What is Nomophobia and How to Break Free From It
Here’s one of the top tips for productivity – know when and how much to use your smartphone. Unfortunately nomophobia – ‘no-mobile-phone phobia’ is nowadays a real issue, and it can take a toll on your relationships, psychological well-being and productivity at work.
In the past few decades, the cell phone industry has evolved a lot. Mobile devices have transformed from just a means of voice communication to a multi-function device that allows users to engage in information sharing, financial services, health tracking and much more. Smartphones have made our lives a lot easier, and the fact that these tech solutions are available to everyone is amazing.
The bad side to this is that as your smartphone gives you the whole world at your fingertips, it is very easy to get too attached to your phone. In fact, a study by the University of Derby found that 13% of people have a smartphone addiction. Furthermore, an average user spends 3.6 hours a day on their smartphone.
Nomophobia is everywhere in industrialised nations. Research shows that 53% of people in Britain, and 66% of people in the US suffer from nomophobia – fear of being without a mobile device, or beyond mobile phone contact. It is awesome to have all the tools, solutions and simply fun stuff that smartphones provide, but overdoing it will cut you out of other important aspects of your life.
Have you found yourself in a situation where it’s been difficult to engage in conversation with your friends or family because you’re always checking your phone when you should be interacting with them? Or have you experienced an utter lack of focus and productivity at work because of the near-constant demands for your attention from tech devices? You are then trying to multitask, but we all know that multitasking is a myth and it does not really work.
Chronic smartphone use can have a negative impact on your life, but the good news is that the distraction-producing itch they exercise on us can be reversed. It just takes some work and discipline.
Are You Spending Too Much Time On Your Smartphone?
1. The Nomophobia Test
The first step in solving any problem is to recognise that it exists. There’s a scientific way to measure if you are using your smartphone too much or if you’re addicted to your phone – nomophobic, in other words. A study from Iowa State University has identified some of the central aspects of nomophobia with a handy 20-question survey measuring smartphone codependence.
Answer each of the following questions on a scale from one to seven, where one is ‘strongly disagree’ and seven is ‘strongly agree’. Be honest!
- I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
- I would be annoyed if I couldn’t look up information on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
- Being unable to get the news (e.g., happenings, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.
- I would be annoyed if I could not use my smartphone and/or its capabilities when I wanted to do so.
- Running out of battery on my smartphone would scare me.
- If I were to run out of credits or hit my monthly data limit, I would panic.
- If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to Wi-Fi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a Wi-Fi network.
- If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
- If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel a desire to check it. If I did not have my smartphone with me …
- I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.
- I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.
- I would feel nervous because I would not be able to receive text messages and calls.
- I would be anxious because I could not keep in touch with my family and/or friends.
- I would be nervous because I could not know if someone had tried to get a hold of me.
- I would feel anxious because my constant connection to my family and friends would be broken.
- I would be nervous because I would be disconnected from my online identity.
- I would be uncomfortable because I could not stay up-to-date with social media and online networks.
- I would feel awkward because I could not check my notifications for updates from my connections and online networks.
- I would feel anxious because I could not check my email messages.
- I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.
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How You Score:
20: Not at all nomophobic. You have a very healthy relationship with your device and have no problem being separated from it.
21-60: Mild nomophobia. You get a little antsy when you forget your phone at home for a day or get stuck somewhere without WiFi, but the anxiety isn’t too overwhelming.
61-100: Moderate nomophobia. You’re pretty attached to your device. You often check for updates while you’re walking down the street or talking to a friend, and you often feel anxious when you’re disconnected. Time for a digital detox?
101-120: Severe nomophobia. You can barely go for 60 seconds without checking your phone. It’s the first thing you check in the morning and the last at night and dominates most of your activities in-between. It might be time for a serious intervention.
2. Perform an Audit on Your Smartphone Use
See how you use your smartphone by measuring how much time you’re actually spending on it throughout the day. This information will allow you to make more intentional and mindful decisions about the relationship with your smartphone.
There are several apps out there for auditing your smartphone usage:
- One great app available for both iPhone and Android is Checky. It shows you how many times you’ve checked your smartphone and allows you to compare stats day-to-day.
- Moment for iPhone users shows you how much time you are spending with each app in addition to just checking your smartphone. Moment allows you to set time limits on your smartphone usage, and once you reach it, the app will block you from using your device.
- QualityTime for Android tracks app usage and gives you detailed breakdowns of how much time you’re spending on each. You can set time limits for each app and QualityTime will send you a warning when you’re getting close to your limit.
These auditing apps and the hard numbers they provide can provide some much-needed perspective on your smartphone use.
How to Break Your Smartphone Habit
1. Turn off notifications
One of the negative effects of heavy smartphone usage is a loss of focus and the ability to do deep, meaningful work – loss of productivity.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport makes the case that smartphones, along with other digital devices, are training our brains to be constantly distracted. A study by Basex, a New York research firm, discovered that an average worker in the United States loses 2.1 hours per day due to interruptions. Researchers Gloria Mark and Victor Gonsalez of the University of California, Irvine, found that once interrupted, it takes workers 25 minutes to return to the original task – if they return at all. Smartphones are supposed to help us get work done on the go, but ironically they are also one of the greatest inhibitors of our productivity.
Small changes can go a long way in breaking free of habits. Start by turning off notifications for incoming messages, social media updates, and the like that cause your phone to ring, beep or vibrate. If your phone distracts you at work, just put it on Do Not Disturb mode.
Try to set up a phone-free period each day for the time when you are busy doing something else, in order to make the break a bit easier. For example, you do not need your smartphone when making dinner or spending time with your friends or family. A quick and easy way to shut off all notifications on your phone is to activate the Airplane mode.
Set yourself designated time slots to check those notifications and catch up.
2. Focus on something else
According to David Greenfield, a clinical psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, the brain changes as you grow reliant on technology. Greenfield says interacting with a screen floods the brain with dopamine and this can be addictive. Taking the screen away then causes dopamine withdrawal symptoms.
To ease that withdrawal, Greenfield recommends finding other activities that make you focus on something else. Make a list of activities you enjoy, for example, reading, cooking, working out, etc. These activities distract you, ease the pull of your phone, and also eliminate excess dopamine.
3. Fight Technology With Technology — Apps to Manage Your Smartphone Use
Oh, the irony – using an app to stop using your apps. But in an age where we use our smartphones for almost everything, it makes sense to fight fire with fire.
Here are apps that can help you do so:
- Moment (iOS) tracks your smartphone usage and allows you to set daily limits; the app notifies you if you exceed them. You can even use a setting that “forces” you off your phone by flooding your screen with annoying alerts when you try to extend your screen time. Moment can also be used for families, with the option to track your family’s device use from your own phone.
- BreakFree (iOS, Android) incorporates the usage tracking features found in many similar apps, but it differs in that it breaks down the information into an easy-to-understand “addiction score.” It also shows you how often you unlock your phone screen, and comprehensively logs your usage for the day. This system makes it a great choice for those who like to set goals and challenge themselves. It can almost be addictive to try to see how low you can get your addiction score.
The above tips don’t work and you are still spending too much time on your phone? You might need to try a smartphone detox. Switch off all smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers for at least 24 hours (the more, the better). This enables you to spend screen-free time doing whatever you enjoy. A digital detox is also a chance to recharge and rest, spend time on the things and people who matter to us. This also means that when we get back to our desks, we’re focused again and ready to work.
According to a study by Ofcom, 85% of people who undertook a digital detox found it to be a highly positive experience: 33% said they felt more productive, 27% found it liberating, and 25% enjoyed life more. Based on another study by UK-based neuroscientists, benefits from just a 4-day digital detox also include better posture, memory, sleep and relationships. Participants of this study claimed the digital detox to be a life-changing experience that would change their everyday smartphone habits.
So what have you got to lose – switch off your phone every now and then, to switch on your productivity.
Are you guilty of using your smartphone too much? What, if anything, do you use to pull yourself away from your smartphone?