Nomophobia may sound silly but it’s no laughing matter.

If I told you about someone who was stressed or anxious if they didn’t have a bottle of alcohol with them constantly, would you think they have a problem? What if I said they couldn’t go to the bathroom or to bed without it? What if it was a pack of cigarettes instead? Or some other socially-identified drug? Would you be concerned about their health and wellbeing?

Rightly so, I think most of us would think that person has some issues that need to be dealt with. But for some reason we don’t seem to feel the same way if it’s a smartphone that person can’t be without. Being attached to a smartphone may sound trivial but some people are willing to go to some surprising extremes to keep their phones with them at all times.

Nomophobia is shorthand for ‘no-mobile-phone phobia’ and yes, it is a real thing. The term was coined in 2010 during a research study on the anxieties of smartphone users, commissioned by the UK Post Office. Back then, they found that almost 53% of British mobile phone users admitted to feeling anxious when they “lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage.”

For more recent stats, we can look at a 2016 study by Bank of America. It showed that over 70% of the 1,000 sampled usually sleep with their smartphone nearby: 55% of those keep it on their bedside table, 13% keep it in their bed and 3% said they sleep with it in their hand. Almost one-quarter of respondents said they’ve fallen asleep holding their phone at one time or another. In the morning, 35% said their smartphone is the first thing they reach for. If you don’t think that’s concerning, would your opinion change if it was a beer or some pills instead of a smartphone?

Given the ever-increasing functionality of our phones and how much they have become imbedded in our lives, it’s easy to imagine how much higher those numbers would be today. Many people are never without their phones, as there seems to be no limits on when we use them—at the dinner table, in the bathroom and even during intimate moments.

Don’t get me wrong—I think smartphones are wonderful things. They provide access to endless information and content that’s useful and entertaining, and they keep us connected. But I do think we need to be mindful of when, how and why we use our phones. And, most importantly, the impact they have on us. We may not consider smartphones a drug but we’re seeing that they can cause similar dependencies and behaviours. By ensuring we have healthy phone habits, we can make the most of what they offer without losing ourselves along the way.

If you’re wondering if you or someone you know has nomophobia, check out this quiz developed by the Iowa State University. 

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