Nomophobia: Symptoms, Causes, Consequences, Treatment

The  nomofobia  is a newly emerging disease that refers to an irrational and intense fear of being away from the mobile phone or solitary confinement somehow. It is an increasingly common psychological condition in Western countries, especially among the younger population.

The term “nomophobia” arises as an abbreviation of the English phrase “no mobile phone phobia”, and was used for the first time in 2010 in a study conducted by the UK Post Office. In this study, it was found that approximately 53% of mobile phone users suffered some degree of anxiety when they could not use it for some reason.

Numerous studies carried out later seem to confirm that nomophobia has become a very common problem among the population. For example, today we know that nearly two out of three people sleep with their phone next to their bed; and the times of use of  smartphones continue to increase year after year.

The symptoms of nomophobia are very similar to those of other anxiety disorders, including very high levels of stress, general malaise, obsessive thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and even panic attacks. In this article we will study what this pathology consists of in detail.

Symptoms of nomophobia

nomophobia

Nomophobia occurs in situations in which a person suffers some type of anxiety because they do not have access to their mobile phone. This causes a series of related problems that imply a toxic relationship with technology, including some such as the “overconnection syndrome”, whereby we increasingly have direct contact with other people by replacing it with digital.

The most common symptoms of nomophobia can appear in a specific situation due to many different causes. Among the most common are the loss of the mobile phone, the lack of battery, the difficulty to get a signal or having forgotten the phone at home. The person with the phobia will do everything they can to prevent any of these situations from occurring.

In general, symptoms are usually classified based on whether they are cognitive, emotional or behavioral. Here we will see some of the most common.

Behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms are the easiest to detect in most cases of nomophobia. To avoid the psychological discomfort caused by the lack of access to their phone, these individuals often carry out a series of changes that can greatly interfere with the normal development of their lives.

Thus, for example, some people affected by nomophobia always carry a charger with them to avoid running out of battery, or even use two mobiles to never lose connection. On the other hand, they keep their device active all the time, and they never stray too far from it so as not to miss any notifications or messages.

In some cases, it has been found that the person uses their mobile phone as a kind of protection against situations that cause them discomfort, looking at it all the time to have to face their fears or concerns.

Telephone-related behavior also tends to be highly compulsive, with individuals continually checking the same apps despite having no new notifications.

Emotional symptoms

The area that is most affected by nomophobia at first is emotional. People affected by this pathology develop symptoms very similar to those of other anxiety disorders, which can intensify to a great extent if the problem is not eliminated in time.

Thus, for example, individuals who suffer from nomophobia tend to develop a very high level of stress, which appears mainly at times when for whatever reason it is not possible for them to access their mobile phone. In very extreme cases, this stress could end up leading to panic attacks, with all the consequences that this entails for the person’s life.

Another of the most common symptoms of mobile phone addiction is emotional flattening. Because  smartphones are so stimulating, people with nomophobia find it difficult to take an interest in other elements of their life that would normally provoke intense feelings , from their social relationships to their work or studies.

Finally, it is very common for people with a mobile phone addiction to develop some form of depression or permanently altered mood. The severity of this symptom can vary greatly depending on the personality of the patient and the intensity of the pathology.

Cognitive symptoms

At a cognitive level, the symptoms of nomophobia have to do mainly with the obsession to be connected to the mobile phone at all times. Many of those affected cannot get their need to constantly check the phone out of their heads, in a way that is largely reminiscent of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In fact, in many cases, individuals with nomophobia develop what is known as “ghost notifications”: the sensation of having received a new notification when in fact none has occurred. This is a purely psychological effect, which worsens the more intense the pathology becomes.

Generally, in addition, nomophobia is accompanied by a multitude of irrational beliefs that can aggravate the rest of the problems. Some of the most common are the idea that you will suffer social rejection if you are not constantly connected, or that it is impossible to feel well if you do not have your mobile on you continuously.

Causes

Although the exact causes of nomophobia are not known, there are some theories that seem to explain why this pathology is increasingly widespread among the population.

Neurobiological causes

The most accepted is the one that describes the problem as caused by an addiction, which works in the same way as those related to drugs or gambling.

The operation of smartphones  has been shown to  affect the brain’s reward circuitry. When we receive a notification, our brain releases a small amount of endorphins, which are substances that make us feel pleasure and well-being. The problem is that these substances are also very addictive.

Thus, over time we began to associate notifications and being constantly connected with great pleasure; and the rest of the activities and stimuli lose a large part of their positive charge.

This is something similar to what happens with nicotine, which provides pleasure when ingested and creates discomfort when the body’s levels drop.

Social causes

On the other hand, many experts also defend the idea that as our society is increasingly connected, there is also a social and cognitive component in the appearance of nomophobia.

Most likely, both explanations are largely true, rather than there being a single cause for all cases.

Consequences

As we have already seen, the symptoms of nomophobia can be very harmful to the person. If this problem is not treated in time, all areas of the individual’s life end up being affected to a greater or lesser extent, which generally aggravates the problem even more in a vicious circle from which it is very difficult to get out.

One of the areas that are most affected by mobile phone addiction is social. People with nomophobia tend to be more aware of their notifications than of the people with whom they interact in real life, which means that their relationships end up deteriorating over time in most cases.

At the work level, the effects are usually very similar. Being so aware of their mobile phone, their productivity tends to drop significantly, which can lead to problems such as layoffs or stress in the workplace.

In addition to this, psychologically nomophobia can end up leading to more serious pathologies, such as depression, anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. For this reason, more and more research is being carried out both to treat the problem in time and to prevent it and avoid its appearance.

Treatment

At the treatment level, nomophobia is usually approached like any other addiction. On the one hand, the person has to make behavioral changes, in this case greatly reducing the time they spend with the mobile and the compulsive behaviors related to it.

Generally, the most used therapy to treat this problem is cognitive – behavioral. During the sessions, the person gradually confronts the situations that scare them, while trying to change their beliefs regarding the use of the mobile phone and form new, healthier habits.

Many people, however, decide not to go to therapy and try to solve the nomophobia themselves. Some of the most common techniques involve the use of timers, leaving the mobile at home, or directly deleting all the accounts in social networks and the applications that they use the most.

Prevention

Although there are several effective treatments for nomophobia, it is usually much more useful to prevent the appearance of the problem. In this sense, it is essential to carry out a good awareness campaign on the risks of abuse of new technologies, especially among the youngest.

On the other hand, creating healthy habits and participating in hobbies that are not related to new technologies are two very effective ways to reduce the probability of appearance of nomophobia.

References

  1. “What is nomophobia?” in: Sanitas. Retrieved on: January 23, 2020 from Sanitas: sanitas.es.
  2. “Nomophobia: A Rising Trend in Students” in: Psychology Today. Retrieved on: January 23, 2020 from Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com.
  3. Afraid of Losing Your Phone? There’s a Name for That: Nomophobia ”in: Healthline. Retrieved on: January 23, 2020 from Healthline: healthline.com.
  4. “Nomophobia: The Modern-Day Pathology” in: Psychiatry Advisor. Retrieved on: January 23, 2020 from Psychiatry Advisor: psychiatryadvisor.com.
  5. “Nomophobia” in: Wikipedia. Retrieved on: January 23, 2020 from Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org.
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