Are you nomophobic?

I think I am and there’s a good chance you are too!

By Tracey Dowdy

“Nomophobia”: (No-mobile-phone-phobia) the fear of being without mobile phone contact.  Nomophobia also includes low battery power or being in an area with little or no network coverage. I’ll be honest, I had never heard the term until  a few days ago, but I’ve experienced the symptoms many times over the past few years and it turns out I’m not alone.

Lookout, a mobile phone security developer, conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans to study the habits of the average smartphone user in their natural habitats – at work, in bed, in houses of worship, and even in the bathroom. To say many are hyper-attached to their phones is an understatement.

Nearly sixty percent of respondents stated that they can’t go an hour without checking their phones and many admitted their phone is the first thing they reach for in the morning, often before getting out of bed.

  • 40% check their phones while in the bathroom.
  • 24% admitted to checking their phones while driving
  • 30% check their phones during a meal with family or friends
  • 9% check their phones in church

Not surprisingly, as phones have gotten smarter and we’ve begun to use them for more than just phone calls (does anyone use their phone to make calls anymore?), the thought of being away from our phones causes anxiety. When asked how they felt when the phone was misplaced, 73% were “panicked.”  For many, their phone is their brain’s “external hard drive.” Banking information, social media accounts, personal email and text messages, calendars…so much of what fuels our day to day life is in the palm of our hands and the thought of it falling into the wrong hands is a nightmare.

  • 38% say the cost and process of replacing their phone is their biggest concern
  • 24% say it’s the inconvenience
  • 20% fear their personal data and information being at risk
  • 6% worry their account information will be exposed
  • And speaking of exposure, 3% panic at the thought of their explicit messages and photos getting out

So what’s a smartphone user to do? With so much of our personal data at risk, it’s only natural to feel anxiety at the prospect of losing our phones. But what about the discomfort we feel when we leave it at home? Personally, I’ve turned around and returned home to get my phone on a quick run to the grocery store 5 minutes from my front door. If my battery power drops below 40 percent, I start doing the kind of math problems we did in high school to figure out if it will last until I get home: “If an iPhone 5 user switches to airplane mode, doesn’t check Facebook for the next two hours, and only listens to music for another 30 minutes, how long will her battery last?”

Dr. Larry Rosen, a research psychologist who studies how technology affects our minds, suggests starting with turning the phone off for 30 – 60 minutes a day. Just turn it off. “We're seeing a lot of what looks like compulsive behavior, obsessive behavior. People who are constantly picking up their phone look like they have an obsession. They don't look much different from someone who's constantly washing their hands. I'm not saying that it is an obsession, but I'm saying that it could turn into one, very easily,” Rosen said.

Other helpful tips to take back control:

  • Set up healthy boundaries. It makes sense to check your phone frequently if you’re waiting for an important email, not to see how many “likes” the Instagram photo of your lunch is getting.
  • Use checking your phone as a reward for completing a task or for accomplishing a goal.
  • Break your bad habits by making checking in less convenient. Leave the phone in another room if you’re at home or leave it in your purse or locker at work.
  • Don’t make checking your phone the first or last thing you do before going to bed.
  • I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but no texting and driving. We all know how that story ends!

Finally, just shut the phone off and “be with who you’re with” as one of my friends says. Enjoy the company of your family and friends in real life, not just online. Your life is more than a series of hashtags.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

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