Nomophobia, the fear of being without a mobile device, is a growing fear in the modern world. People often turn to their phones while queuing up, waiting on public transport, when they find themselves in awkward social situations or simply out of boredom. Academic research has found that phones are one of the main obstacles for productivity and can distract one from paying attention to their environment and those closest to them.
If you seem to have a better relationship with your phone than the people in your life, your education, or working environment – you might have a problem! As the saying goes: everything in moderation; so, when a certain thing starts to consume an individual, it can severely affect other aspects of their life.
I can admit that I bring my phone wherever I go and turn to it whenever I’m on my lunch, getting ready for bed, or when the room falls silent between friends or strangers. It’s almost as if the weight of the device in the palm of my hand – the old comfortable way it sits there – eases any distress and awkwardness I may be feeling. It appears that, in our contemporary society, many people have a peculiar relationship with their mobile phones that can be very difficult to give up.
So, how do you break away from your phone and shut off that nagging voice you hear calling your name every now and again to have a quick glance at its screen? First of all, it is important to understand the reality of nomophobia, its effects and symptoms, and from there on, adhere to professional advice on how to overcome it.
NOMOPHOBIA IN IRELAND
The Mobile Consumer Survey, which analysed the mobile usage habits of people in Ireland, found that 85% of 18-75-year-olds in Ireland use their smartphones while walking, which is the equivalent of 2.8 million people. Can you believe that approximately one million people admitted to using their phones while crossing the road? Not only do people put themselves in dangerous situations by constantly using their phones, but they are consciously aware when doing so.
Mobile phones sometimes become a diversion to productivity, but can also affect sleep patterns. The survey finds that 44% check their phone during the night with checking the time (33%), social media interactions (11%) and instant messages/text messages (10%) being the top three nocturnal activities. Among 18-24-year-olds, 60% check their phones in the middle of the night, of which just under 30% check for social media notifications.
Research also reveals that the use of mobile phones has ironically become a social barrier. 89% of people use their phone when spending time with family and friends, and 74% do so when socialising in a restaurant. The main source of communication appears to be text messaging where 68% do this on a daily basis.
Half of consumers think they use their phone too much. However, even those who acknowledge it and try to use their mobile phone less (45%), struggle in accomplishing this goal. Only one-quarter admit to being successful in curbing their mobile usage.
SYMPTOMS OF NOMOPHOBIA
Nomophobia has not yet been officially recognised as a psychiatric condition, even though proposals have been made to include it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-V).
There has been debate in the medical community on the classification of nomophobia and whether it is a phobia, anxiety disorder, lifestyle disorder or addiction. However, it is commonly perceived as a phobia based on DSM-V diagnostic criteria, which is as follows:
- excessive and unreasonable fear or anxiety associated with an object or anticipated situation
- exposure to object of feared situation causes immediate anxiety
- the person recognizes that their fear is out of proportion
- avoidance of the feared situation
- routines and relationships are disrupted due to the phobia
There is also a set of identifiable symptoms, which include increased heart rate & blood pressure, shortness of breath, anxiety, nausea, trembling, dizziness, depression, discomfort, fear and panic. Other symptoms that are not as severe, but nevertheless highlight an individuals dependency on their phone are:
- Taking your phone with you everywhere you go, even into the bathroom
- Repeatedly checking to make sure that you have your phone
- Fear of being without wifi or being able to connect to a cellular data network
- Worrying about negative things happening and not being able to call for help
- Stress over being disconnected from one’s online presence or identity
- Skipping activities or planned events in order to spend time on the mobile device
Professor Gail Kinman of the University of Bedfordshire, United Kingdom believes that the consequences of nomophobia are akin to other addictions:
“Nomophobia can drive individuals to become preoccupied with their phone and turn to it if they are depressed, anxious, and lonely. This is especially true for individuals with pre-existing anxiety who equate their phones with a comfort blanket”, she says.
“Phone dependency may also put jobs at risk if people are unable to resist checking online or answering calls or texts when in meetings or with customers.”
The effect on cognitive ability is evidenced through further academic research. A study of more than 500 dental students found that the influence of smartphone addiction can have an adverse effect on education. 40% participants agreed that their low grades can be attributed to the time spent on their phones. Some researchers theorise that even the presence of devices can have an effect on cognitive ability.
HOW TO DEAL WITH NOMOPHOBIA
There are various therapies for those who suffer with severe separation anxiety from their phones, such as interpersonal counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, addiction therapy, and mindfulness practises. However, there are many other ways an individual can reduce their screen time, especially if their addiction is not as severe.
- Timing: People are encouraged to refrain from checking their phone for a few hours daily, especially at night.
- Social Media: To connect and build relationships in other ways, individuals are encouraged to limit social social media browsing.
- Notifications: Individuals who keep glancing at their mobile phone screen to check for app notifications are encouraged to turn them off. Notifications draw people to their devices, and they are more likely to experience stress.
- Declutter: If a device is packed with photos, apps, and games, it can be useful to explore the feelings associated with deleting some of these. This is a process of decluttering both the phone and the mind.
- Set boundaries. It is important to establish rules for the personal use of the device. This means avoiding the device at certain times of the day, such as during meals or at bedtime.
- Find a balance. It is also important to find the balance of communicating via mobile phones and direct personal interaction with others every day.
- Take short breaks. It can be tough to break the mobile phone habit, but starting small can make the transition easier. Start by doing small things such as leaving your phone in another room during meals or when you are engaged in another activity.
- Find other ways to occupy your time. If you find that you are using your phone excessively out of boredom, try looking for other activities to distract you from your device. Try reading a book, going for a walk, playing a sport, or engaging in a hobby that you enjoy.
It is important to understand that excessive use of mobile phones directly impacts an individual’s productivity and relationships as evidenced by academic research. Nomophobia is a real issue and learning how to lower one’s screen time and engage in other activities and ways of communication is a strong advantage in the modern world.
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