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More than 7.2 billion people currently own a mobile phone, accounting for 91% of the population of the world. Mobile phones have become so normalised within our culture that even children as young as five years old have their own mobile phones or unlimited access to their parents’ or siblings’ mobile phones.
The increasing dependence and obsession that people experience in relation to their mobile phones have resulted in the rise of a new phobia – nomophobia – which is the extreme and overwhelming fear of being without your mobile phone.
Today, we are going to look at nomophobia in more detail, including the common causes, symptoms, triggers and treatments.
What is nomophobia?
Nomophobia is an extreme, irrational and overwhelming fear of being without a mobile phone. Nomophobia is a fairly recently discovered phobia which is known as a 21st-century condition. The term was coined in 2009 in the UK from the phrase NO–MObile-PHOne-phoBIA. Someone with nomophobia may not only fear being physically without their mobile phone but may also fear their battery running out, their phone breaking or being without a cellular or internet signal. In this situation, the individual may experience negative patterns of thoughts and negative feelings, such as anxiety, stress, fear or panic. Unlike many other phobias, nomophobia is not yet a clinically recognised condition.
Mobile phones have become such an integral part of daily life that many people wonder how they ever lived without them. Mobile phones are no longer only used for making calls and sending text messages. They have now become our source of entertainment, our social network tool, our access to world news, our camera, alarm clock, calendar, navigation – the list goes on and on.
For many people, the thought of being without their mobile phone, even for a short period of time, can cause feelings of anxiety. However, for someone with nomophobia, being without their mobile phone or thinking of being without their phone, can result in feelings of fear, anxiety, panic or dread that are overwhelming and difficult to manage.
People who become over-reliant on their mobile phones may find themselves replacing physical interactions and face-to-face relationships with virtual, online relationships. They can begin to rely on their mobile phone for socialisation and emotional support. Being heavily reliant on your mobile phone can make it more likely that you will develop nomophobia.
Someone may be more likely to develop nomophobia if they already experience anxiety, poor self-esteem, emotional difficulties, insecure attachments or a lack of personal relationships.
Nomophobia is a type of specific phobia – an enduring, overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific object, situation, place or person; in this case, an extreme fear of being without your mobile phone. However, nomophobia is sometimes referred to as a behavioural addiction. In fact, some psychologists say nomophobia shares similar characteristics with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
There are many different fears connected to nomophobia, including:
- The fear of not being able to call for help in an emergency.
- The fear of becoming isolated from family and friends online.
- The fear of missing out (e.g. in an online game or chatroom).
- The fear of missing important news or updates.
- The fear of not being able to access immediate information.
Nomophobia can be so consuming that someone may refuse to turn their phone off, even in situations where it is expected, such as in a theatre or during an exam. They may also wake up in the night to check their phone, sleep with their phone under their pillow and even take their phone to unusual places, such as into the bathroom when taking a shower or using the toilet.
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 good mobile phone signal, may refrain from leaving the house for long periods in case their phone runs out of battery, and may refrain from partaking in any ‘high risk’ activities in case they break their mobile phone. These changes in behaviour are designed to help the person avoid being without their phone. However, these behaviours can actually have a paradoxical effect as they can result in more intense fear, anxiety or panic in triggering situations in the future.
Nomophobia can also have a negative impact on your social life, your work, your relationships and your ability to perform everyday tasks. You may have difficulties functioning normally or concentrating or may be consumed with thoughts of your mobile phone or the fear that you could be without your mobile phone.
Anxiety and panic surrounding being without your mobile phone can occur on a spectrum, and not everyone who dislikes being without their phone is experiencing nomophobia. Between 44% and 53% of people report feeling anxiety when they are without their phones. However, not all of these people are experiencing a phobia.
To be classified as nomophobia, your fear of being without your mobile phone should include:
- Feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
- Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the true risk.
- A fear of being without your mobile phone that lasts for at least six months.
- Engaging in avoidance behaviours to prevent you from being without your mobile phone.
- A fear of being without your mobile phone that interferes with your day-to-day life, overall well-being or sense of safety.
Someone with nomophobia may be aware that their fear of being without their mobile phone is irrational and that the risks associated with being without their phone are minimal. However, they may still be unable to control their anxiety, fear and panic and prevent or reduce their negative thoughts and behavioural changes.
Nomophobia is often connected to and can occur in conjunction with other conditions, such as:
How common is nomophobia?
Because nomophobia is a recent phenomenon, research is still limited, and it isn’t known exactly how common this disorder is. Various research studies have looked at how prevalent nomophobia is in developed countries, such as the UK, the U.S. and Canada. However, statistics vary significantly, from 21% to 85%. Statistics regarding the prevalence of nomophobia are likely to differ significantly based on the population you are surveying. For example, prevalence rates will be higher in the 14–18 age category compared to the over 65 age category.
As nomophobia is not yet a clinically recognised disorder, there are no official clinical diagnoses of nomophobia in the UK. Instead, an individual may be diagnosed with a type of anxiety disorder or a specific phobia.
Many people with nomophobia may not even realise they are experiencing nomophobia. They may never have heard of the condition, nor may they realise that their thoughts, feelings and behaviours are irrational, extreme or unusual.
Not everyone who experiences anxiety when they are without their mobile phone is experiencing nomophobia. Many people rely on their phones for safety reasons and feel that being without their mobile phone could compromise their health or safety. For example, they may not be able to call 999 in an emergency or they rely on their phone for medication alarms. In some cases, feeling anxious if you are without your phone may be appropriate.
Negative thoughts and feelings regarding being without your mobile phone usually occur on a spectrum, ranging from mild fear and anxiety or anxiety in specific situations (such as if you are outside at night or you need to contact someone) to severe fear, panic and anxiety that occurs any time you are without your phone, even if it is only for a few minutes, and can impact your day-to-day life, affect your decision-making and result in changes in your behaviour.
Who is at risk of nomophobia?
Although anyone can develop nomophobia, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of you developing a fear of being without your mobile phone.
- Having low self-esteem.
- Having difficulties maintaining social relationships.
- Having most of your social and professional connections online.
- Having social anxiety disorder or generalised anxiety disorder.
- Having social or emotional difficulties.
- Having a previous negative or traumatic experience involving being without your mobile phone.
- Having a close family member, for example, a parent or sibling, with nomophobia.
- Having a close family member, for example, a parent or sibling, with another type of anxiety disorder.
- Being exposed to the fear of being without your mobile phone during childhood or adolescence.
- Being an intrinsically more anxious or nervous person.
- Having a history of other mental health difficulties.
- Going through a significant life stressor, having higher than usual stress levels or being in a heightened mental state.
- Having an addiction, such as a gambling addiction or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Nomophobia most commonly affects adolescents, usually between the ages of 14 and 18. This generation has never lived without mobile phones and is more likely to be dependent on technology. Adolescents also usually have a strong desire to fit in and are more likely to experience anxiety if they cannot stay connected with their friends and social networks.
However, it is important to note that even if you have several of the above risk factors, it doesn’t mean you will definitely develop a phobia of being without your mobile phone. Some people with none of the above risk factors develop nomophobia unexpectedly, whereas someone with several of the above risk factors may never become overly dependent on their mobile phone.
How to deal with nomophobia
Although some people with nomophobia find that the only way to manage their phobia is through medical intervention and formal treatment options, some people find other ways of dealing with their phobia. Coping and calming strategies can be combined with lifestyle changes to help you effectively manage or alleviate your symptoms, reduce the impact your phobia has on your everyday life and overall well-being and reduce the frequency with which your anxiety is triggered.
Some coping and calming strategies are long term and should be implemented regularly or become part of your day-to-day routine. This can reduce the frequency and severity of your phobia symptoms long term and reduce the likelihood that being without your mobile phone will trigger a negative reaction. Other strategies can be implemented short term when you are faced with your triggers. Short-term strategies that are implemented successfully can minimise or prevent any physiological, psychological or behavioural symptoms that you usually experience if you are without your phone and can also prevent a triggering situation from worsening.
Some of the coping and calming strategies that you can implement to help you deal with your nomophobia include:
Gradually reduce your usage
Rather than trying to suddenly be without your mobile phone, you should instead gradually reduce your usage to help you become less dependent on your mobile phone. During this process, you can still keep your mobile phone on your person, but you will try to make positive changes, such as:
- Keep your phone in your pocket instead of in your hand.
- Set a time limit on how much you can use your mobile phone each day.
- Only allow yourself to look at your phone a pre-determined number of times per hour.
- Don’t allow yourself to use your mobile phone at mealtimes or during in-person social events or activities.
By making these gradual changes, you can reduce how much you use your phone each day without triggering your phobia.
Change the way you use your phone
Many people become over-reliant on their mobile phones because their phone has so many uses and responsibilities. Make some changes that utilise other things, so that you are not solely dependent on your mobile phone. For example, start wearing a watch so that you don’t need to check the time on your phone, use an alarm clock so your phone doesn’t wake you up in the morning and buy a wall or desk calendar or a diary, so you don’t need to record important events and reminders on your phone. These small changes can reduce the impact your phone has on your everyday life and reduce your screen time.
Gradually desensitise yourself to being without your phone
You can desensitise yourself so that being without your mobile phone doesn’t trigger a reaction or results in a less severe reaction. This can help to reduce the impact nomophobia has on your everyday life and your well-being. Desensitisation should happen gradually to ensure you feel calm and safe throughout and are not overwhelmed. For example, you could start by putting your phone in your pocket or bag instead of holding it. You could then put it near you, but not within touching distance. By gradually moving farther and farther from your phone or being without it for longer periods of time, you can reduce the anxiety and panic responses you usually experience.
Find a positive balance
Mobile phones are such as big part of people’s lives that it isn’t realistic to expect someone to be without one. However, you should aim to create a more positive balance. For example, focus on increasing your face-to-face contact with others and the amount of time you spend socialising in person. Although you may take your mobile phone to events and activities, try to spend less time using it and more time enjoying the experience.
Create a fear ladder
A fear ladder can help you to analyse and understand your fear of being without your mobile phone. It can also help you to identify which of your triggers creates more anxiety and panic than others. When creating your fear ladder, you will organise your triggers from least severe to most severe. Because phobias are highly individualised, everyone’s fear ladder is different.
However, an example fear ladder is shown below:
- 1 = Leaving your home without your mobile phone.
- 2 = Sitting in your garden without your mobile phone.
- 3 = Being in another room to your phone.
- 4 = Turning off your notifications or putting your phone on silent mode.
- 5 = Sleeping without your phone under your pillow.
- 6 = Sitting on the other side of the room from your phone.
Once you have created your fear ladder, you can then confront your fears one at a time, starting at the bottom of the ladder (the trigger that results in the least phobic response). This can help you to build up your tolerance of your triggers gradually and reduce your fear of being without your phone.
Learn about your phobia
By understanding what initially caused your phobia of being without your mobile phone and the experiences that led up to it, you can gain a deeper understanding of your nomophobia. You can then deal with the root cause of your anxiety, as well as any negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours connected to it. By rationalising and understanding your phobia, you can reduce your automatic fear response, and reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
Find new hobbies
Finding new things you enjoy and other ways to occupy your time can help to distract you from your mobile phone and reduce your dependence on it, particularly if you initially began overusing your phone because of boredom. Starting a new hobby, such as playing a sport or learning an instrument, can be beneficial. You could also start engaging more in activities that you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music or painting. This can help you to use your time in a more healthy and enjoyable way.
Challenge negative thoughts and feelings
If you have nomophobia, you may experience increased anxiety or panic if you realise you cannot use your phone or you think about being without your phone. Avoid escalating your fear by disrupting and challenging negative thoughts and memories. Remind yourself that your fears are disproportionate, the feelings will soon pass, and you are not in any danger.
Practise mindfulness, yoga or meditation
Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are long-term strategies that can help you manage or reduce the impact your phobia has on your life. They teach you how to focus your breathing and manage your stress and anxiety. They can also help you to control your body’s automatic reaction to being without your phone and help you to feel calmer and more in control. You should practise yoga, meditation and mindfulness on a daily basis to help you reduce the negative thoughts, feelings and reactions you may have and help you improve your phobia’s symptoms over time and reduce the impact it has on your life.
Make lifestyle changes
There are multiple lifestyle factors, such as lack of sleep and a poor diet, that can worsen the symptoms of your phobia. Lifestyle changes can reduce the impact your phobia has on your life and help you to manage your symptoms more effectively.
Some lifestyle changes you can make include:
- Implement a successful sleep routine.
- Reduce your daily stress.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Implement an exercise routine.
- Avoid caffeine, sugar and other stimulants.
What triggers nomophobia?
Because nomophobia is an individualised phobia, it can manifest differently in different people. This means there are many potential triggers. The things, places and situations that trigger your phobia can vary from person to person, with some people’s phobia having only one trigger and other people’s having multiple triggers.
The types and number of triggers experienced by different people can vary depending on what initially caused their phobia to develop, their perception of the potential risk, the severity of their symptoms and their current mindset and mental health.
The most common triggers for nomophobia are:
- Physically being without your mobile phone.
- Your mobile phone running out of battery.
- Being without Wi-Fi or cellular network.
- Going to a place or being in a situation where you are expected to be without your phone (such as an examination) or where you are unlikely to have a network (such as on an aeroplane).
- Being unable to feel your phone in your pocket or bag.
- Your phone’s software updating, meaning you are unable to use your phone for several minutes.
- Your favourite applications or websites not working.
- Anticipating or thinking about being without your mobile phone.
- Going to sleep and knowing you will be without your phone.
- Realising your mobile phone is on silent and you may have missed some notifications.
- Someone asking to borrow your phone, even for a few short minutes.
- Losing your phone or having it stolen.
- Your phone charger not working.
What are the symptoms of nomophobia?
Similarly to other phobias, nomophobia is a type of anxiety disorder. This means that many of the symptoms of nomophobia are similar to the symptoms of anxiety. Because a fear of being without your mobile phone occurs on a spectrum, the symptoms of nomophobia can differ significantly from person to person. Some people with nomophobia experience significantly more severe symptoms than others. In fact, some people’s phobia is so severe that they can experience panic attacks if they are without their mobile phone.
The symptoms of nomophobia can also differ in the way they manifest and how frequently they occur. Differences in symptoms can happen for multiple reasons, including the acuteness of your phobia, the initial cause of your phobia, your triggers, your perceived risk of the threat of danger in the situation and your current mental and emotional well-being.
The symptoms of nomophobia can occur at any time, including when you are without your mobile phone or when you think about being without your phone. The symptoms of a phobia are often automatic and uncontrollable. It may feel like you are unable to control or manage your thoughts or feelings and that your phobia is taking over your body.
Although different people experience different symptoms, the most common symptoms of nomophobia include:
- Constantly checking your phone, even if you have had no notifications.
- Becoming detached from real life and only focusing on the online world.
- Being unable to turn off your phone.
- Feeling like you need to charge your phone, even if the battery isn’t low.
- Being unable to go anywhere without your phone, including in your own home.
- Repeatedly checking your pockets or bag to make sure you have your phone with you.
- Checking that a place has Wi-Fi or a good cellular network before you go there.
- Missing social or professional events in order to spend time on your phone.
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends.
- Refusing to leave your home in case your phone runs out of battery.
- Using your phone, even in inappropriate places and situations, such as places of worship, theatres and hospitals.
- Feeling anxious, stressed or panicked if you can’t find your phone.
- Feeling anxious, stressed or panicked if you are unable to update your social media or keep up with your online presence.
- Feelings of fear, anxiety or panic that are out of proportion to the risks.
- Being unable to control your fear, anxiety or panic even if you are aware that they are out of proportion to the risk.
- Anticipatory anxiety in the lead-up to situations where you may be without your phone.
- Being unable to sleep in case your phone dies or you miss something online.
- Feeling like you are losing control.
- Difficulties functioning normally or concentrating without your phone.
- Feeling like you are in danger or having an impending sense of doom.
As well as behavioural, psychological and cognitive symptoms, some people with nomophobia also experience physical symptoms. This is because the anxiety, stress, fear and panic you may be feeling trigger the fight-or-flight response, which prepares you to defend yourself or run away from danger. Your sympathetic nervous system will also be activated which results in the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
This can then result in physical symptoms, such as:
- Increased heart rate or feeling like your heart is pounding.
- Rapid breathing, hyperventilating or difficulty breathing.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Feeling like you can’t catch your breath.
- Shaking or trembling.
- Stomach pain, nausea or vomiting.
- Feeling like you have butterflies in your stomach.
- Headaches or other pains.
- Pins and needles.
- Sweating, clamminess or chills.
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed.
- Feeling confused or disoriented.
- Chest pain or a tightening in your chest.
- Feeling unusually tired or fatigued.
- A dry or sticky mouth.
- Muscle tension or stiff muscles.
- Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
- Having a panic attack.
What causes nomophobia?
There are many possible potential causes of nomophobia. The anxiety and panic people experience in relation to their mobile phones can be caused by many different things and, in some cases, multiple factors can contribute to someone developing nomophobia.
Some people can identify one clear cause of their nomophobia, whereas other people cannot identify what initially caused their symptoms or may not recall exactly when their negative thoughts and feelings began, particularly if they developed nomophobia a long time ago or their symptoms developed gradually over time.
Determining the root cause of your nomophobia and what initially triggered your symptoms can be extremely helpful, as it can help you to understand and address any negative patterns of thought and negative feelings that are connected to the original onset of your phobia. This can make it easier for you to deal with your phobia and manage your symptoms.
The causes of nomophobia are usually environmental, psychological or social.
The most common causes of nomophobia are:
Having difficulties maintaining relationships
This is one of the most common causes of nomophobia and many people with the phobia report having few meaningful real-world relationships. It could be that the individual has difficulties connecting with other people, making friends or maintaining their existing relationships. Creating relationships online can feel less daunting and people may be less fearful of rejection. People can also become so reliant on their online relationships that they fear being away from their phones in case they miss something, or they cannot talk to their online friends.
Having low self-esteem or low confidence
Mobile phones can allow someone to receive approval, reassurance, praise or compliments from people they know or strangers online. For example, if you post a picture on social media that receives a lot of ‘likes’ and positive comments or if a post or comment you make on a site such as Reddit receives a lot of ‘upvotes’ this can artificially raise your self-esteem and confidence. People can then become reliant or obsessed with the online world as a way of validating themselves, which can contribute to them developing nomophobia.
Using your mobile phone excessively
People who use their mobile phones for more than a few hours a day are more likely to develop nomophobia. Whether they are using their phones for work, socialisation or fun, overuse can result in someone becoming dependent on or obsessed with their mobile phone. They may feel like they cannot function without their mobile phone or are unable to carry out their everyday activities. Nomophobia is often compared to addiction and some people believe it’s a type of addiction. This dependence can be restrictive and stressful and can result in nomophobia.
A traumatic, negative or scary experience involving being without your phone
This is also known as traumatic conditioning or a direct learning experience. It can occur even if there was no real danger or risk involved, as long as the individual experiences a significant amount of fear, distress, panic or trauma. The type of negative experience that could result in someone developing nomophobia are you or someone else having a medical emergency and being unable to call an ambulance, feeling threatened or in danger and being unable to call for help, and losing out on something essential or important (such as a job offer) because you were unable to answer a phone call. Following the negative experience, you may begin to have intrusive and negative thoughts or memories of the trauma and become obsessed with having your mobile phone available. This can cause the fear or anxiety you felt at the time of the experience to linger or worsen and can lead to you developing a phobia.
Overreliance on your phone
With the advancement of technology and the plethora of mobile applications and websites, it can be easy to become reliant on your phone. Mobile phones are used for socialising, working, conducting business, entertainment, gaming, watching TV, listening to music, and planning your life – the list is endless. It’s understandable why some people become reliant on their mobile phones, especially as they are used for so many important or enjoyable tasks and are useful in an emergency. Being without their mobile phone can make someone feel nervous, isolated or bored and this can result in them avoiding being without their phone in the future.
Often, fear rumination happens following a negative, scary or traumatic experience that occurred when you were without your mobile phone or when your mobile phone would’ve prevented the incident from occurring. Repetitive and negative thought processes and the recapitulation of traumatic, scary or negative experiences can become increasingly disturbing and intrusive over time, making you recall the experience as worse than it was in reality. Fear rumination reinforces your natural fear responses, creates additional anxiety and can result in you developing nomophobia.
A learned phobia
A learned phobia, also known as an observational learning experience, can cause someone to develop nomophobia because they observed or experienced nomophobia in another person or experienced someone close to them being over-reliant or obsessed with their mobile phone and began to mimic or internalise their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. If you experience nomophobia in another person, particularly during childhood or adolescence, you are more likely to develop nomophobia yourself.
Experiencing significant or unusual stress or having higher-than-usual stress levels
Significant, long-term stress can result in a disproportionate fear response or an inability to manage intense situations. This can make it more likely that you will develop an anxiety disorder, such as nomophobia, particularly if you have a negative experience involving being without your mobile phone or are exposed to someone with nomophobia while experiencing higher levels of stress. A stressful or distressing event, such as a death, can also trigger a phobia, as someone may be less able to manage their emotions and thought processes when experiencing grief, and this can result in a disproportionate fear response.
How is nomophobia diagnosed?
Because nomophobia is not an officially recognised medical condition, the diagnostic journey may differ from other phobias. Your negative thoughts and feelings relating to being without your mobile phone may be assessed under the diagnostic umbrella for specific phobias or for anxiety disorders.
If you have symptoms that are consistent with nomophobia, you should first make an appointment with your GP. During your appointment, your GP will ask for detailed information about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour surrounding your mobile phone and the symptoms of your (potential) phobia.
They will likely ask you questions about:
- The symptoms you experience, including what your symptoms are, how frequently they occur and how severe they are.
- The initial onset of your fear, including when your symptoms first began and what initially triggered your fear of being without your mobile phone.
- Your medical history, including whether you are currently or have previously had any anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias or other mental health conditions.
- Any medication or supplements you take (to ensure that your symptoms cannot be attributed to another source).
- Whether you have a family history of phobias or anxiety disorders.
- How much your fear interferes with your day-to-day life, your well-being and your behaviour.
Your GP may then refer you to a psychologist. The psychologist may conduct a phobia questionnaire to enable them to gain more insight into your fear. Because your nomophobia will likely be assessed as a specific phobia, to achieve a diagnosis, your symptoms will need to correspond to the seven key criteria as listed in the diagnostic criteria for specific phobias:
1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. It can occur either when the individual is without their mobile phone or at other times (e.g. when they are thinking of being without their phone).
2. Being without your mobile phone leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.
3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.
4. The individual avoids places or situations where they could be without their mobile phone.
5. The anticipation of being without their mobile phone and the avoidance behaviours associated with avoiding this can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.
6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.
7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.
If your symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria above, you will likely receive a diagnosis of a specific phobia, specifically nomophobia.
How is nomophobia treated?
Similarly to other phobias, there are multiple effective treatment options for nomophobia. However, not everyone with nomophobia will require medication intervention or treatment. If your symptoms are mild, don’t impact your daily life or well-being or you have already implemented successful strategies, treatment may not be required. However, you should always consult your doctor before making any decisions about treatment.
Nomophobia is a highly treatable phobia, and many people will find official treatment to be effective in treating their negative thoughts and feelings. If your fear of being without your mobile phone is triggered frequently, if your fear results in avoidance behaviours or if your fear impacts your daily life or changes your behaviour, treatment will likely be recommended.
Because multiple treatment options are available, your doctor will create a personalised treatment plan that is based on your specific phobia. Your treatment plan will be designed to treat the root cause of your phobia, your symptoms and any negative thought patterns, feelings and behaviours that are connected to your phobia.
Your treatment plan will be based on multiple factors, such as:
- The severity of your symptoms.
- The frequency of your symptoms.
- The root cause of your phobia.
- How significantly your phobia impacts your life.
- Your overall health and well-being, including your mental health.
The most common treatment options for nomophobia are:
Sometimes known as systematic desensitisation, exposure therapy is designed to change or reduce your fear and anxiety responses by repeatedly exposing you to your triggers in a safe and controlled environment. This will include gradually getting used to being without your phone until you are able to be without your phone without experiencing an anxiety response. Exposure therapy will take place over multiple sessions, with the number of sessions you require being dependent on how severe your nomophobia is.
Your sessions will include visualising and talking about your fear and being in triggering situations. Your sessions will involve escalating phases, where you will gradually build up your exposure, with each exposure resulting in progressively lower anxiety and panic. You should eventually be able to build up to the most anxiety-provoking situations without experiencing a negative response.
An example of how the exposure phases will look is:
- 1. Having your phone on your person but not checking it for a pre-determined amount of time.
- 2. Your phone being in the same room as you but not close to you.
- 3. Your phone being in the room next door.
- 4. Sitting in your garden or outside your home and leaving your phone indoors.
- 5. Going to the shop without your phone.
- 6. Spending a longer period of time out of your home without your phone.
Exposure therapy allows you to create realistic thought patterns surrounding your mobile phone and unlearn any negative thoughts, feelings or reactions you experience when you are without your mobile phone. You will also learn some coping and calming strategies to help you manage any triggering situations in the future.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of psychotherapy commonly known as talk therapy. It allows you to address any negative or irrational thought patterns that result in negative behaviours or negative feelings. The aim is to identify the underlying cause of your nomophobia and deconstruct negative thought patterns which can be addressed individually.
For example, you may individually address your fear that you could miss out if you don’t have your phone, that you will encounter an emergency situation and be unable to call for help and that you will miss a work appointment if you do not have your phone. Addressing each fear individually allows you to reduce or eliminate the fear, anxiety or panic you feel when you are without your mobile phone.
During your CBT sessions you may:
- Discuss your triggers and symptoms.
- Explore what caused your fear of being without your mobile phone.
- Learn how to recognise your negative thoughts and change the way you are thinking.
- Learn coping strategies and calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques and coping statements.
Clinical hypnotherapy can be useful in treating a variety of anxiety disorders and phobias, including nomophobia. During the sessions, you will be placed into a deeply relaxed state using a combination of guided relaxation and focused attention. You will then discuss your negative thoughts and feelings and identify any particular negative thought patterns, memories, feelings or behaviours that contribute to your phobia.
This can help you to gain a better understanding of your phobia and repattern your negative thoughts. You will also be taught some calming strategies to help you manage your symptoms effectively in the future.
Medication is not usually prescribed as the sole treatment option for nomophobia. However, if you also experience anxiety or another mental health difficulty alongside nomophobia, medication may be recommended. In this situation, you will likely still be offered another form of treatment, such as CBT or exposure therapy, to treat the underlying causes and symptoms of your phobia.
The types of medication you could be prescribed include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Anti-anxiety medication.