Do you get crippling anxiety when you’re without your cellphone? You could have nomophobia, the fear of being without your cellphone. Diane Moalem investigates this new-age phenomenon.
Nomophobics fear being without their cellphone ©Shutterstock
We have all experienced that rising panic as you reach down to your pocket and realise your cellphone is missing. The sheer dread that fills you in that instant is overwhelming. You feel the panic start to rise, you feel abandoned, isolated, and as if you are having trouble breathing. Nomophobia (NoMobile Phobia), the fear and anxiety of not having your cell phone is a new age affliction that affects more people than you would think with 13 million people, equating to 53% of cell phone users in the UK suffering, according to a survey.
Although we shrug this off as something most people have mildly, it has become a legitimate concern for many nomophobic sufferers. We rely on our cell phones, smartphones especially, for almost everything. Our society has become so dependent on these small devices as a connection to the world through the internet, messaging, and obviously through calls. We use these gadgets to check the time, to capture our favourite moments, to entertain us, to control a business, and to keep us company. Smartphones are constantly evolving to become so personalised that they have become an extension of your personality and who you are.
Clinical psychologist, Lee-Ann Hartman, a specialist in anxiety disorders explains that losing your cell phone is more than just losing your photos and contacts, it’s losing your connection to people that you hold dear. Patients who suffer from nomophobia show a fear of isolation, disconnection and extreme discomfort. A British survey performed by Stewart Fox-Mills found that over 13 million people suffer from nomophobia, which equates to 53% of mobile users. Another survey in 2012 by Onepoll and SecurEnvoy of 1000 people found 66% of people suffered from a degree of nomophobia. While mostly affecting young people between 18 and 24, more women were found to show symptoms. Nomophobia shares symptoms with other anxiety disorders and includes:
- Panic attacks
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Elevated heartbeat
Situations that cause these reactions range from losing or leaving your phone at home, entering areas with no signal, a dead battery, running out of airtime and even voluntarily switching your cell phone off. Hartman adds that you would endure a period of extreme discomfort if you are without your smartphone. You can tell if you are showing signs of nomophobia if you compulsively look at your phone multiple times a day, dubbed “ringxiety”, get anxious about losing network coverage or experience one of the above symptoms when without your smartphone. The advance of fast-paced technology can become addictive as it creeps into more aspects of your life, Hartman says. Smartphones allow us to connect socially, interpersonally, for business and being without it creates a fear of missing out.
According to Hartman, smartphone interaction can be a form of reward. We are able to deepen bonds between the people with which you communicate, you can gain social status by who you interact with, what smartphone you have and sharing content, such as images, can provide you with instant gratification from your peers. Instant gratification can become addictive as it reinforces the behaviour associated with using a smartphone. People may develop anxiety once this instant gratification is removed but whether this translates into a phobia remains to be seen. Affected people thus tend to search for the best cellphone deals to ensure they are always connected to avoid their nomophobia at all costs.
A journal article written by Nicola Luigi Bragazzi and Giovanni Del Puente was published in 2014 in the Psychological Research and Behaviour Management journal proposing the inclusion of nomophobia as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Bragazzi and Puente’s article suggests patients would use their cellphones, smartphones especially, in an impulsive way. They could use smartphones as a protective shield, as an object of transition, or even to avoid real-life social communication.
Hartman agrees with the inclusion of a new category in the DSM-V for technology-related disorders. She stated that it’s becoming exceedingly important to look at how tech-based disorders have altered the way people express and feel anxiety and the context that causes the anxiety. Hartman says she has encountered several private patients with these symptoms, with Samsung Galaxy smartphones being the biggest cause, but she didn’t have a name for the disorder.
Hartman suggested that people are developing nomophobic symptoms because of the current immediacy of tech-culture and information consumption that once people are away from it, they experience an overwhelming fear of missing out, or FOMO. Interestingly, both the Bragazzi journal article and Hartman suggest cognitive-behavioural therapy as a possible treatment for the phobia.
In contrast, another Johannesburg-based Clinical psychologist Kevin Bolon, thinks that nomophobia is more of a side-effect of existing anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. He says that the condition can be explained and incorporated by other disorders that induce crippling anxiety. Braggazi’s journal article and Hartman both echo a degree of Bolon’s sentiment as preliminary research has shown a high comorbidity rate (two disorders occurring at once).
Nomophobia has garnered a fair amount of critics yet many believe technological advancements integrated into our lives have created a level of dependency leading to compulsive disorders and anxiety disorders. Whether nomophobia or other technology-related anxiety disorders will be officially recognised in our fast-paced world remains to be seen, but there is certainly mounting evidence for the existence of nomophobia.
Until then, arm yourself with the longest-lasting cheap smartphone battery and LTE.
©Diane Moalem for Click n Compare