Fuelled by internet overuse, ‘NOMOPHOBIA’ leads to depression and anxiety

Dr. Shekhar Tank & Dr. Mahipal Padhiyar

While a mobile, tablet, or computer can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships. When someone spends more time on social media or playing games than they do interact with real people, or they can’t stop themselves from repeatedly checking texts, emails, or apps—even when it has negative consequences in their life—it may be time to reassess their technology use.

Mobile addiction, sometimes colloquially known as “nomophobia” (fear of being without a mobile phone), is often fuelled by an Internet overuse problem or Internet addiction disorder. After all, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to.

Causes and effects of mobile and Internet addiction

While they experience impulse-control problems with a laptop or desktop computer, the size and convenience of mobiles and tablets means that they can take them just about anywhere and gratify their compulsions at any time. In fact, most of us are rarely ever more than five feet from thier mobiles. Like the use of drugs and alcohol, they can trigger the release of the brain chemical dopamine and alter their mood. They can also rapidly build up tolerance so that it takes more and more time in front of these screens to derive the same pleasurable reward.

Heavy mobile use can often be symptomatic of other underlying problems, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. If they use their mobile as a “security blanket” to relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or awkwardness in social situations.

Mobile or Internet addiction can also negatively impact thier life by:

Increasing loneliness and depression. 

Fuelling anxiety. 

Increasing stress. 

Exacerbating attention deficit disorders. 

Diminishing your ability to concentrate and think deeply or creatively. 

Disturbing your sleep. 

Encouraging self-absorption. 

Signs and symptoms of mobile addiction

There is no specific amount of time spent on their phone, or the frequency they check for updates, or the number of messages they send or receive that indicates an addiction or overuse problem.

Warning signs of mobile or Internet overuse include:

Trouble completing tasks at work or home.

Isolation from family and friends.

Concealing your mobile use.

Having a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO).

Feeling of dread, anxiety, or panic if they leave their mobile at home

Withdrawal symptoms from mobile addiction

A common warning sign of mobile or Internet addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back on their mobile use. These may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Craving access to their mobile or other device

Physical symptoms of Mobile addiction

Digital eye strain.

  • The pain and discomfort associated with viewing a digital screen for over 2 hours.
  • Eyes begin to burn and itch.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Eye fatigue.
  • Digital Eye Strain can cause headaches.

Neck problems.

  • Also known as “text neck,” which refers to neck pain resulting from looking down at cell phone or tablet for too long.

Increased illnesses due to germs.

Car accidents.

  • Many people believe that they can multitask and use their phones while driving, but this causes significant impairment and puts the driver and others on the road in danger.

Self-help tips for mobile addiction

There are a number of steps they can take to get their mobile and Internet use under control. It can be all too easy to slip back into old patterns of usage. Look for outside support, whether it’s from family, friends, or a professional therapist.

Recognize the triggers that make them reach for their phone. 

Understand the difference between interacting in-person and online. Human beings are social creatures. They are not meant to be isolated or to rely on technology for human interaction.

Build their coping skills. 

Recognize any underlying problems that may support their compulsive behaviour. Have they had problems with alcohol or drugs in the past? Does anything about their mobile use remind them of how they used to drink or use drugs to numb or distract themselves?

Strengthen their support network. Set aside dedicated time each week for friends and family.

Modify their mobile use, step-by-step

  1. Set goals for when someone use their mobile.
  2. Turn off phone at certain times of the day, such as when driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, or playing with kids. Don’t take phone to the bathroom.
  3. Don’t bring phone or tablet to bed.
  4. Replace mobile use with healthier activities
  5. Remove social media apps from phone so one can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from their computer. And remember: what they see of others on social media is rarely an accurate reflection of their lives—people exaggerate the positive aspects of their lives, brushing over the doubts and disappointments that we all experience.
  6. Limit checks. If compulsively check their phones every few minutes, wean off by limiting their checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour.
  7. Curb fear of missing out. Accept that by limiting mobile use, they likely going to miss out on certain invitations, breaking news, or new gossip. There is so much information available on the Internet, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of everything, anyway.

Treatment for mobile and Internet addiction

 Individual and group therapy can also give a tremendous boost in controlling their technology use.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy provides step-by-step ways to stop compulsive behaviours and change their perceptions about their mobile and the Internet. Therapy can also help learn healthier ways of coping with uncomfortable emotions—such as stress, anxiety, or depression—that may be fuelling mobile use.

Marriage or couples counselling. If excessive use of Internet pornography or online affairs is affecting relationship, counselling can help work through these challenging issues and reconnect with their partner.

Group support. Organizations such as Internet Tech Addiction Anonymous (ITAA) and On-Line Gamers Anonymous offer online support and face-to-face meetings to curb excessive technology use. Of course, you need real-life people to benefit fully from any addiction support group.

Parents counselling.

Author – Dr. Shekhar Tank & Dr. Mahipal Padhiyar

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