Mental Health

New study finds “nomophobia” – the fear of not having your phone – affects 89% of college students


Nomophobia statistics on the rise year after year

A new study has found that “nomophobia” is now the overwhelming norm among college students. The study suggests that 89% of college students now have either moderate or severe nomophobia. In 2012, that figure was only 77%.

The official definition of nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, or of being away from one’s phone. Anxiety and excessive worry over a lack of control over one’s life can be the root cause for this phobia.

This new nomophobia study recently appeared in an online supplement of the journal Sleep.

Nomophobia and sleep problems  

Nomophobia was significantly related to more daytime sleepiness, and more behaviors associated with poor sleep quality.

“We found that college students who experience more ‘nomophobia’ were also more likely to experience sleepiness and poorer sleep hygiene, such as long naps and inconsistent bed and wake times,” said lead author Jennifer Peszka.

The study involved 327 university students whose average age was 20.

The participants completed several questionnaires. One of those, the Nomophobia Questionnaire, asks respondents how strongly they agree or disagree with a number of statements. Examples include “I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone” or “If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.”

Likewise, other questionnaires included the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Sleep Hygiene Index.

Nomophobia symptoms

Nomophobia, like all phobias, is based on irrational fears. Typical nomophobia symptoms are similar to the symptoms of panic disorder, such as a feeling of unreality, an inability to concentrate, and a fear of abandonment. Additionally, it can have similar physical symptoms to certain types of chronic anxiety such as palpitations and constricted or shallow breathing.

Those symptoms can include overwhelming feelings of anxiety when not using your phone, in particular when out of the house. Other symptoms include constant anticipation of an incoming message and feelings of panic when a message does not arrive. Sufferers of nomophobia can also experience feelings of guilt when they leave your phone unattended. Further reported symptoms have included forgetfulness, lack of focus, constant checking of your smartphone’s whereabouts, and constant checking of social media accounts.

Treating nomophobia

The various approaches to treating phobias form an increasingly popular topic in psychology. A phobia is an excessive and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that causes an individual to encounter avoidance.

Phobias can cause various bodily responses such as quicker heart rate, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, and high blood pressure, muscle tension and nausea. Phobias can influence individuals to avoid certain social situations.

Treatment of phobias normally involves either a psychological intervention or medication. Psychological therapies include behavior therapy, cognitive modification, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Behavior therapy may include systematic desensitization, in which patients are gradually and carefully exposed to the object/situation which causes phobic reactions.

Other therapies include rational-emotive behavioral therapy, which uses techniques of logic and confrontation; and cognitive therapy, involving the process of identifying and changing harmful thinking as well as methods of changing maladaptive behavior.

CBT as the most promising nomophobia treatment

Researchers are still investigating the best treatment for nomophobia, but most agree that the main goal should be developing better self-control skills. Cognitive behavioral interventions (CBT) that have worked for internet addiction have been reported to be effective, much as they have been for phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

In CBT, patients learn how to recognize that their (negative) thoughts are leading to their nomophobia. By recognizing this, and learning to cope with it, patients can learn how to avoid situations that will likely lead to nomophobia.

CBT usually takes at least 10 to 12 weeks. It usually begins by showing patients that they can cope without their phone. As the therapy progresses, the focus switches to the cognitive processes that underlie their nomophobia. such as fears of isolation, or fear of not being able to connect with others. They should answer questions, about for example what their social media activities really bring them, or where they think their fear of missing something on their phone comes from.

Focusing on positive feelings

Likewise, they might be coached to think about moments when they feel rewarded, loved, connected, etc. Such thoughts will ideally help those who suffer from nomophobia to establish more healthy and authentic relations in real life.

CBT also helps people to control the obsessive thoughts, like counting every person who’s walked past your house, or worrying that someone has failed to call you. Patients are generally advised to be very strict with their phones. Exercises include trying not to use the phone for an extended period of time, and setting strict boundaries. Sufferers can also try to limit the number of people who can call or message them.

At home, patients can spend an allotted amount of time every day solely available to “real world” family and friends. Having, and following, a personal electronic device policy is also a good idea.

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Study: Sleep, Sleepiness, and Sleep Hygiene Related to Nomophobia (No Mobile Phone Phobia)
Authors: J Peszka, S Michelle, B T Collins, N Abu-Halimeh, M Quattom, M Henderson, M Sanders, J Critton, B Moore, andD F Mastin
Published in: Sleep
Publication date: May 27, 2020
Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels