapy. Baby steps. Leave your phone at home while you go for a ten-minute walk or to the grocery store.
- Place your phone at least 15 feet away from you when you sleep at night. You could even go so far as to turn it on airplane mode.
- Use technology to protect yourself from technology. Nowadays there are many time-tracking apps to help you keep an eye on how much time you spend using your phone. Apple now has a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode.
- Use other’s cell phone use as motivation not to check yours. When you see other people in the elevator or the metro checking their phone, your first instinct is probably to pull out your phone. Challenge yourself and try to keep your phone in your pocket.
Other treatments include:
For the two most common nomophobic fears, try these treatments:
- The theft or loss of your phone
- Carry your phone out of view and in a safe pocket (button or zipped up) or purse.
- Avoid setting it down in public places
- Regularly backup your contacts and photos on a separate device
- Battery Failure
- Make sure your battery is charged before leaving the house
- Keep a spare charger in the car or at work
- Buy a portable battery just in case
Do you or someone you know have nomophobia? How do you take a break from your phone? Let us know in the comments below!
Anna is a freelance writer who is passionate about translation, psychology, and how the world works.