You may have wondered, “What are Nomophobia Symptoms?” Here is what they can look like:
S is a 31-year old housewife in India. She felt breathless every time she couldn’t find her phone, even if it was momentarily “lost” under the pillows. She became angry with her husband while looking for it. She snapped at him when he asked her to calm down because surely she would find her mobile in a matter of minutes. She found herself on the verge of hysteria if she was traveling and her phone battery became low. She lugged extra battery banks and portable chargers everywhere.
S’s feelings are understandable. It’s hard to imagine our life without mobile devices. They have become necessary in our increasingly online lives. They occupy many of our waking hours, and sometimes, even our dreams!
We fritter away a lot of time on screens. Yet, this must be said in their favor: they have made life easier, especially after the COVID pandemic.
We order groceries and veggies, clothes and accessories, even home appliances, through our mobiles.
We pay bills, transfer rent, withdraw salaries, send gifts through mobiles. All these chores are important - but we also sneak-peek at others’ lives - and share ours - through the screens of our mobiles. Sometimes we feel envious of others’ social media feeds, and sometimes we want to post our own vacation or foodie pictures to show off. It is a very human thing to do, isn’t it?
Maybe that’s why it’s natural to feel helpless without the phone. And that is the biggest problem with mobile devices (a blanket term for smartphones, tablets, and portable “connected” electronics):
If we don’t have our precious mobile device with us, we feel anxious, vulnerable - even panicked!
These negative feelings that arise at the thought of being away from our mobiles are part of a fear called nomophobia - short for ‘no-mobile phobia.’ It isn’t a scientific term, but may soon become one. It deserves to be understood better to help out many people who suffer from it.
How can you tell if you, too, are amongst the millions around the world who have fallen prey to this syndrome?
Do you have nomophobia symptoms?
Before we get psychiatric about the symptoms of nomophobia, here is a plain-speak list (acronym: F.A.I.R.) of the usual feelings of a nomophobic person:
- Fear of missing out (FOMO) on the latest happenings & events
- Anxiety about mobile battery running out (or just becoming low)
- Irritation at not getting a stable WiFi/mobile internet connection
- Rage against the mobile if it hangs/slows down/becomes faulty
Next, let’s consider some criteria that lead to a diagnosis of ‘phobia’:
- Excessive/unreasonable fear/anxiety due to an object/anticipated situation
- Immediate anxiety when exposed to the feared object/anticipated situation
- Realization by the person (patient) that the fear/anxiety is disproportionate
- Attempts to avoid the feared object/anticipated situation at any & all costs
- Disrupted relationships & routines as a result of suffering from the phobia
It seems quite clear that the fear of not having access to one’s mobile device meets most, if not all, the criteria to classify it as a psychological phobia.
While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) - the psychology bible of the USA - does not include nomophobia in its latest edition, that doesn’t mean it’s not a mental health concern.
Let’s take another example. Observe the psychological symptoms and behaviors of people who might be fearful of being separated from their mobile devices.
N, a 26-year old young marketing professional in Canada, relied on his smartphone for all aspects of his life. His alarm woke him up with dulcet tones in the morning. He ordered his ride-share to his office through it. Throughout the day, he took notes during meetings, made calls to his clients, looked up nearby restaurants while out in the urban ‘field’, coordinated evening plans with friends, sent groceries to his parents, ordered surprise gifts for his girlfriend, and made dinner reservations for special occasions with it.
What do you think happened the day he left his phone by mistake in the cab he had taken to work? It was like a vital organ had been stolen from him, and he spiraled down. Getting a new phone and recovering all his data was no issue at all, because everything is backed up on the ‘cloud’ these days. However, the entire day felt hellish in his mind.
He was suffering because he felt ‘ringxiety,’ an imaginative term used in this NIH article.
Many of us feel ‘ringxiety,’ too - the compulsive need to pick up and check our phones.
So doesn’t this make it a synonym of smartphone addiction, or at least a close cousin?
How is it different from (or similar to) smartphone addiction?
Smartphone or mobile addiction and nomophobia are somewhat similar, according to research carried out by Davie and Hilber on 104 undergraduate students at the South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences, Germany.
Nomophobia manifests itself in physical symptoms like elevated heart rate, interrupted breathing patterns, muscle tremors, cold sweats, nausea, dizziness, or disorientation. Note: these symptoms are neither exhaustive nor definitive.
Big Tech (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) tries to convince us that they want to help us increase the “Time Well Spent” on our smartphone apps. However, their strategies are just one half of a vicious circle designed to keep us trapped in endlessly scrolling content flowing to us through our screens.
This vicious circle that might cause nomophobia has two halves. The first: ‘information’ flowing to us from huge corporations like Facebook (plus Instagram & WhatsApp) or Amazon. The second: the tools developed by tech giants like Apple & Google to cut down on-device time, like automatic app snooze settings and notifications after a preset time is spent within an app. Do they work? Maybe.
These tools certainly give you the illusion of controlling your device time, though.
What is absolutely certain is that mobile phones are here to stay. They are conduits of information of all types. It might be life-saving (like coronavirus vaccine or treatment availability updates), or utterly useless (depending on who you ask). We are bound to continue using our mobiles. There is no way around it.
Conquer your fear of being without your mobile - it isn’t the end of the world!
Many of us suffer from nomophobia, and we might not even know it. But if you realize you want to do something about it, you can take small, practical steps towards solving the problems. Our/other blogs on Toxic Screen can help you out.
Usually, the first step towards overcoming a phobia is identifying the underlying causes. If you obsess about social media, try reducing the number of accounts you follow. If you binge watch too much, convince yourself to take a break after every episode. Most importantly, realize that you control your phone, not it, you.
We hope the time you spent reading this helped you understand nomophobia and its symptoms, as well as overcome them. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.