Americans love their cell phones, and for good reason. For freelancers, social media gurus and large and small business owners, it’s nearly impossible to live without a fully functioning smartphone. But are people actually developing a fear of being without them?
Pew Research Center’s recent data shows that 90% of Americans own cell phones and 58% have smartphones. For a large number of users, these phones are becoming so indispensable to their daily lives that they experience anxiety without them.
Psychologists are calling the phenomenon “nomophobia,” an abbreviation of no-mobile-phone phobia. It’s a condition that affects more and more young people and symptoms include feelings of desperation or panic when separated from phones, constantly checking for new messages, and an inability to focus on things like work or socialization when their phone is present.
Some sufferers even have what researchers are calling cellphone vibration syndrome, believing their phone is ringing even when it’s not. This may even be a sign of a not a phobia, but a serious addiction.
Because cell phone attachment involves a dysregulation of dopamine, it’s actually alarmingly similar to other addictions. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that encourages people to perform actions for which they’ll receive rewards. Dopamine levels elevate when you see an email, message or headline you like while checking your phone. Unfortunately this compels phone users to keep checking for another quick dopamine lift.
Many people with nomophobia won’t even understand that they have a problem, which makes it even more startlingly similar to other forms of addiction where denial is an overwhelming indicator of a problem. Most people don’t suffer from debilitating symptoms either, making it harder to notice.
Some psychologists even want to add nomophobia to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM is often referred to as the foremost authority on mental health conditions and diagnoses. Other psychologists consider it a subset of internet addiction.
There are several resources for people looking to curb there own nomophobia, including apps that record how much time you spend on your phone, therapy, and tech free boot camps.