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Updated: Aug 30, 2023

By Hannah Thorpe

Mobile phones have become an ever-present part of modern life. Not only do they serve as a way to communicate, but they also act as a personal organiser, calendar, alarm clock, and mobile bank. Most of us depend on our devices for information and connection, so it is normal to worry about losing them. Not being able to find your phone sparks worry as to how to deal with losing photos, contacts, and other information. While they are very beneficial to one’s everyday life, some suggest that overreliance on digital devices may be a form of behavioural addiction.

Nomophobia - Taken from: Daily Times

By the year 2026, it’s estimated that there will be 7,5 billion smartphone users. More than half of these users suffer from nomophobia - “no-mobile-phone phobia” – a fairly recently discovered phobia, which is known as a 21st-century condition. Someone with nomophobia may change their behaviour to reduce the likelihood of them being without their mobile phone. For example, they may avoid going to places that may not have a good mobile phone signal or may resist leaving the house for long periods in case their phone runs out of battery. These changes in behaviour are designed to help the person avoid being without their phone. However, these behaviours can result in fear, anxiety or panic in triggering situations.

Lily (not her real name) is addicted to her mobile phone. She experiences heightened anxiety when access to her phone is restricted; even more so if she can’t see it. She feels anxious when she goes to a place where there is no cellphone coverage, or if she runs out of airtime, or battery. She takes her phone to the bathroom with her and does not put it away during mealtimes, or lectures. If she hears the beep of a cellphone, even on a TV show, she identifies with it and will sometimes check her phone up to 25 times a day. If she’s parted from her phone she shows aggressive behaviour and feels isolated and disconnected from the real world, even though the real world is all around her. She refuses to go to certain places if there is no signal and sometimes sleeps with her phone on her pillow. This isn’t a good idea because mobile phone screens emit a type of light that tricks the brain into thinking it’s the morning which can lead to poor sleep patterns and tiredness.

Research shows that cellphone use among young people has increased drastically over the past decade and has emerged as an important area for youth health. Wits University found a high prevalence of depression related to cellphone usage among youth and women in Soweto and Durban. There is no universal definition for cellphone usage, so the study looked at behaviour that demonstrated dependency, irrespective of the purpose for which the phone was used.

Another study by South African tech company, Adoozy, indicated that 40% of those surveyed said they would rather skip meals than run out of phone power and 80% considered themselves addicted to their phones. 60% reported that if left without their phones they felt anxious, unsafe and vulnerable. 77% felt the need to reply to messages immediately.

Lily ended up going to an addiction centre for treatment where she learned how to put away her phone one hour before going to bed; limit the amount of leisure time on her phone to two hours a day; not use her phone at mealtimes and make time to speak to people face to face and to look around and live in the moment.

You can also take steps to cope with nomophobia on your own:

  • Turn off your phone at night to get a more restful sleep. Keep your phone at a distance if you need an alarm to wake up, far enough away that you cannot easily check it at night.

  • Try leaving your phone at home for short periods, such as when you take a walk.

  • Spend time away each day from technology. Sit quietly outside, journal, spend time with your pets, or take up a hobby such as knitting or yoga.

  • Some people feel connected to their phones because they use them as a way to contact their friends and family. in this case, meet up with them and do something enjoyable.

Nomophobia may not yet be classified as an official mental health condition, however, experts agree that it is a growing concern that can affect your mental health. If you worry so much about not having your phone that you cannot focus, consider methods of coping with nomophobia on your own or reach out to a therapist for help. Nomophobia can improve with treatment and lifestyle changes.

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