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Illustration: Ashley Siebels
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Smartphone separation anxiety: The science behind the panic

If you have ever been forgetful enough to leave your phone at home for the day, or god forbid loose it completely, then you know the feeling of smartphone separation anxiety. Being without your mobile device can leave you feeling anxious and lost, and as if you have no connection with the outside world.

In 2017 it was reported that a whopping 96% of UK residents between the ages of 16-34 owned a smartphone of some kind, and the typical user touches their smartphone 2,617 times every single day. With this in mind, it is no surprise that people are heavily affected by losing their smartphone. Bontag, suppliers of security smartphone tags, explain the science behind the panic of misplacing your mobile device.

What is nomophobia?

The anxiety and feeling associated with losing a mobile phone has become so commonplace that it has been given its own name; nomophobia. Nomophobia is referring to the feeling of panic and stress that many people experience when they don’t have access to their smartphone. Recent studies reveal that 53% of mobile phone users in the UK feel anxious without their phone, even if it is just out of battery. This fear has little to do with not being able to make and receive phone calls, and much more to do the fact that mobile phones have become a sort of extension of ourselves.

Smartphones give us access to an unthinkable number of apps, resources, and services, as well as storing all our photos, videos and messages. We have become reliant on them for everything from directions and maps to managing our diaries, and when we suddenly don’t have access to all this information anymore, it causes us to panic. Whilst nomophobia is not currently recognized as a legitimate illness, it is certainly a real feeling that thousands of us experience on a regular basis.

Who is affected by nomophobia?

Different individuals often suffer from different levels of nomophobic tendencies, depending on how they value and perceive their smartphones. Those who are less dependent on the device will be less affected by it being missing, whereas those who are glued to their phones 24 hours a day, will suffer more severe symptoms of nomophobia. It is linked to the fear of missing out (FoMo) and the fear of being offline (FoBo), which are also anxieties that have come about thanks to our high-tech lifestyles and always-on culture.

Nomophobia symptoms

Nomophobia can be interpreted as either a fear or an anxiety, and different individuals may suffer in different ways. Some people have been reported to experience physical pain when being without their mobile device; neck pain has been a common complaint in recent studies. Others complain of more psychological symptoms such as a feeling of being lost and disconnected. Studies have shown that individuals who are without their mobile phones suffer from an increased heart rate and blood pressure, proving there are real physical impacts of nomophobia on the human body.

Why do we experience nomophobia?

Mobile devices allow us to be always connected to the rest of the world and keep tabs on what is going on in our friends and families lives, as well as keeping them updated with our daily routines. One in three adults in the UK check their phones during the night, and one in ten reaches for their phone as soon as they wake up in the morning. When the handheld gadgets are lost or removed from the routine, users are filled with a sense of uncertainty and panic.

Some psychologists claim that it is not the loss of the device itself that causes nomophobia, but what is on the phone that really counts. The internet-connected devices allow us to deal with a lot of different aspects of our day-to-day lives, with many peoples’ entire lives engrained into one single device. It has been suggested that because these phones hold so much information and so many details about our lives, we have developed an emotional dependency on them.

How can nomophobia be prevented?

Nomophobia can be controlled by deliberately separating yourself from your device for a set period of time every day.

Turning a device off or leaving it at home for a while can reduce the dependency and anxiety associated with losing your phone. For many, a mobile device is the most important thing in their lives, and actively trying to withdraw from it can be a real struggle. Although taking the time to reduce your dependency on your smartphone might be worthwhile, if you should ever be unfortunate to lose your phone, your separation anxiety will be much more manageable if it doesn’t feel like you have just lost one of your limbs.

This article first appeared on Yourcoffeebreak.co.uk.

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