All About Nomophobia: The Fear Of Being Without a Cell Phone

Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S

November 15, 2022

Nomophobia comes from the phrase “No Mobile Phone Phobia”. It is used to describe a psychological condition in which an individual has a fear of being away from their phone, or away from mobile phone service. Nomophobia is a newer fear among people, as mobile phones have only been as popular as they are today for about 15 years. That doesn’t mean that nomophobia is a rare occurrence, though. In a 2019 study, about 53% of British people who have had a cell phone since 2008 feel anxious when they are without their phone, or their phone has a dead battery or no service. No studies have been done on American subjects regarding nomophobia, but some experts suggest that these numbers may be much higher, especially among the teenage population. In this post from the Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates blog, we’ll discuss all there is to know about nomophobia: including symptoms, causes, and potential treatments. 

What Are The Symptoms of Nomophobia? 

Officially, nomophobia has yet to be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, also known as the DSM-5. Mental health professionals have yet to decide on the official diagnostic criteria for nomophobia. It is generally agreed upon that nomophobia does run the risk of negatively affecting mental health. Some mental health experts have suggested that nomophobia is a form of dependence on a mobile phone, more akin to an addiction than a phobia. Most phobias show themselves in an individual the same way anxiety does, so the symptoms of nomophobia and anxiety are one-in-the-same. The possible emotional symptoms of nomophobia are as follows: 

  • Fear, panic, or uncontrollable worry when thinking about not having your phone, or being unable to use it. 
  • Agitation or anxiety when having to put your phone down or knowing you won’t be able to use it for an extended period. 
  • Intense panic and anxiety when unable to find your phone for a brief moment. 
  • Stress, irritation, and anxiety when you can’t check your phone at will. 

Physical symptoms of nomophobia are in line with physical symptoms of anxiety, including: 

  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Shaking or trembling.
  • Difficulty with normal breathing.
  • Increased perspiration. 
  • Feelings of faintness, dizziness, or disorientation.
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat.

What Causes Nomophobia? 

Nomophobia is referred to as a modern phobia by many mental health experts. This means that nomophobia stems from an increased reliance on modern technology of all kinds and that this reliance results in the concern of what might happen if a mobile phone can’t be immediately accessed. Some studies suggest that nomophobia happens most often in teenagers and young adults. Medical health experts have yet to discover one specific cause of nomophobia, and instead believe there are several contributing factors. 

  • Some individuals may fear isolation, which plays a part in the development of nomophobia. The idea behind this is that if your cell phone is your primary source of contact with other people, you’d likely be pretty upset without it. 
  • Others may fear not being able to be easily reached by employers or loved ones. An important work call or call from a spouse may be a good reason to be anxious when away from your phone. 
  • Sometimes, past negative experiences can trigger a phobia. Losing your phone in the past may be a reason that you have a fear of losing your phone today or in the future. 

How Is Nomophobia Treated? 

If you’re experiencing a hard time managing day-to-day life due to nomophobia, visiting a therapist is probably the best course of action. Nomophobia, like any other phobia, is treated similarly to anxiety. The therapists here at Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S might recommend the following treatments for nomophobia: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help an individual manage negative or intrusive thoughts and feelings that may come without having their phone easily accessible. With cognitive behavioral therapy, negative thoughts like “if I lose my phone I’ll never be able to speak to my loved ones again” will turn into more logical thoughts like “all of my contacts are backed up, and getting a new phone wouldn’t be that difficult.” 
  • Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy gets you more comfortable with scary ideas like not having your phone by making you experience these things. Experiencing what it’s like to go without your phone for a few days voluntarily can make the idea of being without your phone involuntarily easier to deal with. 
  • Medication: In severe cases of nomophobia, medication may be prescribed to deal with the anxiety and fear that comes with the phobia. Several medications can help you deal with anxiety. Discuss what’s appropriate based on your level of anxiety and discomfort as it relates to nomophobia.

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