The nomophobia is mobile phone addiction, characterized by an intense and irrational fear of being without. This includes the fear of losing your phone, damage, running out of battery, running out of coverage, no credit, or losing your data or Internet connection. Even when the equipment is off or you do not sit or listen when a call or message arrives.
While many phobias have been present in the lives of humans almost from their origins, such as uranophbia, for example, others are characteristic of cultural changes. Nomophobia is part of the phobias derived from technology, which should not be confused with technophobia, which is the fear of technological advances.
For example, in the late eighties and early nineties the so-called nintendofobia was relatively common, described as the fear of the use or negative consequences of videogame consoles, because of the cultural impact of the first Nintendo console. Something similar has happened with mobile phones.
While there are those who fear using mobile phones or other technological devices because of the negative effects they believe they may have (they are known as digital phobias), people with nomophobia fear the opposite: running out of mobile devices and being cut off from their networks.
The term comes from the English expression “no-mobile-phone-phobia” and was coined by British research in 2011, which measured the level of anxiety produced by mobile phones in a sample of more than 2,000 people. The results: More than 50% of the sample manifests anxiety when they lose their cell phone.
According to the research, nomophobia occurs in a higher percentage in men than in women (58% versus 48% respectively). Qualitatively, the investigation allowed to know that for many subjects the anxiety felt to be without their mobile phones is similar to the day before the wedding itself or the visit to a dentist.
Most of the sample (55%) indicated that their fear stemmed from not being able to communicate in a timely manner with family or friends, due to the feeling of isolation that this caused them. Only 10% indicated that the fear derived from losing connection and communication with their work or responsibilities.
Other studies have reached similar results. In a population of male students, 23% were classified as nomophobic, and an additional 64% showed significant risks of developing the phobia. Of these students, almost 80% indicated that they check their mobile phone 35 times or more each day.
In short, it is clear that it is a phobia of high prevalence in society and that it seems to continue increasing. Statistics indicate that most users may already have nomophobia without knowing it or be prone to feel its effects. It is worthwhile, then, to know its symptoms, causes and treatments.
The problem of describing the symptoms of nomophobia
Talking about the symptoms of nomophobia is particularly difficult, because, unlike other phobias, even the most recent, there is no collective agreement on its implications. Some authors affirm, for example, that the nomophobia is more like an anxiety disorder than a phobia and others associate it with addictive behaviors.
Cataloging it and understanding it as a phobia, nomophobia is characterized by the accused and sustained fear, which is excessive and irrational, of losing the mobile phone, leaving it at home, being without it, or having it, but off or without credit, network coverage or from Internet. As in other phobias, there is also fear of thinking or talking about these possibilities.
Understood as a derivation of generalized anxiety disorder, nomophobia would not be characterized by intense fear, but by worry, agitation, restlessness, tension and continuous and exaggerated irritability before the same events described above. To be considered generalized anxiety, the subject of the mobile phone should not be the only one that concerns.
Because phobic disorders and generalized anxiety disorder have symptoms and signs in common, such as difficulty concentrating or falling asleep, tremors, sweating, etc., it is difficult to discriminate whether they are due to one or the other picture. It is even possible that what happens is an addiction to the mobile phone.
From the perspective of nomophobia as an addiction, it must cover the dependency criteria, which are tolerance or abstinence. Tolerance refers to needing to use the mobile phone every time for more time and in more places to get the effect it produces (tranquility, connection sensation, etc.).
It also refers to not feeling satisfied using the mobile in the same amounts that had previously generated satisfaction. According to this viewpoint, the nomophobia would begin when the dependency is high enough so that the person does not want to be away from his mobile at any time, as is usually described.
Abstinence is related to the sensations that are experienced when you do not have a mobile phone or you are in any of the other circumstances already described. It would be considered abstinence both unpleasant emotions and physical signs, as well as the search for a substitute (for example, someone else’s mobile) to alleviate these effects.
Each substance or behavior that is considered addictive has its own abstinence syndrome described and, although they may have similarities, they differ from each other. Those who defend the thesis of the nomophobia as an addiction, indicate that the sensation of fear of phobic type or anxiety would be the withdrawal syndrome of this addiction.
A last option, more conciliatory, would imply that some of the subjects who are currently designated as nomophobic fit better in the description of phobia, while others fit better in the generalized anxiety and others in addiction. Some subjects may have two or all of these instances at the same time.
This is what would explain, for those who support this premise, that the prevalence of this condition is so high. But the investigation of this condition is still very recent so as to be able to properly filter the obtained data. It would be necessary to improve the measurement instruments to draw more precise conclusions.
Basic symptoms of nomophobia
In spite of the above, a brief list of signs and symptoms can be made that appear in most people who have been interviewed about it. It is already known that it is not possible to conclude from this if it is a phobia, anxiety or an addiction, but it serves to identify the features in common.
In addition to the already described fear of losing the mobile phone and other associated fears, other clinically significant characteristics are the excessive or impulsive use of the telephone, or its use as protection (of other fears or social anxieties, such as communicating). It can also be used as a transverse or contraphobic object.
When it is used as a counterphobic object, the person feels the need to have it always in his hand, even if he does not use it, for example, when he sleeps. This can lead him to compulsively review it with the idea that a message or another form of communication has arrived, without his realizing it.
The most clear or frequent symptoms, in general lines, are anxiety, respiratory alterations, tremor, perspiration, agitation, disorientation and tachycardia. In the emotional pole, the symptoms would be depression, panic attacks, dependence, low self-esteem and feeling of loneliness, among others.
People who experience panic attacks may feel that the same happens to the sensation that something negative will happen and will not have the help provided by a mobile phone. In this case, the mobile replaces being loved that helps, as a counterofficic object of most subjects with panic attacks.
This happens, for the most part, in places where the use of mobile phones is forbidden, such as in airports, hospitals or work. Other people with nomophobia may also feel high anxiety in these circumstances, even when they do not have panic attacks. They might even try to circumvent the regulations of the place.
Disorders associated with nomophobia
A condition associated with the aforementioned compulsive mobile review is the so-called Phantom Vibration Syndrome, in which the person feels that the mobile phone vibrates, even when it does not have it; for example, while bathing. However, this is a condition reported by up to 90% of mobile users.
If the Phantom Vibration Syndrome occurs very frequently (the usual one is once every 2 weeks) and generates a concern or high anxiety, it can be considered as a negative symptom of nomophobia. And if there are other tactile hallucinations present, psychosis must be ruled out.
Other associated symptoms would be those of the so-called “Overconnection Syndrome”, in which the use of the mobile reduces the amount of face-to-face interaction. Or the techno-stress, where the person can develop mood disorders, such as depression, due to the isolation generated by being always connected to the mobile.
The nomophobia, in addition, can be exacerbated, come or merge to a disorder of social anxiety, by the communicative facilities that this device offers in people with fear to socialize. And it could also exacerbate, come or merge to a disorder by Internet addiction, gambling, shopping, pornography, among others.
The unlimited access that mobile phones offer to all types of information and entertainment can be the catalyst for several addictions described before the nomophobia, such as addiction to video games or cybersex. Or it can serve as a mediator for people addicted to work, because mobile phones are equipped for this.
Other conditions such as information overload, understood as the compulsive search for information on the Internet, addiction to Facebook or social networks, addiction to auctions, or excessive immersion in virtual reality, can be detonators of a nomophobia.
But if, in any of the aforementioned conditions, the fear of being without the mobile phone derives only from not being able to carry out compulsive or addictive behavior (for example, losing an auction on the Internet), it would not be considered nomophobia, but the addiction in question. From there, the difficulty of its classification.
Another condition associated with nomophobia is the so-called cyberperience, which consists of procrastinating from the use of mobile phones, computers or the Internet. It is estimated that in the United States alone, cyberperformance generates losses of more than 85 million dollars a year to companies. And this also extends to colleges and universities.
As can be seen, the consequences of nomophobia, or the scenario surrounding it, is complex, which makes it difficult to measure its effect on society as a single disorder and separate from the rest.
The basic symptoms of nomophobia, the symptoms and associated disorders have already been explained and it has even been clarified how some authors differ about whether to conceive nomophobia as a phobia, as anxiety or as an addiction. It would only be necessary to indicate the similar disorders with which it could be confused.
From the previous point, it is clear that if the subject has a point addiction to a single element of those that can be obtained by means of a mobile device (for example, connection to social networks), it would not be considered nomophobia. This would require that the addiction be several or all the functionalities of a mobile phone.
Another way to distinguish it is if the addiction is limited only to the use of that function in a mobile device or it can be replaced by any other device. For example, a person with gambling, could use the mobile to bet, but could also do so in casinos or clandestine meetings. In that case, it would not be nomophobia either.
The autofobia, which is the irrational fear of isolation or loneliness (also to be ignored or unloved), could be confused with the nomophobia, while many nomophobic people say that their fear of being without the mobile, derives from not wanting to be isolated And many manifest depression when they do not receive messages or calls.
The difference is that people with nomophobia can have face-to-face company with someone and, even yes, only worry about digital isolation, to the point of neglecting real social relationships. In other words, the nomophobic does not worry about being alone physically, but isolating himself from the digital world.
Cyberphobia, as opposed to nomophobia, is irrational fear or severe aversion to computers or cutting-edge technology. While the difference is obvious, many people with nomophobia, when they reach high levels of emotional overload through the use of mobile, may experience something similar to cyberphobia. But it is not systematic.
Finally, if you have the symptoms of nomophobia, but you want to distinguish if it is more like a phobia or an addiction, it is possible to evaluate it by means of tests that are available on the Internet. By clicking on this link you can perform a test on this condition evaluated as a phobia, and on this link, as an addiction.
The causes of nomophobia are clearly cultural. It is only possible to occur in environments where mobile technology has evolved enough to make sense of having a phone on 24 hours a day and access to global information and entertainment. It is a phobia that requires a community to interact.
However, some traumatic experiences in the affected person’s biography may function as activators of nomophobia. For example, having had a panic attack and not having a mobile phone on hand to ask for help, or having learned late of a defining event for life (such as the death of a family member) due to the lack of a mobile phone.
As already mentioned it is possible that the genesis is in other conditions, such as a generalized anxiety disorder, a social anxiety disorder, social phobia or addiction to some technological component.
According to a study by the agency SecurEnvoy, adolescents are the most likely to suffer from nomophobia, followed by the group of 25 to 34 years and then by those over 55. According to this research, they are considered as predictors of low self-esteem , self-concept and self-efficacy, very high or very low extroversion and impulsivity.
It is also common for people with difficulties to delay reward and subjects with an exacerbated need for sensation seeking. In short, it is a set of very varied causes, which may be present at different levels in each affected.
Because of the recent description of this condition, there is little conclusive information about what is the most appropriate treatment. As in other phobias, the combination of a pharmacological treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy may be the best option. But there are other alternatives.
Digital detoxification programs already exist in some countries, and are analogous to centers for substance abuse detoxification. In these centers the use of electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers is totally or partially restricted. At the same time, activities are carried out to promote relaxation and self-control.
Some companies also offer extramural activities for their employees, focused on digital detoxification, to help their staff reduce the anxiety that comes from being continuously connected to technology. This is more common in companies or positions that require a continuous use of technology.
Also Read: Podophobia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
And it is also possible for the person to perform digital detoxification on their own, although it will take much more willpower to achieve it. The truth is that if this detoxification becomes routine every certain period of time, it can prevent the appearance of a nomophobia or reduce it to a minimum.
In addition to the obvious benefits for the control of the nomophobia, the digital detoxification allows to improve the mental health and the interpersonal relations, to increase the productivity and to procure a postural rest for the person. Some programs could use the 12-step system of associations such as anonymous alcoholics.
While defining whether nomophobia is a type of phobia, anxiety or addiction, there will be many gray areas regarding the best way to treat it. What is certain is that the current need for society is high and that is why science must continue working to achieve an effective response.