WE ALL KNOW that feeling. That sense of false security, when you believe your mobile phone to be safely tucked away in your pocket, only to brush by it and realise it’s not there. Your stomach lurches, your hands perspire, and your heart begins to race. Usually the panic lasts only a few seconds before you realise where you left it. But while the feeling may only be momentary, that split-second feeling of dread offers a glimpse into what it’s like to experience nomophobia, a uniquely 21st century problem.
Before you scoff at this information and dismiss nomophobia as just another buzzword developed by researchers with too much time on their hands, consider your own relationship with your phone. Smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, achieving a level of integration that makes life without a phone difficult to imagine.
Beyond a means for communication through calls and texts, phones are our connection to the rest of the world, a legitimate payment method, and a source of entertainment. It’s easy to see why people are spending more and more time using the devices, and why being without them can be a stressful experience. A 2023 survey found the average person checks their phones 144 times per day and uses it for 3.5 hours. The survey also found that phone usage starts early in the day, with 89 per cent of respondents indicating that they checked their phones within 10 minutes of waking up.
Okay, we use our phones a lot, so what? Well, research has shown that phone addiction has become a serious problem, giving rise to terms like nomophobia and painting a bleak picture of humanity’s future. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of nomophobia, an ailment that almost everyone is at risk of developing.
What is nomophobia?
Unlike its homophone, Nomophobia does not describe a fear of garden gnomes (that would be gnomophobia), but a feeling of anxiety or discomfort when away from a mobile phone and disconnected from the digital world. In plain terms, it’s the fear of being without your phone. Unlike most phobias, it doesn’t derive its name from a Latin or Greek term. Nomophobia is actually a shortening and combination of various other words (No mo (bile) pho (ne) (pho) bia), which form a catchier and more palatable phrase to describe the phenomenon. Despite the term’s catchiness, we doubt anyone’s going to boast about their identity as a nomophobe.
What causes nomophobia?
Nomophobia is the result of an unhealthy relationship with a phone. This relationship is so controlling it verges on an addiction. Like anything that provides a quick serotonin hit, excessive phone use can become addictive. And like any addiction, periods of sudden withdrawal can cause severe stress.
Scientists are uncertain about what exactly causes nomophobia. That moment of dread could simply be caused by the potential dangers of misplacing an expensive item, rather than a sudden existential crisis brought on by the prospect of missing an Instagram post. However, it’s clear that an unhealthy relationship with your phone is a detriment to your health, regardless of whether or not it qualifies as full-on nomophobia.
What are the effects of nomophobia?
Studies have shown that nomophobia can have a serious impact on both physical and mental health. Nomophobia can directly cause rapid breathing, nausea and even irregular heartbeats, but these typically only persist for a short period. Our relationship with our phones is cause for a higher level of concern, as excessive phone use can have a much larger impact on your health.
The negative impacts of phone use are demonstrated most prominently by the devices’ effects on sleep quality. One study showed that as phone use increases, quality of sleep generally decreases, to the point that people who use their phone within 30 minutes of trying to sleep were 280 per cent more likely to report disturbances to their sleep.
On top of those figures, another study found that people who use their phones more often have higher rates of eye strain, neck and back pain, mood swings, loneliness and depression. The study even established a link between high phone use and obesity.
Whether or not you struggle with full-blown nomophobia, the harmful effects of an obsessive relationship with phones are plain to see. Moving forward, we’ll likely hear about increasingly severe cases of nomophobia, and while you may chuckle at the thought of someone freaking out over something so trivial, it’s important to remember the devices’ detrimental impact on your own health.