DO YOU HAVE NOMOPHOBIA?
Dee Chadwick
30 Aug 2020
I admit that this is a phobia of which I was unaware. As ever, when I come across a word with which I am unfamiliar, I became ‘woman on a mission’ to find out about it. Always my father’s daughter.

DEFINITION OF NOMOPHOBIA

Dictionary.com says that the first use of the word was in a YouGov survey carried out in 2008. This survey is said to have found that 50% of British surveyed suffered stress when separated from their phone. It would seem that the word was a mash up of ‘no’, ‘mobile’ and ‘phone/phobia’. I do not have any idea of sample size, gender, age, or the specific questions asked. Certainly the latter would skew any findings. I have a feeling that among the younger population the figures for 2020 would now be much higher, especially following our recent lockdown, but, I’m doing ‘a Trump’ there – going on a hunch rather than basing my words on scientific or statistical fact!

MY HISTORY WITH PHONES

I have to say that my phone roots date back to pre-house phone days when I had to go round the corner, pennies in hand, on the rare occasion that I needed to make a call. My sole communication with friends was face to face.Then we had a house phone. It was rather heavy, involved a very slow dialling mechanism and our line shared with a neighbour. The system worked on trust. If you picked up the phone and heard a voice, you quickly replaced the handset. Any conversations with friends were carried out in front of my parents.

Many years later and the mobile phone hove into view with the signal at my home being very iffy. I used to say that the best way of receiving a good signal was by dangling out of the front bedroom window, clinging on by your toe nails. Fortunately, nobody actually checked out the validity of my claim! This didn’t particularly bother me as I am very much of the feeling that if you are visiting me, then the idea is to chat with me and other guests; not to keep checking for messages or answering calls. Unless of course there is a vital reason for this.

The signal at my home is now much improved, so sadly this means that many spend their time here communicating with others; however, there are no phones at the table. I am lucky in that many of my friends must have similar feelings, silencing their phones, or at least excusing themselves if the incoming call is deemed important. 

PLUSES OF THOSE MOBILE PHONES

I switch my phone, (and lap top) off at 9 each evening as it is the number shared with clients. However, if I have a client in distress, they know that it is kept on beyond this time.

When driving, I always have my phone with me, on the passenger seat in case of an emergency, though it is on silent so that I am not even tempted to respond to any in-coming messages. The same applies if I am out walking. The phone is in my pocket – just in case! I don’t walk and talk though this is often my son’s preferred time to call! I guess he’s slotting the old girl in as a part of his multi-tasking and a way of avoiding having to actually answer any awkward questions I may ask! Passing people, traffic, etc seem to come in useful.

I do still find it strange when people are walking along chatting away without the need for the phone to be glued to their ear. I often wonder if it is someone else catching up with a parent. In many ways, these calls remind me of sitting on the top deck of a bus around Manchester as a teenager. The journey was almost always accompanied by the sound of at least one man sitting and whistling. As with the walker and talker, they are seemingly unaware of those around them.... Just a thought, but do people still whistle?

So, for me, my phone is merely a tool to help me when I need it. I rarely use it for internet searches or social media contact. I don’t feel the constant need to be glued to it; to be taking selfies of what I am doing and sharing onto social media; or taking pictures of what I have cooked for my meal. However, I really enjoy pictures posted by friends when they have been going somewhere interesting though I do get concerned when there is a post from the airport as they jet away somewhere. Isn’t this the same as putting an advert in the press that your house is to be empty? Yes, I know that there are privacy settings, but I would still err on the side of caution. Maybe that is just me?

I am glad that I consider that my phone is simply a tool. It’s not something that needs to be personalised, glitzed and glamoured, an accessory. An accessory to be traded in when a new (expensive) model comes onto the market. I change mine when it needs changing as it is beyond all my persuasion to keep going.

HOW CAN PEOPLE BE AFFECTED WHEN SEPARATED FROM THEIR PHONE?

Before we begin, we need to throw in for good measure the recognised physical problems which can be caused by phone over-use, including neck, shoulder and thumb problems, RSI (repetitive strain injury), eye fatigue/digital eye strain, sleep problems if used before going to bed or in bed.

Just as we can be inappropriately attached to a person, so we can be inappropriately attached to our phone. For some, a physical separation from said phone or separation from being able to use it can result in separation anxiety. This can lead to a circulating of the surrounding area whilst holding said phone aloft looking for those bars to increase, or surreptitious glances at a silenced phone in the cinema. Is it  to communicate with a person, check for messages or to have access to all of the other functions available on that mini computer that we continue to call a phone. I would venture a guess that it could be one of the variants of social media.  

So, apart from the obvious frustration brought on by the lack of or an intermittent signal, how are we affected if our attachment to our phone is broken? The Independent.co.uk posted an article by Aatif Sulliman in 2017. He says that scientific studies have described feelings of stress and panic if people are not attached to those links provided by their phone rather an ability to make phone calls. Scientists at Hong Kong and Seoul Universities feel that it is because our phones ‘are so advanced and personal to us that they’ve actually become an extension of ourselves’. The fact that so many sites and apps have been personalised by each individual user, that they store many photographic memories, diaries, memos makes this extension of the self more and more obvious over the years. Throw in the personalisation of the actual phone through covers, bling, stickers, with some going so far as owning a range of covers in order to enable co-ordination with an outfit. The journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, says. “When users perceive smartphones as their extended selves, they are more likely to become attached to the devices, which, in turn, leads to nomophobia by heightening the phone proximity-seeking tendency.”

 

I was surprised by a short video by McCombs School of Business that says having your phone nearby, even if face down or switched off actually reduces cognitive capacity. It continues, by its mere presence to provide a distraction – maybe a temptation to ‘just do a quick check’ – I imagine many of you can equate with that! Having said that, the University of Missouri found that being separated from your phone can have psychological and physiological effects on users. Hence, the need for the suggestion in that video clip not to go ‘cold turkey’ with your separation. Attention dips, and performance of tasks requiring mental processing is negatively affected. I wonder therefore how some people cope with exams when their phone isn’t by their side? The linked article tells of experiments performed that show that blood pressure and heart rate are affected when simple tasks are carried out without the ‘constant companion’.

Psychotherapist, Tom Kersting in his article ‘What Really Happens When You Stare At Your Phone All Day’says ‘In addition to negatively affecting our bodies, constantly looking at our phones can impact our mental health, too. I coined a term called 'acquired anxiety disorder' because of the massive amounts of people I treated in recent years who have major anxiety issues,"... "This is from spending so much time in the cyber world and not enough time in the real world."  He points out that by focusing so much on others and their presented lives, our self-esteem is negatively affected and I love his reminder that - ‘Our minds need silence, not a constant bombardment’. Amen to that.

We can all too easily be led to compare our lives with the lives of others, though we usually have no idea of the paddling that is going on under their water.

Having worked in special education for many years, something that gives me concern is that seemingly, teenagers are being diagnosed with ADHD though they do not have the neurological indicators for this. They find that concentration is hard and they struggle with organising and focusing on tasks. 

HOW TO EASE THE SITUATION

As it seems to be being considered that your attachment to, your dependence on your phone could become an addiction, so much better to take action to avoid this. The ‘phobia’ bit of the name implies a level of anxiety which goes beyond that kick in the pants of anxiety as you go into an exam or face something new. Anxiety becomes life depreciating if not faced, and action is taken. The worry, or even panic of not having that instant access, the feelings of stress if you are unable to flick on that screen are all negative indicators of mental health issues – which, don’t forget, are inextricably linked to your physical health.

So, build in time away from your phone – physically having it in a different room, switched off or at least silenced. Allow your brain to have some wind down time away from the world outside, other people and what they are doing. Maybe if you believe that you use your phone when you are lonely, anxious, just plain bored, find alternatives to that irresistible little extension of yourself. Seek out more healthy alternatives, including short meditations or relaxations. Or, if possible, actually meet up with people face to face and fully communicate.

Begin to take back control of your phone rather than letting it control you, gradually step away from your dependency on it. If you have teenagers and young adults in your family, work out strategies to support them, especially when it goes to bed with them! Research is showing that it is this age group, for whom mobile phones have seemingly always been around, who appear to be finding life apart from their phone to be most difficult. A healthline article suggests that a fear of loneliness, of isolation, could be a part of this as the mobile phone is the main form of communication with friends. ‘Not wanting to experience this loneliness can make you want to keep your phone close at all times’. Its physical presence equates with a comfort blanket.

If you think you may be over-reliant on you mobile phone, give some thought to that phone free time. Let your phone be a tool for you to use rather than an inseparable extension of you whose presence could well be adversely affecting your health.

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