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Nomophobia: Definition, causes, symptoms, and risk factors

Reading time: 17 mins
Nomophobia: Definition, causes, symptoms, and risk factors

Nomophobia, coined from the combination “no-mobile-phone-phobia,” is a contemporary term that describes the irrational fear or anxiety of being without a mobile phone or unable to use it. 

The causes of nomophobia are low self-esteem or low confidence, fear of isolation or loneliness, negative event without access to a phone , learned phobia, tech reliance, the fear of missing out (FOMO), safety concerns, integrating mobile phones into one’s digital identity, and conditioned behavioral responses to phone notifications. 

The symptoms of nomophobia include anxiety, panic attack and agitation when the phone is not in one’s possession, physical symptoms like trembling, sweating, tachycardia and disorientation when without the phone, and a persistent need to have the phone within reach at all times. These symptoms are often driven by a deep-seated fear of disconnection, isolation, or the inability to communicate and access information, aligning with the concept of nomophobia.

Nomophobia is treated through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals identify and manage the irrational thoughts and behaviors associated with their phone dependency. Additionally, practicing adolescent-centered mindfulness, emotion-focused and exposure therapy techniques can mitigate anxiety related to smartphone separation. Engaging in self-help practices, which may include physical exercise, meditation, hobbies, etc., can enhance emotional resilience, reduce anxiety, and alleviate the severity of nomophobia symptoms. Medications for anxiety and depression can be helpful in addressing severe symptoms  of nomophobia.

What is nomophobia?

Nomophobia is a psychological condition in which individuals experience a fear of being disconnected from mobile phones or are unable to use them. According to the 2019 issue of the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, titled “NOMOPHOBIA: NO MObile PHone PhoBIA”, this term is rooted in the definitions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) and is categorized as a specific phobia associated with a fear of detachment from specific things or objects. 

According to the Wikipedia archives, the term “nomophobia” was first introduced in a 2008 study conducted by the United Kingdom Post Office in collaboration with YouGov (a UK-based research organization). This study aimed to assess the anxieties that mobile phone users experience.

Currently, DSM-V does not classify nomophobia as a recognized disorder. Depending on the symptoms and manifestations, this form of mental condition may meet the criteria for situation-specific phobia. Specific phobia is characterized by irrational and excessive fear and an exaggerated fear response that is inappropriate to the actual threat.

Nevertheless, scholars have consistently advocated for its inclusion in the DSM-V, positing that this would offer clinicians a valuable diagnostic tool and stimulate progress in the field, as claimed in the 2014 issue of Psychology Research and Behavior Management, titled “A proposal for including nomophobia in the new DSM-V.”.

What is the other term for nomophobia?

A woman in yellow top using phone and smiling.

The other term for nomophobia is phone addiction. According to the 2023 article of the Addiction Center, “Phone Addiction: Warning Signs And Treatment,” phone addiction is the obsessive use of a smartphone, commonly referred to as nomophobia. Like phone addicts, nomophobes prefer virtual interactions and avoid face-to-face social interactions. Therefore, they keep their mobile devices close to them even during sleep patterns, ensuring they stay operational and accessible at all times.

It is noteworthy to point out that the phenomenon of mobile phone behavioral addiction has gone by a number of names, including mobile phone dependence, mobile phone problematic use, problem cell phone use, mobile phone abuse, and nomophobia, according to the 2015 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research under the title “Prevalence of Mobile Phone Dependence in Secondary School Adolescents.

How common is nomophobia?

Nomophobia is very common, with a global prevalence estimated at approximately 70.76% for moderate and 20.81% for severe cases, as stated by the 2021 study titled “The Prevalence of Nomophobia by Population and by Research Tool: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Meta-Regression”, published by MDPI in the Psych journal. 

The reported prevalence of nomophobia indicated that the number of people “at risk” of experiencing it ranges from 13% to 79%, while those who actually suffer from it range from 6% to 73%. The results obtained in the study on nomophobia showed that the prevalence of intermediate cases exceeded that of severe cases. Nonetheless, females and younger age groups appear more prone to developing nomophobia than older people.

The 2022 spring issue of HETS Online Journal revealed unexpected findings about smartphone dependence in a survey titled “Nomophobia in Adolescence,” conducted in 2017 by Los Nomos. The findings showed that 16% of students spent over 7 hours daily on their phones, and 32% frequently checked for notifications, even without receiving any. 

About 32% were strongly reliant on their phones, with another 26% feeling occasional dependence. Half faced family issues due to their phone usage, 13% had classroom conflicts, and 11% experienced friendship strains. Health-wise, 57% reported eye discomfort, 10% experienced hand joint pain and headaches, and 66% occasionally sacrificed sleep for phone use. Approximately 27.46% showed signs of nomophobia, highlighting the growing concern about smartphone addiction.

Are there specific events that can trigger nomophobia in individuals?

A woman looking at her phone anxiously.

Yes, specific events can trigger nomophobia in individuals, such as disconnection from the virtual environment, a dead battery, and a lack of Wi-Fi or cellular signal. When individuals find themselves physically separated from their mobile phones, they often experience isolation and anxiety.

Even the thought of being without a mobile phone, especially for an extended period, can trigger anticipatory anxiety in individuals dependent on their devices. This demonstrates the psychological impact of nomophobia and how the fear of separation can manifest in various situations.

What are the causes of nomophobia?

The causes of nomophobia are listed below.

  • Low self-esteem or low confidence: When individuals have low self-esteem or low confidence in their abilities, they often seek external validation and reassurance from others through activities like social media interactions. They rely on positive feedback to boost their self-esteem. However, this reliance on digital social reassurance can become addictive, leading to heightened anxiety and distress when separated from their smartphones, ultimately causing nomophobia.
  • Fear of isolation or loneliness: Individuals who experience this fear often rely on their smartphones as a means to stay connected with others and access social reassurance. The constant need for social validation and interaction through their phones can lead to excessive smartphone use. When separated from their devices or unable to maintain this connectivity, they may experience anxiety and distress, which are characteristic of nomophobia. Essentially, the fear of isolation drives people to depend on their smartphones excessively, making them more susceptible to nomophobia.
  • Tech reliance: Tech dependency can cause nomophobia as individuals become increasingly dependent on their digital devices for practical and emotional reasons. This reliance fosters a deep-seated fear of being without their phones, as they perceive these devices as tools and sources of constant connection, information, and reassurance.
  • Learned phobia: Nomophobia can be triggered by a learned phobia, often stemming from observing someone else’s excessive reliance on a mobile phone. This observational learning experience occurs when an individual witnesses another person exhibiting nomophobia-related behaviors. Subconsciously, they may start to imitate the associated thoughts, emotions, and actions. Consequently, this learned phobia can pave the way for the development of nomophobia in the observer.
  • Negative experience in the past:  Experiencing a past negative event without access to a phone can lead to nomophobia through traumatic conditioning or direct learning. This happens when individuals encounter significant fear, distress, panic, or trauma, even when there’s no immediate danger. If someone faced a medical emergency without the ability to call for help, felt threatened without communication, or missed a crucial opportunity because of the unavailability of a phone, it can trigger this conditioning. Following such an event, intrusive and negative thoughts or memories linked to the trauma may surface, causing an obsession with having a mobile phone nearby. This obsession can prolong or intensify the fear and anxiety initially experienced during the traumatic event, ultimately leading to the development of nomophobia.
  • FOMO: FOMO can cause nomophobia, as the constant fear of missing out on important social events or information through mobile devices can lead to heightened attachment and anxiety surrounding one’s phone, ultimately contributing to the development and exacerbation of nomophobia.
  • Safety concerns: Many consider their mobile phones to be a safety net, as they can be used in emergencies or to navigate unfamiliar areas. Without it, some individuals may feel vulnerable.
  • Digital identity: Digital identity can cause nomophobia as individuals often view their mobile phones and the apps they use as extensions of themselves, serving as vehicles for self-expression. Losing access to a mobile phone can lead individuals to perceive a loss of personal identity.
  • Conditioned behavior: Conditioned behavior can cause nomophobia as individuals develop habitual responses to phone notifications and emotional attachments to mobile devices, and in the absence of these stimuli, it triggers apprehension and anxiety.

What are the medical conditions that cause nomophobia?

The medical conditions that can cause nomophobia are generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, depression, post-traumatic stress, and smartphone addiction. The fear of not having one’s phone stems from a perceived loss of connectivity, security, or coping mechanisms provided by the mobile phone, and it can vary in intensity among individuals. 

According to the findings of the 2021 study “Nomophobia in Lebanon: Scale validation and association with psychological aspects”, published in PLoS ONE, individuals who engage in excessive mobile phone use are more likely to encounter episodes of anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, impulsivity when they find themselves in areas with limited network coverage or when their phones run out of battery or credit.

Another study published in the Indian psychiatry journal in 2019, titled “Nomophobia and its relationship with depression, anxiety, and quality of life in adolescents”, highlighted that more than half of the adolescents in the research expressed anxiety and worry about being without their phones. Moreover, comorbid conditions like depression, substance abuse, and behavioral addiction disorders were reported alongside nomophobia. Additionally, excessive mobile phone use was associated with internet addiction and various health complaints among adolescents.

What are the symptoms of nomophobia?

A woman fighting with her husband for phone.

The symptoms of nomophobia are listed below.

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in breathing
  • Trembling
  • Panic attack
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Tachycardia

1. Anxiety

Anxiety is a multifaceted psychological condition defined by uneasiness, concern, fear, or worry. Anxiety becomes a symptom of nomophobia because the fear of being without one’s mobile phone or unable to use it can trigger a range of anxious responses and emotions. This anxiety results from the profound reliance and attachment that people have developed to their smartphones, which have become integral to their daily lives.

The 2019 study published in the Indian psychiatry journal “Nomophobia and its relationship with depression, anxiety, and quality of life in adolescents” highlighted a strong correlation between nomophobia and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. According to an expert investigation, 77% of adolescents expressed anxiety and concerns when separated from their phones. Excessive phone use raised various health complaints among the researched teenagers, adversely affecting interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and overall achievement.

One can identify anxiety as a symptom of nomophobia when individuals exhibit heightened nervousness, restlessness, or distress when separated from their mobile phones, and they express an overwhelming fear or worry about being without their device, which negatively impacts their daily life and functioning.

2. Changes in breathing

Changes in breathing refer to alterations in the rate, rhythm, depth, or quality of breaths. Numerous factors, including emotional states, physical conditions, environmental factors, and specific medical conditions, can affect these changes in breathing.

Nomophobia can cause breathing alterations as it triggers a range of physiological responses in the body due to heightened worry, anxiety, and stress. This is defined as a physiological reaction that the body initiates in response to the perception of an adverse event or danger.

In 2014, Slavoljub Zivanovic conducted a study titled “Panic Attack in the Outpatient Clinic of Emergency Medical Services in Belgrade” on panic attacks, their frequency, and treatment in patients. According to the findings, the most prominent symptoms of panic attacks were respiratory in nature. This suggests that individuals experiencing panic attacks typically experience breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath, accelerated respiration, or hyperventilation.

3. Trembling

One hand holding other trembling hand with glass of water.

Trembling is the involuntary, rhythmic, and oscillatory movement of the body. It often arises due to the contraction and subsequent relaxation of muscular structures. Trembling may manifest as a typical physiological reaction to heightened emotional states, such as fear, worry, or excitement, as well as a symptom of diverse medical conditions, including nomophobia. 

If trembling occurs specifically when individuals are separated from their phones, have a low battery, or are in an area without network coverage, it is a clear signal that the individual is experiencing nomophobic symptoms.

4. Panic attack

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety that causes severe physical reactions without any evident danger or cause. These attacks can be highly alarming and abrupt. 

The 2014 study by King ALS et al. titled “Nomophobia: Impact of cell phone use interfering with symptoms and emotions of individuals with panic disorder compared with a control group,” published in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, suggested that individuals with nomophobia exhibit significant emotional alterations when they are separated from or unable to use their mobile phones. 

The absence of these devices can cause distress and restlessness in individuals with anxiety disorders. Specifically, for those with panic disorder (PD) and agoraphobia, the mobile phone may act as a safety signal, providing them a sense of security. When this safety signal is absent, it can trigger anxiety and potentially lead to a panic attack.

To identify a panic attack as one of the symptoms of nomophobia, one should watch for sudden and intense feelings of fear or anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, and trembling, specifically triggered by the absence or unavailability of a mobile phone. These panic attacks often subside once the phone is accessible or when reassurance is provided through it.

5. Sweating

Sweating, scientifically called perspiration, is releasing a salty solution from the body’s sweat glands. Physical activity, high temperatures, emotional stress, particular foods, and medical conditions are just a few factors that can cause sweating.

When a person with nomophobia is physically far from their mobile device or unable to use it, they may encounter feelings of worry or distress. The human body exhibits a natural physiological reaction to worry and stress known as the “fight or flight” response. This response encompasses a range of physiological alterations, such as heightened heart rate, accelerated breathing, and increased sweating.

6. Agitation

An agitated woman

Agitation is a psychological condition characterized by restlessness, excitement, or impatience. It can manifest physically and psychologically. From a physical standpoint, individuals may engage in pacing, hand-wringing, or be unable to sit still. Mentally, individuals may experience heightened emotional distress, impaired concentration, or heightened sensitivity to little things. Agitation may be a symptom of many different diseases, such as anxiety, depression, and a fear of being alone.

Agitation is considered a sign of nomophobia due to the emotional and psychological dependence on mobile gadgets.  The brain gets used to the constant stimulation and feedback from the phone, and when it is taken away or interrupted, the brain can react with feelings of anxiety and discomfort, leading to agitation.

7. Disorientation

Disorientation is a psychological condition characterized by an individual’s perception of a diminished sense of orientation, temporal awareness, or personal identity. It is a cognitive impairment where the person may not know where they are, what time it is, or sometimes even who they are. Disorientation can be either transient or persistent, resulting from various things, including medical conditions, medications, trauma, or psychological factors.

Individuals who have developed a habitual tendency to use their mobile devices for tracking time, navigation, or information updates may experience a sense of disorientation or uncertainty when unexpectedly separated from these devices, leading to a temporary state of confusion over their subsequent actions. The abrupt transition could cause confusion, as individuals may find themselves uncertain about how to navigate their environment or manage their daily routines without their electronic gadgets.

8. Tachycardia

Tachycardia is a medical term that describes a condition where the heart rate exceeds the typical resting rate. In adults, tachycardia is generally considered to be a resting heart rate of over 100 beats per minute (bpm). Various factors, including fever, anemia, electrolyte imbalances, and heart-related issues, can cause this condition.

The release of stress hormones like adrenaline mediates the “fight or flight” reaction, which is the body’s response to stress or fear. This reaction prepares the body to either face a threat (“fight”) or flee away from it (“flight”). One of the effects of this reaction is an increased heart rate, which helps pump more blood to vital organs and muscles. In the case of nomophobia, the perceived “threat” is the absence or unavailability of the mobile phone, leading to anxiety and, subsequently, tachycardia.

When do nomophobia symptoms usually occur?

A woman with curly hair looking at her phone.

Nomophobia symptoms usually occur when individuals reliant on their mobile phones experience anxiety, restlessness, and panic when they are separated from or unable to use them. This phenomenon often occurs in areas with poor network coverage and low batteries or during activities that require turning off or leaving their phones behind.

The frequency and manifestation of nomophobia symptoms can vary significantly. These differences may arise due to various factors, including the intensity of the individual’s phobia, its initial cause, triggers, the perceived level of threat or danger in specific situations, and the person’s emotional and mental state, as discussed in the 2023 CPD Online College press article titled “What is Nomophobia?” by Nicole Murphy. The paper indicates that nomophobia symptoms can manifest unpredictably, occurring both when a person is physically separated from his mobile phone and when he simply contemplates being without it. Phobia symptoms tend to be involuntary and automatic, often giving the impression that one has little control over his thoughts and emotions, as if your phobia is exerting a dominant influence over one’s physical and mental well-being.

How is nomophobia diagnosed?

Nomophobia is diagnosed based on an individual’s psychological and behavioral reaction to their mobile phone’s absence or unavailability. Typically, clinical interviews, self-report questionnaires, and behavioral observations are used to make the diagnosis.

In a 2019 study titled “NOMOPHOBIA: NO MObile PHone PhoBIA,” published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, researchers proposed using validated psychometric scales for diagnosing nomophobia. The “Questionnaire of Dependence on Mobile Phone/Test of Mobile Phone Dependence (QDMP/TMPD)” scale is widely recognized and employed among these scales.

Iowa State University (ISU) researchers have developed a questionnaire designed to help diagnose nomophobia. The ISU researchers conducted a study in 2015 titled “Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire”, which was published in Computers in Human Behavior journal. The study involved 301 university students to assess the validity of the questionnaire and look into the phenomenon of nomophobia and its associated effects.

The findings indicated that the 20 statements included in the survey demonstrated high reliability in assessing the diverse levels of nomophobia.

What are the available treatments for nomophobia?

The treatments for nomophobia are listed below.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy: CBT is a therapy that restructures cognitive and behavioral problems in nomophobic individuals. It assists individuals in comprehending their beliefs and behavior patterns and then modifies these ideas, resulting in positive changes in their thoughts, emotions, and actions. The previously mentioned 2019 research, “NOMOPHOBIA: NO MObile PHone PhoBIA,” indicated that CBT has shown positive results in combination with pharmaceutical therapies.
  • Adolescent-centered mindfulness therapy: This therapy draws attention to mindfulness to modify cognitive processes, promote emotional stability, and enhance dynamic control among adolescents with nomophobia. The findings from the 2019 research “Comparing the Effectiveness of Adolescent Centered Mindfulness with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Emotion-Focused Therapy on Emotion Regulation among Adolescents Girl with Nomo-Phobia,published in the Journal of Health Promotion Management, have shown that the implementation of adolescent-centered mindfulness therapy has a potential to mitigate nomophobic symptoms among female adolescents.
  • Emotion-focused therapy: Emotion-focused therapy implements an emotional approach as a foundation for self-construction and focuses on assisting individuals in becoming aware of, accepting, and comprehending their emotional experiences. This therapy is recommended as an alternative therapy to help nomophobes regulate their emotions.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a therapeutic approach used to treat anxiety disorders, including nomophobia. It involves gradually and systematically exposing individuals to their feared or anxiety-provoking situations or objects in a controlled and therapeutic manner. The goal of exposure therapy is to reduce the person’s anxiety response over time through repeated exposure, allowing them to better manage their fears.
  • Self-help: Self-help refers to intentional actions and practices that individuals engage in to promote their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It encompasses various activities like exercise, meditation, spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. While self-care itself doesn’t directly treat nomophobia, it can be an effective strategy for managing nomophobia symptoms. Engaging in self-care activities can help individuals reduce anxiety, enhance their overall well-being, and establish healthier relationships with their mobile devices.
  • Medications: In severe cases of nomophobia, individuals may receive prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants by their psychiatrists, although there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medication specifically designed to treat nomophobia. Commonly used medications in these cases include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil which are primarily intended for managing anxiety and depression. Beta blockers can help mitigate physical symptoms like dizziness or rapid heartbeat. Typically, it’s not recommended to rely solely on medication for treating nomophobia. Instead, medication may be employed for a limited duration to alleviate severe symptoms while individuals simultaneously learn coping strategies in therapy.

How to prevent nomophobia?

Preventing nomophobia requires a conscious effort to establish a healthy balance between the online and offline worlds. The steps an individual should undergo to prevent nomophobia are listed below.

  • Digital detox: Taking regular breaks from smartphones, especially during meals and before bedtime, helps reduce phone dependency.
  • Limiting screen time: Setting daily limits for screen time and monitoring will increase a person’s sense of control over his life.
  • Designating tech-free zones: Establishing smartphone-free zones in the household, such as the dining table or bedroom, will promote healthier boundaries.
  • Prioritizing real-life connections: Encouraging face-to-face relationships and engaging in offline activities will reduce reliance on virtual connections.
  • Practicing mindfulness: Being mindful of one’s smartphone use refers to pausing to reflect on whether checking the device is a genuine need or a habit.
  • Turning off notifications: Disabling non-essential notifications helps minimize distractions and constant connectivity.
  • Setting goals: Defining specific goals for smartphone use, such as work-related tasks or leisure activities, fosters avoidance of mindless scrolling.
  • Physical activity: Engaging in physical exercises or hobbies that do not involve screens diverts one’s attention and improves overall well-being.
  • Seeking professional help: If nomophobia becomes severe and affects an individual’s daily life, consulting a mental health professional for guidance and support is recommended.

What are the risk factors for nomophobia?

A woman typing on her iphone

Nomophobia can affect anyone, however certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing nomophobia. These risk factors include having low self-esteem, difficulties in maintaining social relationships, phone dependency, demographic variables, including gender, social anxiety or generalised anxiety disorders, childhood exposure to the fear of phone separation, or presence of other addictive behaviors.

The 2023 study titled “Nomophobia among university students: Prevalence, correlates, and the mediating role of smartphone use between Facebook addiction and nomophobia,” published in Heliyon found that individuals with higher levels of social anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem tended to use their smartphones more frequently for social reassurance, consequently they are at higher risk to experience nomophobia. For them, smartphones serve as a coping mechanism, allowing them to avoid face-to-face interactions that trigger anxiety. As a result, the absence of their phones can intensify their fear and discomfort, eventually putting them at risk for developing nomophobia.

Adolescents and young adults are particularly at higher risk of developing nomophobia due to their heavy reliance on smartphones for communication, social interaction, and access to information. According to the DM Gezgin and O Çakir, a study titled “Analysis of nomofobic behaviours of adolescents regarding various factors” published in the Journal of Human Sciences in 2016, excessive smartphone use triggers inappropriate behaviors and nomophobic tendencies that can change individuals’ daily habits and affect their lives.

Additionally, a comprehensive study conducted between September 2021 and January 2022 titled “Nomophobia among university students in five Arab countries in the Middle East: prevalence and risk factors,” published in the BMC Psychiatry, among over 5,720 university students in five Arab countries found that females and individuals with reported anxiety disorders or anxiety treatment had a higher risk of developing mobile phone dependence, emphasizing the importance of considering gender and mental health factors in understanding nomophobia’s prevalence and risk factors.

Is internet addiction a risk factor for nomophobia?

Yes, internet addiction is a risk factor for nomophobia. Internet addiction is typically characterized by the compulsive and excessive use of smartphones and other digital devices to access the internet and engage in various online activities. This constant connectivity contributes to the fear of being without one’s phone or internet access, which is a hallmark of nomophobia.

The 2018 issue of the International Journal of Research in Education and Science, titled “The Relationship between Levels of Nomophobia Prevalence and Internet Addiction among High School Students: The Factors Influencing Nomophobia,” aimed to investigate the prevalence of nomophobia among high school students and its association with internet addiction. The study revealed that levels of nomophobia among students were relatively higher than average, with female students demonstrating a greater tendency towards nomophobic behaviors than their male counterparts.

The study also discovered that the number of hours individuals spent using smartphones and mobile internet impacted the severity of nomophobia. There was a moderate correlation between students’ levels of internet addiction and their degrees of nomophobia. Both conditions have overlapping diagnostic criteria, including difficulty controlling digital device use and distress when separated from these devices. Additionally, psychological characteristics like FOMO, social isolation, and the ongoing desire for connection affect both internet addiction and nomophobia.

Is online shopping addiction a risk factor for nomophobia?

A woman shopping online.

​​Yes, online shopping addiction is a risk factor for nomophobia. There is a correlation between excessive smartphone use, online shopping addiction, and nomophobia. 

According to the 2020 issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice, “Relationship between “nomophobia” and material addiction “cigarette” and factors affecting them”, the frequent use of smartphones for online shopping and other activities often results in behavioral addiction, a fear of disconnection, and a variety of psychosocial problems, such as anxiety, increased distress levels, depressive symptoms, social isolation, and decreased academic and professional success. 

The research suggests that individuals with underlying psychiatric disorders may be more prone to nomophobia, or vice versa. This indicates that online shopping addiction might either exacerbate or coexist with psychiatric conditions like nomophobia.

How does nomophobia affect the body?

Nomophobia affects the body in both psychological and physiological ways. 

Nomophobia can significantly affect the physiology of individuals by triggering a stress response. When confronted with the fear of being without their mobile phone, individuals affected by nomophobia can experience heightened heart rate, higher blood pressure, and increased stress levels when they are far from their mobile devices. These physical responses are often attributed to the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can activate the body’s fight-or-flight response. Consequently, individuals may have symptoms such as headaches, muscular tension, and digestive issues. 

From a psychological perspective, people with nomophobia may encounter elevated anxiety, stress, and even aggressiveness. A study, “The mediation effects of smartphone addiction on the relationship between aggression and nomophobia”, published in the 2021 issue of the World Journal on Educational Technology: Current Issues, discovered a significant effect of smartphone addiction in the association between nomophobia and aggressiveness among students. Those findings indicate that smartphone addiction can exacerbate the aggressive tendencies of individuals with nomophobia. 

According to a scholarly article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2020, titled “Nomophobia: An Individual’s Growing Fear of Being Without a Smartphone—A Systematic Literature Review,” the excessive and abusive use of smartphones leads to the emergence of numerous problems, including but not limited to sedentary behavior, eating disorders, sleep disturbances, depression-like symptoms, irritability, aggression, and low self-esteem.

How does nomophobia affect the brain?

A woman with black nails typing on phone.

Nomophobia affects the brain by triggering depression, anxiety, insomnia, drowsiness, and impulsivity. According to the 2017 press release of the Radiological Society of North America, titled “Smartphone Addiction Creates Imbalance in Brain,” Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, conducted comprehensive research to provide new insights into the neural characteristics of tech-addicted adolescents.  The researchers presented their findings at the Chicago Radiological Society of North America annual conference.

The team led by Professor Suk used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a specialized type of MRI, which revealed that the researched teens exhibited elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and impulsivity. Moreover, the MRS data pointed to a chemical imbalance in the brain, leading to drowsiness and anxiety, suggesting that nomophobia can disrupt the brain’s cognitive and emotional processing.

Can restricting screen time and smartphone use prevent nomophobia?

Yes, restricting screen time and smartphone use can effectively prevent or reduce the fear and anxiety associated with nomophobia. However, there may be more practical solutions than completely banning the use of mobile phones. Setting healthy boundaries and reducing screen time, especially before bed, will improve sleep quality, promote better rest, and lead to a more balanced lifestyle, which can ultimately prevent nomophobia.

A study titled “The Relationship between Nomophobia, Insomnia, Chronotype, Phone in Proximity, Screen Time, and Sleep Duration in Adults: A Mobile Phone App-Assisted Cross-Sectional Study,” published in the journal Healthcare in 2023, supports this statement by saying that excessive mobile device usage before bedtime disrupts sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and heightened anxiety, which are closely associated with nomophobia.