Do you have trouble putting down your smartphone or feel anxious when you know you’ll lose service for a few hours? Do thoughts of being without your phone cause distress?
If so, it’s possible you could have nomophobia, an extreme fear of not having your phone or not being able to use it.
Most of us depend on our devices for information and connection, so it’s normal to worry about losing them. Suddenly not being able to find your phone probably sparks worries about how to deal with losing photos, contacts, and other information.
But nomophobia, shortened from “no mobile phone phobia,” describes a fear of not having your phone that’s so persistent and severe it affects daily life.
Results of multiple studies suggest this phobia is becoming more widespread. According to
No scientific studies have reported on United States statistics. Some experts suggest these numbers may be higher, especially among teens.
Read on to learn more about symptoms and causes of nomophobia, how it’s diagnosed, and how to get help.
Nomophobia isn’t listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Mental health experts haven’t yet decided on formal diagnostic criteria for this condition.
However, it’s generally agreed that nomophobia presents a concern to mental health. Some experts have even suggested nomophobia represents a type of phone dependence or addiction.
Phobias are a type of anxiety. They provoke a significant fear response when you think of what you’re afraid of, often causing emotional and physical symptoms.
possible SYMPTOMS of NOMOPHOBIA
Emotional symptoms include:
- worry, fear, or panic when you think about not having your phone or being unable to use it
- anxiousness and agitation if you have to put your phone down or know you won’t be able to use it for a while
- panic or anxiety if you briefly can’t find your phone
- irritation, stress, or anxiety when you can’t check your phone
Physical symptoms include:
- tightness in your chest
- trouble breathing normally
- trembling or shaking
- increased sweating
- feeling faint, dizzy, or disoriented
- rapid heartbeat
If you have nomophobia, or any phobia, you might recognize your fear is extreme. Despite this awareness, you may have a difficult time coping with or managing the reactions it causes.
To avoid feelings of distress, you might do everything possible to keep your phone close and make sure you can use it. These behaviors could appear to suggest dependency on your phone. For example, you might:
- take it to bed, the bathroom, even the shower
- check it constantly, even several times in an hour, to make sure it’s working and that you haven’t missed a notification
- spend several hours a day using your phone
- feel helpless without your phone
- make sure you can see it whenever it isn’t in your hand or pocket
Nomophobia is considered a modern phobia. In other words, it most likely stems from increased reliance on technology and concern over what might happen if you suddenly couldn’t access needed information.
Experts haven’t yet discovered a specific cause of nomophobia. Rather, they believe several factors can contribute.
A fear of isolation may, understandably, play a part in the development of nomophobia. If your phone serves as your main method of contacting the people you care about, you’d most likely feel pretty lonely without it.
Not wanting to experience this loneliness can make you want to keep your phone close at all times.
Another cause might be a fear of not being reachable. We all keep our phones close if we’re waiting for an important message or call. This can become a habit that’s hard to break.
Phobias don’t always develop in response to a negative experience, but this does sometimes happen. For example, if losing your phone in the past caused significant distress or problems for you, you might worry about this happening again.
Your risk for developing nomophobia may increase if you have a close family member who has a phobia or another type of anxiety.
Living with anxiety in general can also increase your risk for developing a phobia.
If you recognize some signs of nomophobia in yourself, it can help to talk to a therapist.
Frequently using your phone or worrying about not having your phone doesn’t mean you have nomophobia. But it’s a good idea to talk to someone if you’ve had symptoms for six months or longer, especially if these symptoms:
- are frequent and persist throughout your day
- hurt your work or relationships
- make it difficult to get enough sleep
- cause problems in your day-to-day activities
- have a negative impact on health or quality of life
There’s no official diagnosis for nomophobia yet, but trained mental health professionals can recognize signs of phobia and anxiety and help you learn to cope with symptoms in a productive way to help overcome their effects.
A PhD student and an associate professor at Iowa State University worked to develop a questionnaire that could help identify nomophobia. They then conducted a study in 2015 that looked at 301 university students to test this questionnaire and explore nomophobia and its effects.
Results of the study suggest the 20 statements in the survey could reliably help determine varying degrees of nomophobia. Similar research may help experts work to develop specific diagnostic criteria.
A therapist will probably recommend treatment if you experience significant distress or have a hard time managing your daily life.
Therapy can usually help you address symptoms of nomophobia. Your therapist might recommend cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you learn to manage negative thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about not having your phone.
The thought “If I lose my phone, I’ll never be able to talk to my friends again” might make you feel anxious and sick. But CBT can help you learn to logically challenge this thought.
For example, instead you might say, “My contacts are backed up, and I’d get a new phone. The first few days would be hard, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
Exposure therapy helps you learn to face your fear through gradual exposure to it.
If you have nomophobia, you’ll slowly get used to the experience of not having your phone. This may seem frightening at first, especially if you need your phone to stay in touch with loved ones.
But the goal of exposure therapy isn’t to completely avoid using your phone, unless that’s your personal goal. Instead, it helps you learn to address the extreme fear you experience when you think about not having your phone. Managing this fear can help you use your phone in healthier ways.
Medication can help you deal with severe symptoms of nomophobia, but it doesn’t treat the root cause. It’s usually not helpful to treat a phobia with medication alone.
Depending on your symptoms, a psychiatrist may recommend using medication for a short time as you learn to cope with your symptoms in therapy. Here are a couple examples:
- Beta blockers can help reduce physical symptoms of phobia, such as dizziness, trouble breathing, or rapid heartbeat. You usually take these before you face a situation that involves your fear. For example, they could help if you have to go to a remote location without phone service.
- Benzodiazepines can help you feel less afraid and anxious when you think about not having your phone. Your body can develop a dependency on them, though, so your doctor will generally only prescribe them for short-term use.
You can also take steps to cope with nomophobia on your own. Try the following:
- Turn off your phone at night to get more restful sleep. If you need an alarm to wake up, keep your phone at a distance, far enough away that you can’t easily check it in the night.
- Try leaving your phone at home for short periods of time, such as when you make a grocery run, pick up dinner, or take a walk.
- Spend some time each day away from all technology. Try sitting quietly, writing a letter, taking a walk, or exploring a new outdoor area.
Some people feel so connected to their phones because they use them to maintain contact with friends and loved ones. This can make it tough to take space from your phone, but consider doing the following:
- Encourage friends and loved ones to have in-person interactions, if possible. Host a meetup, take a walk, or plan a weekend getaway.
- If your loved ones live in different cities or countries, try to balance the time you spend on your phone with other activities. Set aside a period of time each day when you turn off your phone and focus on something else.
- Try to have more in-person interactions with people physically near you. Have a short conversation with a co-worker, chat with a classmate or neighbor, or compliment someone’s outfit. These connections might not lead to friendships — but they could.
People have different styles of relating to others. It’s not necessarily a problem if you have an easier time making friends online.
But if online interactions and other phone use affect your daily life and responsibilities or make it hard to complete necessary tasks, talking to a mental health professional can help.
It’s especially important to get help if you have a hard time talking to others because of the effects of bullying or abuse, or symptoms of mental health concerns, such as depression, social anxiety, or stress.
A therapist can offer support, help you learn to cope with these issues, and guide you to other resources if needed.
Nomophobia might not yet be classified as an official mental health condition. However, experts agree this issue of the technology age is a growing concern that can affect mental health.
Nomophobia appears most common in young people, though many phone users experience some degree of symptoms.
If you regularly use your phone, you might experience a brief moment of panic when you realize you don’t have it or can’t find it. This doesn’t mean you have nomophobia.
But if you worry so much about not having your phone or not being able to use it that you can’t focus on what you need to do, consider reaching out to a therapist for help.
Nomophobia can improve with treatment and lifestyle changes.