Nomophobia and mobile phone addiction: what you need to know

Addicted to your mobile phone? Smartphones are a permanent fixture in our day-to-day lives. What are the consequences of this? How can you regain control of your smartphone use?

22.03.2023 Nina Merli 4 minutes

Like mobile phone addiction, nomophobia isn’t a recognised clinical diagnosis, but there is growing concern about the excessive use of these small devices. With what’s referred to as mobile phone or smartphone addiction, it’s not the device itself that’s the problem, but individual content that creates addiction, e.g. gambling or video games.

Social media platforms and pornography can cause problems, too. Therefore, mobile phone addiction as such is not common, but because people often refer to it colloquially as mobile phone addiction and use the term when looking for information online, this term is used on a recurring basis in this post.

Nomophobia meaning

Not leaving home without your mobile phone has become the norm. That’s hardly surprising, given that we take care of the majority of our daily tasks using a smartphone: train tickets, communication, payment or entertainment.

Nomophobia is when someone won’t let their phone out of their sight, won’t stop checking it and starts to panic if they don’t have it with them. The term nomophobia is derived from the term “no-mobile-phone-phobia”, i.e. the fear of leaving home without the mobile phone and not being online.

Studies have found the following physical signs to be associated with nomophobia:

  • Fear
  • Changes in breathing
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Heart palpitations

Mobile phone use in Switzerland

It’s difficult to define how many hours of mobile phone use are safe or “normal”. Excessive mobile phone use is not primarily about how long you spend using the smartphone – but how you use it. During the week, young people spend an average of 3.5 hours a day on their smartphone, and roughly 5 hours on weekend days.

These were the findings of the JAMES study on media use among 12- to 19-year-olds in Switzerland from 2022. The Swiss spend an average of roughly two hours a day on their mobile phones. 

Consequences and impact of nomophobia

Does excessive mobile phone use have mental health consequences? The fact is that a continuous flood of information stimulates the brain, triggering excitement and inner restlessness. Users who had to hand over their mobile phone for a study reported feeling frustrated, lost, stressed or sad without their smartphone.

Those who use their mobile phone constantly run the risk of neglecting hobbies and friendships in real life and becoming socially isolated. Excessive mobile phone use can have a negative impact on our health.

How does time spent in front of a screen affect our health?

Parents in particular can see themselves confronted with excessive mobile phone use or gaming addictions on the part of their children. What can you do to help? And where can loved ones find help themselves?

How family recognise signs of addiction

Mobile phone addiction: what should you do?

How can I prevent excessive mobile phone use? The following tips may help you to restrict your smartphone use. If your usage is already out of control, you should seek professional advice.

Set your phone to silent
You don’t have to be constantly available. If you set your smartphone to silent, you will not be disturbed by notification messages or calls. Keep your mobile phone out of view while working to ensure you are not distracted by incoming message notifications.

Reduce and monitor your screen time
Smartphones have lots of monitoring features to adjust your screen time to suit your own needs. Breaks can be set up where you are only alerted to calls or messages from selected contacts or you can set time limits for apps.

Opt out of push notifications
You want to be up to speed and ensure you don’t miss anything, but every push notification you receive diverts your attention back to your mobile phone.

Alarm instead of mobile phone
Use analogue solutions: don’t use your mobile phone as an alarm. You run the risk of reaching for it first thing in the morning and using it, instead of simply switching the alarm off.

Ban mobile phones from your bedroom
Declare your bedroom a mobile-free zone.

Define clear breaks
For parents in particular, it is important to set clear screen times and rules for children to follow. For adults, too, integrating mobile phone breaks into the daily routine, and consciously avoiding mobile phone use during this time, can be helpful.

Get professional help
While a mobile phone or online addiction might not be a recognised illness, it’s certainly possible to become addicted to certain online activities, such as video games or gambling. Social media activities or pornography can cause problems, too. Do not hesitate to get professional help if you notice that your or your child’s mobile phone use or media consumption has become excessive.

Doctors, addiction counselling centres or self-help groups can help with overcoming addiction:

Recovering from addiction

At what point are you addicted? When does your own mobile phone use start to become unhealthy? There’s no clear definition and no one-size-fits-all recommendation. But one thing that’s clear is that mobile phones often have a big hold on us. Don’t hesitate to get help if you start to lose control of your mobile phone use.

Addiction Switzerland

The experts from Addiction Switzerland provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. The independent charitable foundation is the national competence centre for prevention, research and knowledge transfer in the field of addiction.

Read more

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Causes of addiction and how to prevent it
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