Do you ever feel a sudden flush of panic and anxiety whenever you reach for your phone inside your pocket and realize that it’s missing? I do. My palms sweat as I dig through my purse with agitation, fearing that I might have lost it someplace. Then I’ll eventually find it, and that’s when I can let out a big sigh of relief. I bet you've experienced that, too.
It’s funny how a small device can have so much hold and power over our social behavior and peace of mind. Without it, our pockets become strangely light. Our world suddenly becomes smaller, feeling limited in contact with other people. And you know that restlessness we feel without our mobile phones? There’s actually a name for it, and it’s called “nomophobia.”
Coined in 2010 by a research group at the UK Post Office, nomophobia is basically the fear of being without a mobile phone or having no virtual reach. It’s a severe separation anxiety from one’s mobile device that’s prevalent among millennials who are digital natives. And unlike other addictions, this case is one of the most difficult to combat since smartphones are practically everywhere and readily available to everyone.
According to Dr. David Greenfield, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, mobile phone dependency is rooted to the reward center of our brain. Similar to other addictions, dopamine levels elevate every time we get a notification from our smartphone. "The thing is you don't know what [the notification] is going to be or when you're going to get it, and that's what compels the brain to keep checking," he explains.
More than that, nomophobia fosters the illusion that self-importance is equivalent to the number of hearts, retweets, and likes on social media accounts. It also creates a sub fear of missing out on the online life (yes, #FOMO), making it even harder to put your phone on silent mode or be without it for a couple of minutes.
Those who suffer from this condition don’t realize that they are giving far more value on their virtual presence than their actual lives. They also feel incapacitated and lost without their phones as they are unable to quickly Google answers, Waze their way out of traffic, or perform trivial tasks like buying movie tickets or making dinner reservations. It’s like it has become their security blanket and, in more severe cases, their extension.
Main image/gif by Yayay de Castro