At first glance, the idea of cell phone separation anxiety can seem flippant. Could being away from your phone actually cause extreme negative emotions or stress? While it is not officially a clinical diagnosis yet, it is real and there is now a name for it: nomophobia (no-mobile phobia).
Nomophobia is the term utilized to describe the panic and stress people experience from losing access to their mobile devices. Mental health professionals suggest that this issue is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in both teens and adults. Researchers warn that this phobia is affecting nearly all smartphone users to some extent, with nearly a quarter exhibiting signs of severe Nomophobia.
What Causes Nomophobia?
The nature of cell phones has evolved tremendously. Early on, cell phones were primarily used to make phone calls. The advancement of cell phones has contributed to mobile devices becoming an extension of ourselves. Cell phones are a gateway into a range of interactions, websites, information, content, and services that were previously not so easily accessible.
The sophistication of cell phones has contributed to this increased attachment and dependence. Moreover, the customization of content available through technology fosters this increased interaction and sense of dependence. Our phones have become such an integrated part of our lives in many ways beyond just communicating with people. The infinite resources that are available instantaneously fuel our need to be consistently plugged into our devices.
Researchers propose that the key anxiety-provoking aspect of being without a phone may be related to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This is likely to be most common in teens, as so much of their social lives takes place through their phones. They can experience persistent concern about what they are missing by not being connected and checking posts. For some, this can cause significant anxiety and even symptoms of panic. In some situations, the mere thought of being without a phone can cause bouts of fear and anxiety.
At best, cell phones are habit forming, and at worst, highly addictive. Cell phone usage is considered addictive if people experience an extreme compulsion to use and check their phones and experience anxiety when the phone is out of reach. By definition, addictive behaviors disrupt daily functions and if an individual tries to disengage or quit, the behavior is unsuccessful.
There is a huge continuum of cell phone behaviors and stresses between these two extremes. Consumer-driven organizations study these behaviors in great depth. They research patterns of behavior in an attempt to increase customer usage and drive new business. This data is used to inform how services and products are marketed. Marketers study the compulsive patterns of cell phone users and find ways to capitalize on these trends.
Addressing the Problem
Given the wide range of uses and needs for these devices in our society, getting rid of our phones is not likely to be considered a viable solution. Experts propose that creating some boundaries on phone usage may reduce the levels of anxiety and stress experienced when separated from our devices. Deliberately designating a specific time period to put away our phones can help reduce the distress related to this attachment.
Individuals could benefit from continued awareness of these patterns and trends. Being more mindful and intentional about how and when we utilize our phones can reduce the problems that arise. Fostering positive and healthy ways to use this valued resource is necessary.
Of course, if one’s nomophobia is so severe that even short breaks from their mobile device can interfere with normal functioning and cause extreme distress, it may be wise to consult with a mental health professional.
Parents can help educate their children about such patterns and find ways to create boundaries and foster moderation around cell phone usage. Through training, education, and awareness, we can slow down this nomophobia epidemic.
Although not officially listed in the DSM-5, nomophobia is very prevalent and affects many of us today. We are so reliant on our mobile devices to aid in so many aspects of modern life, and though that can be a good and helpful thing, this reliance has created an intense attachment for some. It is important to actively set aside phone-free time in order to diminish this addiction and create space for other things in our lives besides our mobile devices.
- Jilisha, G., Venkatachalam, J., Menon, V., & Olickal, J. J. (2019). Nomophobia: A Mixed-Methods Study on Prevalence, Associated Factors, and Perception among College Students in Puducherry, India. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 41(6), 541–548. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpsym.ijpsym_130_19
- Rodríguez-García, A. M., Moreno-Guerrero, A. J., & López Belmonte, J. (2020). Nomophobia: An Individual’s Growing Fear of Being without a Smartphone-A Systematic Literature Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(2), 580. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020580
- Thomée S. (2018). Mobile Phone Use and Mental Health. A Review of the Research That Takes a Psychological Perspective on Exposure. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(12), 2692. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15122692