A number of mobile phone users are so attached to the devices, their anxiety at being separated from them or running out of battery or credit or having no network coverage, has resulted in a condition labelled ‘nomophobia’ (no mobile phone phobia).
“Generally speaking, it is the irrational fear of remaining out of touch with technology,” Wellington-based psychologist Susan Wall says.
“A 2008 study (in the UK) showed that 58 per cent of men and 47 per cent of women struggled with the phobia, feeling stressed or anxious when they didn’t have access to their phones.
“And international research reveals that the problem is escalating.”
Researchers have found excessive users of mobile phones are less happy, more worried and lonelier.
Preoccupation with devices can lead to users feeling bad about meaningless use of their time.
There are groups who are proposing that problematic overuse of devices be considered an official disorder, she says. But there needs to be four components – compulsive behaviours, tolerance, withdrawal, and functional impairment.
Compulsive behaviours can include having a phone with you at all times, always carrying a charger, checking devices first thing upon waking, last thing before sleeping, and whenever you have downtime through the day.
Indicators of tolerance would be such things as increasing the length of use over time, needing to have the latest phone or having multiple phones.
Symptoms of withdrawal include feeling anxious and nervous when separated from the mobile or when it can’t be used, avoiding places and situations in which the device is banned.
Examples of functional impairment, or negative affects on everyday life, include social avoidance, choosing to only communicate to others using technologies, conflict with family or friends over the level of your usage, and using the phone in inappropriate places and at inappropriate times.
People with a “disordered” level of use of their mobile phones – as opposed to heavy users – “are likely to have some level of other mental health presentation – whether it be other addictions, depression, social anxiety, impulsive control disorder”, Wall says.
“The excessive mobile usage is most likely to exacerbate, rather than cause the hazards associated with problematic use.”
How to avoid it
• Set time limits for use and establish device-free zones.
• Use apps that limit time on social media.
• Ask family, friends and colleagues to tell you if they see you over-using.
• Make life more engaging and richer, reducing your need or desire to use the phone.