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What is Nomophobia? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

In the age of constant connectivity, the absence of a mobile phone can evoke feelings of fear and Anxiety in many people. Nomophobia—the fear of being without a mobile phone—is becoming an increasingly common disorder.

What is Nomophobia?

Nomophobia, or “No Mobile Phone Phobia,” refers to the Anxiety and agitation people experience when they are without their mobile phone. It is a phrase coined during a 2008 study by the UK’s research-based organization (YouGov). They found that whether it’s running out of battery, losing signal, or forgetting the phone at home, the inability to connect or communicate through the mobile phone can lead to intense fear and distress.

This anxiety is highest among young people as found in the latest 2019 UK research study: 60% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 25-to 34-year-olds say that they would be anxious not being able to communicate to family and friends with their phone, while only 34% of those aged 55 and over were concerned. It’s a manifestation of our dependency on mobile connectivity and a reflection of the role technology plays in our lives. Women especially were more likely to feel anxious or worried about not being able to contact family and friends than men (52% vs. 48% of men).

Considering the way mobile phones have ushered us into an increasingly digital world, it’s no surprise that unique Mental Health conditions like Nomophobia have been on the rise in the last few decades. Based on recent US research studies similar findings as the UK study was found; the fear of being without a mobile phone has grown from 77% to almost 90% among U.S. college students. The prevalence of Nomophobia is becoming a major problem, the rising use of smartphones and addiction to digital devices has only been compounded since COVID-19.

What Causes Nomophobia?

The causes of Nomophobia are multifaceted. Research is always developing around the condition as technology continues to advance. What causes Nomophobia in the year 2023 might look different as our world becomes more and more digital. It is also important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in the increase of Nomophobia, as home confinement and lockdowns forced many people to spend more time on their mobile devices.

Some underlying mental health conditions that are associated with Nomophobia are:

  • Social Anxiety. Mobile phones serve as a social tool; their absence may lead to feelings of isolation or exclusion.
  • The fear of losing control or being unable to reach help may fuel this Phobia. People with Anxiety or Panic Disorder are more at risk for Nomophobia.
  • An unhealthy attachment to the device can cause fear and agitation when separated from it, stemming from Smartphone Addiction Disorder.

These underlying causes often intertwine, making the disorder complex and individual-specific.

What Are Some of the Most Common Nomophobia Symptoms?

When people experience strong feelings of Anxiety while away from their mobile devices, it can be alarming and just as intense as other Mental Health conditions. Nomophobia symptoms range from mild discomfort to severe physical and psychological reactions.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Changes in breathing, such as rapid or shallow breathing
  • Trembling and shaking hands or trembling body
  • Sweating excessively
  • Disorientation, or feeling lost or confused without the phone
  • Tachycardia, also known as rapid heart rate

One study also included Anxiety and agitation as key symptoms of Nomophobia. If you experience any of these symptoms as a direct result of being away from your mobile device, you may benefit from the services of the Mental Health professional.

Are There Any Treatment Options Available for Nomophobia?

The first step in overcoming nomophobia is recognizing its presence in our lives. Here are some strategies to help manage and reduce its impact:

Digital Detox: Designate certain times of the day as “device-free” and gradually extend these periods. Use this time to engage in activities that don’t involve screens.

Mindfulness: Practice being present in the moment. Engage in activities without the need for constant phone checking.

Set Boundaries: Establish boundaries for phone use, especially during meals, conversations, and relaxation time.

Prioritize Human Interaction: Cultivate meaningful face-to-face interactions to reduce the reliance on virtual connections.

Turn Off Unnecessary Notifications: Disable notifications that contribute to the compulsion of checking your phone unnecessarily.

Treatment for Nomophobia is often tailored to the individual’s specific fears and triggers. Exposure Therapy, or gradual exposure to the fear of being without a phone, can desensitize the fear response. This can be impactful for people diagnosed with Nomophobia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is also considered an effective approach, as it addresses underlying thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to the Phobia. In severe cases, anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms and can work well in tandem with both Exposure Therapy and CBT.

With professional guidance, individuals can overcome Nomophobia and regain control over their relationship with technology.

Conclusion

From the unsettling agitation when we lose a signal to the tangible symptoms of Anxiety and fear, Nomophobia offers a window into our complex relationship with our digital devices.

If you think you’re someone who’s personally affected, understanding Nomophobia is a step toward a balanced and mindful approach to technology in our lives. The good news is that help is available. Our providers at LifeStance are here to help you navigate Nomophobia and many other Anxiety disorders.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.


Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.