You’re sitting on the couch, watching TV, when you spot the trailer for the new Marvel movie. You reach for your phone to text your sister about it. It’s not there. You look under the throw pillow. Nope. It isn’t sitting on the coffee table. It’s not in your bag. You check the charger you keep on your kitchen counter. Your phone is nowhere to be found. Suddenly, you remember you dropped it in the key bowl on your way in the door, because your hands were full of groceries and you were scared of dropping it. Relief floods your body. If this feels less like a memory slip and more like a brief horror story, you have nomophobia.
What is nomophobia?
Nomophobia is a fear of being without access to a working cell phone. This doesn’t just mean the dread you feel upon realizing you’ve left your phone at home or can’t find it anywhere. It also refers to anxieties that arise if the battery is too low, if you’re out of range of service or if you’re actively doing something that would prevent you from looking at your phone (like driving or watching a play).
And where did the name come from?
The word is an abbreviation of the phrase “no mobile phone phobia” and was first used by the UK Post Office in 2008 to describe the results of a study on anxieties brought on by mobile phone use.
Who is most likely to have nomophobia?
Sixty-six percent of adults in the U.S. have nomophobia, says Psychology Today. (Yikes.) Young adults and those who started using a cell phone at a younger age tend to become more dependent on their phones and therefore more likely to stress out without them. But anyone who experiences distress when being separated from a working phone (whether it’s just an annoyance or something that causes a full-blown panic attack) would probably be considered nomophobic.
Can I be officially diagnosed as nomophobic?
Short answer, no. It’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (or DSM-5). Yet. That being said, in an Iowa State University study, researchers developed a series of 20 questions meant to create a numerical way of determining whether or not someone has nomophobia and, if so, how severe it might be. (You can check out the questions here to place yourself on the scale.) If you’re really concerned about your level of attachment to your phone, talk to a mental health professional.
How can I lessen the fear or at least prevent it from getting worse?
If you feel discomfort, uneasiness or annoyance when you don’t have your cell phone (as opposed to panic, dread or terror), then your nomophobia likely isn’t so bad. If this is you, taking scheduled breaks from your phone—like leaving it in your bag while you’re at work or keeping it another room while you watch a movie—can help you get used to feeling OK without it there. It can also help to figure out the root of the fear (is being unable to contact your friends and family making you feel uneasy, or does being unreachable make you feel like you're missing out on something?) and come up with a backup plan to address it.
If your fear is more severe, talk to a mental health expert—especially if you feel that your attachment to your phone is getting in the way of any normal day-to-day activities.