Nomophobia is the marked anxiety or fear of being without a mobile phone or being unable to see a mobile phone, or losing network or internet connectivity.
The term Nomophobia includes: “no”, “mo” and “phobia”. It was given by a UK based Organization in 2008. It is expanded as no-mobile-phone- phobia. In their research, they have found that 53% of the individuals were getting anxious when they were away from their mobile phones or when they lost the network.
A phobia is by definition an extreme, persistent and irrational fear of specific objects or situations. Phobias are one of the common anxiety disorders.
There is an ongoing debate among researchers regarding whether to include the symptoms due to mobile phone in the anxiety disorders or addictive disorders and most researchers classify it as a non-substance addiction.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was the first person to get the patent for a device which could perfectly replicate the human voice. And in the early 19th century, landline phones became very popular in the general population in USA. At that time the cost was high and only a selective population was able to access the facility.
The first handheld mobile phone was demonstrated by Motorola Company in 1973. It took 10 years for the companies to reach the general population. In India, mobile phones were launched in the year 1995 for the first time. Initially, only calling facility was provided by telecom operators. Gradually, operators began to provide SMS services.
A Taiwan based company; HTC launched the first smartphone in India in 2009. Subsequently, mobile phone use started to increase. After 2009, the mobile phone was not just a mobile phone. It had basic facilities and in addition, had camera, music, videos, and internet access.
Use of mobile phones in India increased tremendously after the launch of 4G. There was no more buffering while watching videos, no more delay in online gaming and Internet surfing became extremely fast.
The internet, which was used by people for 1 to 2 hours in a week is now constantly in their hands in the form of mobile phones. Now, there is no more requirement to find time and go to internet cafes. People have started staying online 24 hours nearly everyday. The need to check social media, posting photos and comments, waiting for replies and likes also started to increase. Many adolescents and young users reported symptoms of anxiety and sleeplessness when they didn't get enough likes as per their expectations on their posts.
This journey from landline phones to smartphones with fast internet connections depicts the journey of nomophobia or mobile phone addiction.
Let us understand some of the common features as signs of Nomophobia;
It is the strong desire to use the mobile phone for various purposes like talking, messaging, social media and gaming. The individual finds it difficult to restrict the use but gets dragged into the whirlpool of compulsive mobile phone use every time.
Difficulty in controlling the use of mobile phone occurs in terms of starting or terminating its use. The individual may say “I will use my phone after college and only for 1-2 hours” but he may start using it before college hours get over and may end up using mobile phone for 7-8 hours daily. This shows the difficulty in controlling the initiation and duration of mobile phone use.
It is the need of using the mobile phone more and more to get the desired effect or feeling of well-being. It represents the gradual increase in the time spent and data spent on mobile phone. For example earlier 1GB of data was sufficient for 15 days and now it gets exhausted in 2-3 days. Moreover, there is an increase in the time spent from 2 hours per day to 7-8 hours per day points, which points towards lack of tolerance.
It is a progressive neglect of regular pleasurable activities with a desire to use mobile phone excessively. The individual with excessive mobile phone use may neglect the regular pleasurable activities like playing, going out with friends, even when he may not find it pleasurable any more.
There occurs a psychological withdrawal state in an individual when he/she is away from the mobile phone and not getting network or Internet accessibility. This forms the basis for the term, Nomophobia as it explains the symptoms of anxiety, palpitations, sweating and tremors when an individual is away from the mobile phone and gets relieved when he/she gets back the phone.
6.Ignorance about harm
The individual ignores the harm caused by excessive mobile phone use like strain on eyes, sleeplessness, pain in neck and expenditure on mobile phone and internet packages.
The extensive and continuous use of mobile phone may lead to impaired functioning in personal life since the excessive time spent with mobile phone may cause him to give less time to studies, work and relationships, although the individual may not realize it initially.
Other symptoms like checking the mobile phone repeatedly even without receiving any call or messages, not being able to wait to see a message when the phone rings even if the individual tries to wait and also the continuous thoughts and preoccupation about using a mobile phone while in situations like driving, meeting, studying or even bathing causes them a lot of anxiety and distress.
It was found in the surveys in USA that 67% of the people who owned mobile phones looked at their mobile phone repeatedly even when it didn't ring. A study conducted in India on an adolescent population found excessive mobile phone use in 50% of them, which was leading to a decline in their academic performance. Out of this population, 60% of the individuals complained about anxiety, restlessness and palpitations when they were not able to access their mobile phones.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, which aims at improving the maladaptive patterns of behavior related to mobile phone use. It starts with understanding the pattern of use and factors leading to anxiety. The therapist works with the client to find maladaptive thoughts about the mobile phone which leads to anxiety. The therapist and client then work together to develop healthy cognitions and schemas.
2.12 step programme
It is based on the principles of alcoholic anonymous. Various groups like internet anonymous and gadgets anonymous aim to deal with the effects of nomophobia, but in India any such group doesn’t exist.
Escitalopram and Buprenorphine were tried in the patients with excessive internet use and mobile phone use. One study showed reduction in the time duration of use. In few subjects the anxiety symptoms came down for a brief period. The studies were limited by their sample size, hence in the present time no definite medicinal treatment exist for nomophobia.
4.Yoga and Meditation
Yoga is not only about posture- it also consists of breathing techniques and meditation. The meditation and sudarshan kriya yoga (SKY) was used in alcohol use disorders and subjects reported reduced craving. When the patients with anxiety disorders continued medication and SKY, their anxiety levels came down. Subsequently, when individuals with excess mobile phone use followed yoga and meditation they found relief in their anxiety and reduced number of hours of mobile phone use. Thus, it can be effectively used with anxiety and addiction related problems.
It was found in previous studies that the people with excessive mobile phone use or anxiety related to mobile phone may have other underlying disorders. The most common is depressive disorders and anxiety disorders followed by hyperactivity and inattention disorders or substance use disorders. This is one of the reasons to do a thorough psychiatric assessment of individuals, in case of detection of nomophobia or mobile phone addiction.
6.Home based Techniques
- Using applications to check mobile phone use- there are various applications available on the android and the IOS platform like “Stay Focused” or “Your Hour” which help the users to control their mobile phone use. They selectively block the apps like “whats App” or “Facebook” on which people spend a lot of time.
- Creating a fixed schedule- making a fixed schedule with fixed hours of use. It may help with a strong dedication.
- Thinking before every use- this works well when excess use is there in form of repeated and continuous watching videos on YouTube, Netflix etc. the steps involved are-
*Before opening the application thinking about which video to be watched.
*While watching the videos not to select the other suggested videos.
Nomophobia and mobile phone addiction are huge concerns in the present scenario. It not only effects the adolescents but as well as adults and may lead to deterioration in functioning. In case of any such issues, there is a definitive need for treatment and the above mentioned treatments have proven to be beneficial.
Let us not just turn off the alarm, It is time we wake up into the real world and not the virtual!!!