Feel anxious when you don’t have your cell phone? You may have ‘nomophobia’—how to spot the signs

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We all have a certain level of attachment to our cell phones, but for some people, being without their phones or losing internet access can heighten their anxiety beyond normal levels.

Nomophobia, short for “no mobile phone phobia,” is a term used to describe the anxiety a person experiences when they don’t have access to their mobile phone.

“Nomophobes are those who exhibit an addiction to their mobile phone,” research published in BMC Psychiatry in July states.

Symptoms of nomophobia mirror those of an addiction or other anxiety disorders and can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Changes in breathing
  • Tachycardia, which is defined as a fast heartbeat

The causes and the costs of nomophobia

Teenagers are the most affected by nomophobia, according to research published in BMC Psychiatry, but any age group can struggle with it. A huge reason why many people are experiencing nomophobia stems from our reliance on our mobile phones, says Michele Leno, a clinical psychologist and talk show host of TV show, “Mind Matters with Dr. Michele.”

“We’re attached to our phones, and for many different reasons. They’re our miniature computers. We use them for business. We use them to stay connected to family,” Leno tells CNBC Make It.

“When we can’t use them immediately, we become anxious because we think we’re missing out on something. We have this mindset that our phones allow us to be connected to all things at all times.”

Certain people are more susceptible to developing nomophobia, says Blair Steel, a licensed clinical psychologist. Factors that can accelerate your chances of developing the condition are having:

  • Pre-existing anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Struggles with emotional regulation
  • Insecure attachment styles
  • A lack of personal relationships

Once a person develops an unhealthy attachment to their mobile phone, it can negatively affect several areas of their life, says Leno. Nomophobia can impair your ability to focus and distract you from completing tasks, she adds, including at work or school.

Additionally, “being distracted all of the time is very unhealthy for relationships,” Leno notes. “We’re sacrificing the happiness and potential health of [those] relationships because we care more about the phone.”

10 ways to combat nomophobia

Thankfully, it’s not impossible to rid yourself of nomophobia. There are some things that you can do to combat the condition once you’re aware that it’s affecting you.

Here are a few suggestions from Leno and Steel for detaching from your phone:

  1. Allow yourself to relax without your phone during your downtime.
  2. Intentionally stay off of your phone for an hour at a time. Consider turning it off if that’s helpful.
  3. Leave your phone at home or off to the side when you’re going to the store or attending an event.
  4. Wear a watch to check the time, instead of relying on your phone for a clock.
  5. Use a calendar or planner to schedule important events.
  6. Find new hobbies that allow you to spend time away from your phone and unplug.
  7. Learn more about nomophobia to gain knowledge about signs and triggers.
  8. Challenge your negative thoughts about being without your phone. Remind yourself that everything will be okay if you put it away for some time.
  9. Practice mindfulness through meditation and breathing exercises to cope with anxiety.
  10. In extreme cases, seek help from a mental health professional.

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